Soft-shell crab “almondine.” Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The Julian pizza. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The salsiccia pizza. Dude. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Rigatoncini bolognese. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Five Dot Ranch skirt steak. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The busy dining room. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Ah yes, yet another pizza place in San Francisco. But ~GIOIA PIZZERIA~ has a different spin, calling itself “New York slice-inspired.” Yes, it’s a respite from all the Neapolitan joints around town, and for those who aren’t a fan of the Neapolitan wood-fired smokiness, these golden-crust pies should appeal (the pizzas are cooked in a deck oven). Plenty of folks in the East Bay are familiar with Gioia (open since 2004)—this Polk address is the first San Francisco location of the North Berkeley favorite from husband-and-wife team Will and Karen Gioia.
The duo are well schooled in the California canon, with Zuni Café, Chez Panisse, and Oliveto in their work history, mixed in with some time most recently at Roberta’s in Brooklyn. With their 50-seat location on Polk, the Gioias were able to make it more like a restaurant than just a pizza/slice shop, adding a number of dishes to the menu, like a seasonal dish of panfried soft-shell crab “almondine” ($13) on a bed of fennel and frisée (yeah, I might need to scoot back for that one before the season is over). There are four salads, including a well-executed Caesar ($9) with levain croutons that came on a chilled plate (always appreciated). But the promise of Sicilian anchovies was deceiving—nary one was draped on the romaine, just integrated in the dressing. Hey, I order a Caesar because I like anchovy. Where’s my fillet?
The main event are the pizzas, about eight in all, now available as a 12-inch ($17) or an 18-inch ($25)—they just brought the price of the large down a couple bucks and boosted the 12-inch by a buck. The locally focused kitchen uses Giusto’s flour and tomatoes from Stanislaus Food Products (no imported San Marzano rules to follow here).
A rotating special is the Julian, named after their son, who appears to have a temperament that’s sweet and spicy, as the menu proclaims with an exclamation point. One night it had thick slices of prosciutto cotto, red onion, aged provolone, parsley (the lightest scattering), garlic, and chile. The ingredients were harmonious, in fact, freaking perfect together. The cheese was as golden as the crust, which, true to New York style, you can easily pick up, fold, and enjoy. There’s a tender-yet-crisp quality to the crust, and writing about it makes me want to jump in my car right now and go have a slice.
My spice-loving partner in crime and I couldn’t say no to the housemade salsiccia (sausage), which came with house-pickled jalapeños that nestled deeply into the tomato sauce and cheese and pecorino. I have one word for this pizza (because my mouth is full): dude. There is also a pepperoni pie, a mushroom version with thyme and garlic oil, and prosciutto with arugula, and I am coming back for the Sicilian anchovy with chile and oregano. (Fillet, you will be mine.) FYI, this is not one of those build-your-own pizza places, just in case you’re a control freak or picky.
Want more carbs? There are a few pasta options ($17-$19) like spaghetti and clams, stuffed shells, or the rigatoncini, which came with a meaty bolognese studded with peas and pancetta and prosciutto bits. The pasta (they use Rustichella d’Abruzzo) was served at a definite al dente, each bite well coated with the sauce. The one meaty course is Five Dot Ranch skirt steak ($21), a cut you won’t see elsewhere (Gioia has an “in” with Five Dot). I adore skirt steak, and this presentation was spot-on, cooked to a pink perfection, the thick slices topped with salsa verde. I seriously want to get the recipe for the accompanying summer squash gratin—you can also order it as a side ($6), which I recommend you do.
For dessert, while I thought it was an excellent housemade cannolo, the $7 that I paid for it made me like it a little less. Or you can can get some gelato (not housemade), clocking in at $7.50. I’d rather have a side of meatballs for $9.
The all-Italian wine list has some good selections, and most are in the $10 range, although I’d welcome a few lighter picks with the reds, like a chilled Bonarda. There are also six quality beers on tap, like Linden Street Black Lager or Ommegang Witte ($4.50/$6.50).
Since Gioia is open during the day, you can come by for sandwiches like a Philly roast pork sandwich with broccoli rabe and provolone, a chicken parm, and an Italian “muffaletta” hero. You can also just grab a slice or two (until 5pm), pointedly served New York style on a paper plate and wax paper.
The industrial-yet-rustic space is appealing (Karen designed it), with shiny subway tile, reclaimed wood wainscoting, concrete floors, and vintage touches throughout (like the huge metal farming tool on the wall that looks rather medieval). I don’t recommend coming in here with a big posse—this busy place doesn’t accept reservations, so you may end up waiting a long time (although they will text you when your table is ready). Gioia is definitely a “nicer” pizza place—the plates are handmade by Jered’s Pottery in Berkeley, although I found the cheap paper napkins an odd choice since I was spending upwards of $50 for dinner. It would be a fun date night location, sharing a salad and a pizza together. Then again, if you’re flying solo, there’s a long marble counter that overlooks the kitchen where you can happily enjoy your pizza and don’t have to share it with anyone. It’s that kind of pizza.