812 Fourth Street, San Rafael CA (map); 415-457-2337; pizzaorgasmica.com
Pizza style: New York-style
Oven type: Gas
The skinny: At Orgasmica, risque names and unusual toppings amount to pizza that's only okay—you may need to fake it.
Price: Large pies from about $17 to $28
When Pizza Orgasmica & Brewery opened last month in San Rafael, California, it was quick to draw the ire of local residents who took issue with its stunningly yellow facade, not to mention that racy name. As one concerned neighbor put it, "What's next, Tacos Fellatio?" But things escalated from adorably prudish hand-wringing to full-on pizza war when a manager of the nearby Extreme Pizza—located just down the block—took it upon himself to do a little spray painting on Orgasmica's controversial facade. The fellow quickly found himself hauled into the nearest police station and subsequently out of a job.
Case closed? Not quite—this is Slice, where tomato sauce runs thicker than blood, and the only way to settle this little kerfuffle seemed to be with a head-to-head tasting of the wares.
With its San Rafael opening, Pizza Orgasmica has now spawned four locations around the Bay Area. The new spot boasts that jolting yellow exterior, and a sprawling seating area within. Decorations are a few tribal touches, multiple televisions, and a giant copper beer-brewing vat that oversees all the action.
The folks at Orgasmica use a gas-powered Roto Flex oven to fire their pizzas. Pies rotate through the oven on a screen, so the undercarriage comes out covered in little diamond-shaped bumps. My pizza crisped slightly at the ends, but never quite got there underneath—the New York-style slices sagged well before the tip. Still, the mildly sweet crust was pleasant enough.
The menu at Orgasmica lists specialty pies with vaguely risque names like the Doggie Style or the Menage a Trois. Then there are the toppings themselves. A pie called the Latin Lover comes swathed in refried bean sauce, cheddar cheese, and cilantro. Call me a prude, but faced with this dizzying array, I decided simply to order the restaurant's namesake Orgasmica: pepperoni, salami, sausage, mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers. These toppings were generic, but only the limp pepperoni really bugged me—where were the browned edges?
The bigger crime was the sauce, which had gone too far to sugary-sweet for my taste. For a place that had gotten its neighbors all in a tizzy, many of the flavors on this particular pizza struck me as so decidedly middle of the road as to not offend anyone.
703 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA (map); 415-454-6111; extremepizza.com
Pizza style: New York-style
Oven type: Gas conveyor belt
The skinny: Replace your tomato sauce with hummus or make other extreme moves while constructing your pie, but the health food cereal crust is a bit hard to get past.
Price: Large pies from $14
Down the block, Extreme Pizza certainly cuts a more unassuming figure on the outside. The red and yellow in the sign over the door offers the only splash of pizzazz. Still, styling themselves "freethinking, pizza connoisseur daredevils," the folks at Extreme broadcast video of skateboarders shredding on a television above the counter, and certainly match Orgasmica's penchant for unusual toppings.
Diners have the option of replacing tomato sauce with hummus or a black bean and salsa sauce, and the specialty pies bear names like Adrenaline Rush and White Out. (And don't be fooled into calling Extreme a scrappy underdog in this fight—there are twenty-seven locations of this franchise in California, another fourteen around the country, and even one in Ireland.)
At the Extreme Pizza in San Rafael, I was told that most of their basic pizza ingredients, like dough and sauce, come in from one of the San Francisco locations of the franchise. It's an industrial-style approach to pizza-making. Rather than hand-stretching the dough, I watched the pizzaiolo run it through a sheeter, trim it to size, and then perforate with a roller before sending it through a gas-powered conveyor belt oven. Honestly, the crust simply didn't look like something I wanted to eat. Thin and crisp, it sported a light dusting of coarse cornmeal that gave it the appearance (and vague taste) of off-brand health food cereal.
Trying to keep my little pizza competition even, I skipped the X-Games-styled toppings, and ordered a pie with pepperoni, mushrooms, and red onions. Unlike Orgasmica, Extreme pizza had managed to get their pepperoni to crisp up, and if their thick tomato sauce was sweet, it offered some mitigating tartness. On top, the cheese had browned so far that it had developed a bit of that overcooked skin.
I had a hard time getting past the crust at Extreme Pizza, and so on that count, as well as a strong belief that more pizza places need to brew their own beers, I'm giving the win to Pizza Orgasmica. But since a comparable pie at Extreme Pizza will likely cost about 25% less than at Orgasmica, I'd predict the market will support both joints.
In the meantime, I didn't finish either of my pizzas, and so I stuck them in the same pizza box thinking that, maybe, during the car ride home, they'd learn to coexist.