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Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, San Francisco CA

Having a car in San Francisco can be a hindrance.  Besides the traffic of the metering lights on the Bay Bridge and the lookie-loos taking pictures on its new span (and that’s just approaching the City), finding a parking spot once there can feel like a never-ending battle against one-way streets.  In the end, testing your brakes in a parallel spot on a super steep hill several blocks away from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana is so worth it.  Owner/mastermind Tony Gemignani puts the everyday pizza joints to shame with the wonders coming from his kitchen.  Eight ovens of different kinds (gas, electric, wood fire, coal fired, rotoflex) at a range of temperatures from 525 to 1000 degrees F, means the varieties are seemingly endless from crusts to toppings.

the barcelona

the barcelona

Honoring our native state and August’s favorite European country simultaneously, we ordered the Barcelona for its toppings, wood fired California style at 900 degrees for a mere 90 seconds.  The result was a soft and chewy dough with a burnt bottom, but that was the intention.  A light layer of mozzarella was the base cheese, as it is for most pizzas, but this one had the added bonus of Spanish Manchego cheese, named for the region of La Mancha where it is produced.  Don Quijote likely would have loved Manchego cheese, if he were real.  It is slightly piquant, which works well with the other quintessentially Spanish flavors on this pizza.  Nora peppers (another name for paprika peppers) and smoked paprika chorizo tomato sauce both brought a deep spiciness, but with almost zero heat.  The chorizo, being Spanish and not Mexican, was neither greasy nor spicy but more like what an American would call a fancy, flavorful pepperoni.  Another famous Spanish ham product, jamón, was plentiful and delicious.  Considering the tender bits of scrambled farm egg, it wouldn’t be wrong to have the leftovers of this pizza for breakfast.

white pie with clam & garlic

white pie with clam & garlic

Cole fired from a 1000 degree F oven for about four minutes was this “white pie with clam and garlic,” plus bacon for an extra charge.  That’s about all that the description said, really.  With such a description, we did not anticipate that simplicity would taste so glorious.  There was mozzarella cheese but a different kind than the Barcelona, this one being a whole milk, milder, Brooklyn style – to go with the East Coast vibe, naturally.  It was a creamy backdrop for the bold bacon and plentiful, sweet garlic.  The clams, those in the shell as well as the minced meat on the pizza, were nicely chewy, smoky, and very fresh.  This pizza had the perfect combination of flavors reminiscent of a hearty clam chowder, but in a cheesy bread bowl.  There were overwhelmingly more toppings than crust, since it was thinner than the Barcelona yet harder, but don’t be scared by a little work.

detroit style red top

detroit style red top

As much as the white pie reminded us of clam chowder, the Detroit style red top reminded us of grilled cheese Texas toast.  Funny, since the two places aren’t even in the same time zone.  Anyway, Zach says he may have found his new favorite type of pizza, and we really lucked out since only 25 of these are prepared each day and we got the last one.  Baked in a gas oven at 550 degrees F for 25 minutes on a blue steel pan from Detroit, the kitchen knows how to recreate authenticity.  What else would the owner and first American to win the World Pizza Championship strive for, but authenticity?  With its own mozzarella unlike those of the other two, Wisconsin brick, as well as white cheddar, this was the cheesiest pie of the night.  Where the edges met the pan, a delicious garlic butter edge was formed, with caramelized corners adorned by mini cheese skirts.  The dough under the bed of toppings was thick, soft, and slightly buttery.  Poured over the top were ladles of a tangy and mildly sweet tomato sauce, rich and fresh.  All that is just the basic “red top” Detroit style pizza, without your choice of toppings, and we couldn’t do without trying a couple of the roughly ten.  Just like almost everything else here, the high quality sausage was made in-house.  August is not generally a sausage fan, but this was mild for her and pleasantly savory.  The pepperoni we requested provided the classic meatiness expected in an American pie.  All the elements, from the caramelized cheese to the crust, the sauce to the meat, balanced incredibly well.

Chris, our server, made excellent recommendations and conversation, while the rest of his crew worked together seamlessly to keep the tables happy.  A few people waiting for a clear table looked a teensy bit peeved, on the other hand, since reservations are impossible (literally, they don’t book them).  When you come, be prepared and ask for the first table available, inside or out.  If it’s cold outside, don’t worry because the heaters are set right above each table to keep guests warm and cozy while watching the sun set.  We came without coats or sweaters, and we were just fine with our single layers.  Across the way, if the door is open, you might catch some live jazz music coming your direction, so the ambiance outdoors is unique and can never be repeated.  We intend to return to try Tony’s other types of pizzas and non-pizza items, and just like jazz, there seem to be countless possibilities on the menu.

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Homemade Mini Pizzas, Three Ways

Scratch dough for amazing pizza is not hard at all.  This recipe is perfect to portion out for three mini pizzas; use it for one big pizza, and it may reach about 20″ across!  But if the people you’re cooking for can’t decide on one pizza to share, explore our three recipes here for inspiration.  We had one that was vegetarian, a pepperoni with extra cheese and a few other extras, and “green eggs and ham,” a tasty tribute to Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel.

• For the dough:

3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups of lukewarm water

3 tbs. of extra virgin olive oil

2 1/4 tsp. of dry active yeast

2 tsp. of kosher salt

1 tsp. of brown sugar

blooming yeast

blooming yeast

Bloom the yeast in lukewarm water by combining the yeast, water, and brown sugar in a bowl.  Whisk to dissolve the yeast and sugar.  Let sit for 10 minutes to activate itself.

on the hook

on the hook

In a Kitchenaid mixing bowl, mix the flour and salt.  Attach to your Kitchenaid with a dough hook.  Add the yeast mixture and olive oil to the flour, and mix on speed 2 for 5 minutes.

divided

divided

Transfer the dough to a cutting board (the board doesn’t need to be floured, the dough shouldn’t be that sticky).  Divide the dough into 3 parts with a knife or bench scraper.

placed for proofing

placed for proofing

Gently roll the dough into balls and place on a cookie sheet that has been lightly greased with olive oil.

covered

covered

Cover the dough with plastic wrap very lightly, to allow the dough room to expand.  You can even brush the dough with a little olive oil so the plastic wrap doesn’t stick so much.  Let the dough proof on a countertop or oventop for an hour to 1 1/2 hours until the balls have quadrupled in size; it’s okay if they touch each other when they rise.

• For the pesto sauce (used in two of the pizzas):

2 cups of packed fresh basil leaves

2/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup of BelGioioso Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts

3-4 garlic cloves (to taste)

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper

In a food processor, blend basil, garlic, and pine nuts together until coarsely chopped.  Add 1/2 cup of olive oil, and process until smooth.  Add salt and pepper and remaining oil, and pulse until well blended.  Put pesto in a bowl, and mix in cheese with a spoon.  Set aside.

Marsala wine can make a saute taste magical, and pesto has that wonderful earthiness thanks to the pine nuts.  This is a vegetarian dish with marvelous flavors, and August pictures it’s the pizza that woodland fairies and gnomes would eat.

• For the vegetarian pizza:

1 ball of dough

1 cup of shredded whole milk, low moisture mozzarella cheese

1 yellow zucchini, sliced in coins

1 chanterelle mushroom

2 brown mushrooms

2 morel mushrooms

3 tbs. of pesto sauce

2 tbs. of Marsala wine

1 tbs. of butter

1/2 tsp. of minced garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F, and preheat a pizza stone in the oven at the same time.

Slice all the mushrooms.  Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds to awaken the flavor.  Add the mushrooms and cook for 3-4 minutes.  Add the wine, salt, and pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes more.  Taste at the end to make sure the alcohol is cooked out, and that it is properly salted.  Remove from heat.

shaping

shaping

Stretch out the pizza dough on a cutting board dusted with flour and finely ground corn meal, and form an outer ridge for the crust.  Spread the pesto across the dough within the crust, leaving a half-inch border between the sauce and the ridge.

arranged

arranged

Sprinkle on the cheese, then arrange the vegetables.  Bake on the pizza stone for 12-16 minutes – timing depends on your oven and preference of doneness, so keep an eye on it.

vegetarian mini pizza

vegetarian mini pizza

If we’re feeling really lazy, the pizza we order without thought or compromise is pepperoni, olive, and extra cheese (it pleases everyone in the house).  Zach’s homemade version will make us rethink placing future orders, because no chain pizza place can hold a candle to this recipe.

• For the cheesy pepperoni pizza:

1 ball of dough

1 cup of shredded whole milk, low moisture mozzarella cheese

5 medium-thick slices of fresh mozzarella cheese

1 4-oz. can of tomato sauce

1/4 cup of sliced black olives

12-16 slices of pepperoni

8 slices of salami

1 tsp. of minced garlic

1 tsp. of onion powder

1/2 tsp. of dried oregano

A few fresh basil leafs, finely minced

Keep the oven at 425 degrees F, and reheat the pizza stone in the oven.  Mix the tomato sauce with the garlic, onion powder, oregano, and basil.  Stretch out the pizza dough on a cutting board dusted with flour and finely ground corn meal, and form an outer ridge for the crust.  Spread the tomato sauce across the dough within the crust, leaving a half-inch border between the sauce and the ridge.

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Sprinkle on the shredded cheese, arrange the sliced cheese, lay down the meat slices, and finesse with black olives.  Bake on the heated pizza stone for 14-18 minutes – like the first pizza, timing depends on your oven and preference of doneness, but this one needs to bake a little longer than the first one because of the extra cheese.

super cheesy and meaty mini pizza

super cheesy and meaty mini pizza

Since the 1940s, the works by Dr. Seuss have had an impact on early childhood development and education.  Few know that he also served in World War II, but even then it was as a commander of the Animation Department of the First Motion Picture Unit in the U.S. Air Force, writing wartime propaganda films (no kidding).  Some people, no matter where they are or what’s happening in the world, are resourceful and resilient and keep doing what they do no matter what because it’s what’s important to do.  Said Sam I Am.

• For the green eggs and ham pizza:

1 ball of dough

1 cup of shredded whole milk, low moisture mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup of diced pancetta

6 mini purple potatoes

3 cage-free egg yolks

3 tbs. of pesto sauce

Keep the oven at 425 degrees F for the final pizza, and heat the pizza stone in the oven once more. In a small pot, boil the potatoes in water over medium heat for 15 minutes; you want them to be al dente, not fully cooked.  Let cool, and slice in half.

Stretch out the pizza dough on a cutting board dusted with flour and finely ground corn meal, and form an outer ridge for the crust.  Spread the pesto sauce across the dough within the crust, leaving a half-inch border between the sauce and the ridge.

general arrangement

general arrangement

Sprinkle on the cheese and diced pancetta, and lay out the halved potatoes.  DO NOT place the egg yolks yet – we have done this purely for picture’s sake so you can get a visual of placement.

Bake on the heated pizza stone for 12-16 minutes – again, timing depends on your oven and preference of doneness.  However, the time to add the egg yolks is at the last 2 minutes of baking.  Gently make little wells in the melted cheese with a spoon and carefully lay the yolks in the wells.  If they bake on the pizza too long, they will harden and not be creamy.

green eggs and ham pizza

green eggs and ham mini pizza

Zachary’s Pizza, Pleasant Hill CA

Finally it’s open!  Zachary’s Pizza is one of those iconic restaurants of the Bay Area, especially for those who attended UC Berkeley.  We’ve been calling the Oakland, Berkeley, and San Ramon locations at least a couple times a week for the last month, and Zachary’s in Pleasant Hill is now ready for business!

We got to speak with Leandra, Zachary’s vice president, who was a joy and loaded with information about the new location and its inspiring interior.  Every two years Zachary’s holds an art contest for community members to create works to decorate the walls.  All of the exposed wood came from The Wooden Duck, featuring planks from the Cal Memorial Stadium bleachers established in 1923.  Despite the huge ceilings, sound did not bounce around too much so the ambiance felt quiet, even though the place was packed.

spring salad

spring salad

We began with a salad, different from the standards.  Called their Spring Salad, it came with mixed spring greens, red grapes, dried cranberries, and Gorgonzola cheese, tossed with shallot vinaigrette and served with bread sticks.  The greens and grapes were fresh, the Gorgonzola wasn’t too overpowering but added a subtle sharpness to the plate, and it balanced well with the fruit.  The shallot vinaigrette added a nice tanginess and bite to pair with the sweetness of the grapes and dried cranberries.  The bread sticks had great flavor – mild with garlic and Parmesan.  They provided a good crunch in place of croutons.  If you’re looking for a salad that’s a little bit different, this is a good choice.

stuffed pizza

stuffed pizza

Now, on to what makes this place famous.  Thin crust, vegan crust, and gluten-free crust are options, but if you want a stuffed (aka deep dish) pizza Chicago-style, the menu says to be patient for 30-40 minutes.  Believe us, it pays off.  What’s nice is the servers keep you updated with the wait time, so you won’t keep checking your phone/watch.  The servers also had great teamwork together.  We ordered our medium with pepperoni, olives, and mushrooms with the toppings on bottom and the sauce on top, as is tradition (well, you can see that olives are on top, to help make the pie prettier).  The cheese is freshly shredded in house, we could tell from the creaminess, and it still has good texture and pull like a mozzarella should.  The toppings are balanced really well, and Zach noted that the pepperoni wasn’t as greasy as you find it at your average pizza joint.  The tomato sauce was delicious and refreshing, and the dough was flaky and crispy.  The pizza was cooked so perfectly, you could have picked it up and it would not have folded – and that’s a feat for a deep dish!  But if you’re nervous how to approach it, the servers will serve you your first slice if you like.

that is deep

that is deep

A medium stuffed pizza was just too big for us, especially after starting with a salad.  We brought over half of it home, but had to do some quick grocery shopping along the way.  After 15 minutes of us getting some items, we came back out to the car smelling like the most wonderful pizzeria!  Can’t wait for leftovers tomorrow, and the next time we go in!