San Francisco: Casey's Pizza Shines Indoors and Out
A mobile pizza operation, follow him on twitter (@CaseysPizza) or at Caseyspizzas.com for locations
Pizza style: Twelve-inch New York-Neapolitan
Oven type: Gas-fired Little Black Egg or countertop Baker's Pride
The skinny: This nomadic pie-man turns out excellent crust and a very good Margherita
Price: Pies, $13 to $17
San Francisco doesn't offer an easy climate for a pop-up purveyor of pizza. Tending to your pies outside means dealing with fog and wind four seasons a year, not to mention temperatures that often require a jacket no matter how hot your oven burns. Casey Crynes of Casey's Pizza often braves these conditions several days a week, cooking pies in his home-made Little Black Egg. Though, recently, he's been escaping the elements at least one night a week to cook inside Vinyl, a local wine bar that plays host to pop-up vendors for dinner. It doesn't matter where you catch him—Crynes consistently turns out a very nice roster of pizzas, highlighted by a really good Margherita.
I first tried Crynes' pizza at his regular Wednesday night gig at the Upper Haight Farmer's Market. There, he cooked in the gas-fueled, modified Weber grill he built following instructions for the Little Black Egg. The little oven is usually cranking at 700 degrees on the deck and 750 ambient, turning out pies in two-and-a-half minutes.
Crynes refers to his pizzas as old New York-style, and calls places like Di Fara and Lucali his touchstones. His dough, the product of a 24-hour cold ferment, consists simply of a mix of Giusto's flours (including just a touch of whole wheat), commercial yeast, and salt. The end-crust comes out lightly speckled with char, equal parts crisp on the exterior and tender on the interior. The underside of the slices had a bumpy topography, and despite their thinness, also boasted that crisp-tender combination. No tip sag here, just satisfaction.
On the Margherita I tried at the farmer's market, the mild sauce of raw California plum tomatoes, sea salt, and a dash of black pepper struck a nice balance between tangy and sweet. Crynes applies a mixture of cubed aged mozzarella and little chunks of fior di latte with restraint, giving the crust, sauce, and some aromatic leaves of basil plenty of space to do their work. This was a standout Margherita.
The next night, I followed Crynes to Vinyl Wine Bar in the Lower Haight, where he cooks his pizzas indoors in a countertop Baker's Pride oven. The little contraption doesn't burn quite as hot as his home-made rig, and so pies stayed in about a minute longer. The extra cook time resulted in an end-crust that was crisper and airier—though still nicely tender—and with more char underneath than his outdoor pies. Honestly, the carbon count got a touch too high for me in a few places, but I dug the extra flavor he'd pumped into his crust by giving this batch of dough an extra day to ferment in the fridge.
Crynes has said that he doesn't do "weird toppings," so I'll assume the Cinco de Mayo pizza he was slinging that night with chorizo on top was just a one-off. Still, Crynes isn't immune to the pull of the California-style toppings that surround him, and says that he has been working on pies with a variety of greens and even some Latin-inspired flavors. I stuck closer to the standards, ordering up a Vinyl, with Crynes' raw sauce and mixture of mozzarella topped with Zoe's pepperoni and mushrooms. The cheese sat on this pie just a bit thick, becoming rubbery as it cooled, but this is otherwise a winning combination.
The Funghi pizza was a bit skimpy on the crimini mushrooms, which was too bad, because they had a nice meaty flavor. The sauceless pie came together on the strength of a scattering of fresh thyme.
With gigs two or three days a week, Crynes now calls pizza his permanent employment, though it wasn't that long ago that he would have checked the box next to "Web Producer" on his tax return. Crynes says that, one day, he envisions owning a pizzeria, but he's giving himself time to perfect his craft and build a customer base. He says to expect even more pop-ups in the future. And to all you Slice'rs in Europe, Crynes is even working to help a brother-in-law who lives in Cork, Ireland, build his own Little Black Egg, so the Casey's Pizza brand may go global even before it has a single bricks and mortar location.
In the meantime, I'd go as far as to say that when the char-o-meter hits the right spot, Crynes is making makes one of the better crusts around town. I'd likely venture out in some pretty lousy San Francisco weather—you know, 50 degrees and foggy in the middle of July—to get a slice of Crynes' Margherita.
(One more thing—Casey's Pizza will be having a pizza throwdown with several other nomadic pizza operations this Friday evening to benefit Japan. Go try Casey's Pizza for a good cause!)