PizzaHacker is My New Go-To in San Francisco
There's some great pizza not far from where I live in San Francisco's Mission, but it's not always that easy to get. Flour + Water offers wonderfully textured, charred crust and artistically composed pies topped with seasonal veg, but it's tricky to snag a reservation and without one, you have to be ready to wait in line before they open. (No takeout, and don't even think about bringing a big group unless you've booked in advance.) The gorgeously puffy, carefully curated pizzas of Una Pizza Napoletana aren't too far away, but you're not looking at a cheap meal at $25/pie. For a low-key weeknight, the newly opened PizzaHacker brick and mortar on Mission Street and 29th has swiftly become my go-to.
Mr. PizzaHacker, Jeff Krupman, is something of a familiar face here on Slice: Adam Kuban interviewed him back in 2010 about his mobile Frankenweber operation, and David Kover reviewed that popup circa 2011. Krupman helped to open The Forge in Oakland last year, serving as a consultant in charge of pizza R&D.
I can't quite offer an anonymous review here—I attended a birthday party at PizzaHacker (and met Krupman there) during the restaurant's soft-opening period, and I've been back for dinner a number of times since then. I've stopped by on a crowded Saturday when the wait's been about 30 minutes (drink a $5 local beer while you watch the action in the open kitchen), and I've dropped in on weeknights when the communal picnic-style tables have had plenty of space for more eaters. Like any new restaurant, the service needs a little ironing out, but the pizzas come quick and they are good.
You can start with the Intermezzo Salad ($8) to share, a big bowl of little gem lettuce, radicchio, wheels of carrots, cucumbers, alfalfa sprouts, chickpeas, kidney beans, and eggy bits, tossed in a poppyseed dressing. If it seems nostalgic and not-quite-contemporary, it's supposed to: it's a revival of the salad from beloved, now-defunct Cafe Intermezzo in Berkeley. It can easily be split three or four ways, though it would be better with a touch more acid to brighten things up.
I tend to evaluate a pizzeria on its Margherita, and PizzaHacker's Top Shelf Margherita (all pies are currently $15) has a lot going for it. The special sauce on this pie is really the key: it's made with local dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes, simmered and canned (with some of the tomato water removed.) Krupman wrote a guide to his process here. It's sweet, but not too sweet, and savory and packed with flavor. The Margherita comes generously topped with creamy, milky fior di latte. Krupman gets the curd from Roberto Ferrante of Formaggi di Ferrante in Fairfield, and stretches it in house for all the cheese-topped pies. It's awesome stuff.
The crust is a variation on Tartine's dough method, naturally leavened and mixed by hand. "We have a mother and produce a fresh leaven for each batch of dough," said Krupman, noting that while he hopes to eventually have a mixer to integrate the ingredients, "it will always be turned by hand." The outer crust gets a sprinkle of smoked salt before baking for about 3 minutes.
The current electric deck oven is a PizzaMaster from Sweden, but Krupman says it's "still on probation." He's considering a switch to a Cuppone oven, but plans to stay electric. "The ceiling/top heat is controlled separately from the floor/bottom heat in the oven," notes Krupman, and "additionally, there is an adjustment for the front part of the ceiling/top (the part closest to the opening) to compensate for the constant cooling of the front of the oven from opening...We can have the oven do whatever we need. It just makes baking a lot easier and more predictable than a wood oven."
The crust has nice bubbles and char, a little sag at the tip, and a nice pop of salty flavor from the smoked sea salt. Some pies I've had have been miraculously springy; some a little more chewy. Krupman points to Apizza Scholls in Portland as a source of inspiration—they use an electric oven, too.
I used to live a few blocks from Motorino in New York, and I miss it dearly, so I was excited to see an homage to their Brussels sprouts pizza on the Pizzahacker menu, called the Winter Pie. Topped with marinated Brussels sprouts, garlic, bacon from 4505 Meats, fresh mozzarella, and Calabrian chili paste, it's easy to like. The Brussels sprouts leaves are sweet and just-charred, the garlic is plentiful, and the cheese adds a nice richness. I love the vibrant flavor of the chili paste, though I might try ordering it on the side next time, to let the more delicate flavors of the bacon come through.
My favorite pie, though, is the Yo Vinny!, topped with purple onions, that great tomato sauce, fresh mozz, and super-flavorful and moist spicy fennel sausage from 4505 Meats. The sauce on this (and all red-sauced pies beyond the 'Top Shelf Margherita') is made with Chris Bianco and Rob DiNapoli's canned tomatoes from California's central valley. The best part of this pizza, though, is the sweet, tangy Mama Lil's pickled goat horn peppers, which make this pie into a pizza version of the sausage-and-peppers sandwich of my dreams. The creamy cheese cuts the heat and the result is the comfort-food pie I'll be ordering up every time I visit.
Krupman says he's hoping to eventually launch delivery, "but I'm not exactly sure how yet." He joked: "I had fantasies about utilizing drone helicopters, but then Amazon stole my idea."
Drone or not, I'd be pumped.