In San Francisco and the East Bay, we've just come to expect the opening of serious wood-oven pizzerias—and even pizza trucks. But the South Bay, inexplicably, seems to have sat out the whole WFO movement.
That changed last week with the debut of Oak & Rye, a pizzeria that opened in Los Gatos in place of the former Restaurant James Randall. James Randall's executive chef, Ross Hanson, remains, but he's partnered with his wife, Brean, his sister, Dana Bunker (a 6-year veteran of Mario Batali's Otto in Manhattan), and Brooklyn pizza machine Angelo Womack of the highly regarded Brooklyn pizzeria-restaurant Roberta's. Womack and Bunker are engaged (congrats!), which makes this a family-run pizzeria.
Womack was head of the pizza kitchen at Roberta's and in charge of the menu there (he's responsible for the killer Cortes pizza, above) before he and Anthony Falco started Roberta's mobile pizza units, which travel to various NYC locations and events throughout the year.
After helping establish the trailer-based mobile business and putting in time making hundreds of pizzas a day there, Womack was set to open his own place in upstate New York, but during delays in that project, Womack says, an opportunity in Los Gatos popped up. "Ive always loved the South Bay and have always wanted an excuse to move to Santa Cruz. And thanks to restaurants like Manresa (and other young restaurants opening here), downtown Los Gatos is a food destination."
The two moved there in April, joined the Hansons, and began transforming Restaurant James Randall into Oak & Rye, which, as the name implies, will offer a "huge selection" of rye whiskey—"We're really trying to show the diversity of it," Womack says. "We really want to show what can be done with them."
Womack will be in charge of the pizza while Ross Hanson has a nonpizza menu consisting of seasonal American appetizers, small plates, and wood-roasted meats. Bunker will be "running the floor with the Otto/Batali/Bastianich mentality," and Brean Hanson "will be making sure we don't burn the place down," Womack says.
"I'm excited to finally have a place of my own. I've always had strange ideas for pizza, but the rule is to always make the pizza make sense. Any asshole can take a dish and basically just slap it on dough and call it pizza. But it's not that easy. It's texture, it's balance, and it should always be fun. If pizza isn't fun, it's lost its way."
To that end, pizzas that Womack developed at Roberta's (like the Cortes) will make an appearance at Oak & Rye, as will tributes to other pizza-makers' signature pies:
"I'm keeping the menu super simple at first. I'm making pies I've created in the past for now, i.e., the Beesting, Cheeses Christ, Crispy Glover. And I'm making pies—with their permission, of course—like Best Pizza's white pie. I need to get my dough recipe down, and I need to know what's available and what excites people here in California. Seasonal here is different than in NYC."