*THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED*
Oh, this town and it's incessant quest for the perfect pizza. I swear, it's a constant debate about who's tossing the best pie, whether it's the divine toppings at Pizzetta 211 trouncing almost everyone (let's hear it for the anchovies, no, the egg, no wait, two glorious eggs!), but then again, Pizzeria Delfina is no slouch (and no one has their cannoli for dessert), and let's not forget there's the perfect crust and sauce-to-mozzarella ratio at A16, and oh man, have you ever had a slice at Arinell hot out of the oven when you're a little drunk? Manna, I tell you. (No, we're not trekking to Larkspur or Oakland for this little discussion—you know exactly who I'm talking about.) And then there's a pizza that comes along that is totally different. Baa baa baa! Why hello, little black sheep!
People don't know what to make of the slices at ~NICKY'S PIZZERIA RUSTICA~. They complain the crust is too thick, the slices are too expensive (so a caramel frappuccino for $3+ is cool, but a handmade crust made with tipo 00 flour imported from Naples with organic and sustainable ingredients on top doesn't merit a $4.50 price tag for a hefty slice of homemade Italian sausage and pepper pizza? Come ON. As Nick says, it's just another example of the Miseducation of Russian Hill.). And then there are those who complain there's no place to sit.
Okay, let's break this down. Let's start with the pizza. Like the name says, it's rustica, which is the oldest style of pizza: a Roman-style crust that is more like a bready focaccia crust than a thin Napoletano crust. When coming up with this pizza, Nick was inspired by the pizza his nonna made. I'd say he had a good childhood. You'll get a hefty square cut into two triangles, and let's all just pause for a moment in this carb-phobic world. [Pause.] That nice slab of crust tasted hella good. And considering it's coming from a gas oven, Nick is doing one heck of a job. The crust had an addictive flavor and texture from the olive oil he uses, with a perfect balance of doughiness yet crispiness, and is topped with a lovely mozzarella that Nick has sourced from an old family producer. He's even trying his hand at making his own mozzarella. Bravo.
My friend and I tried the tre funghi, a mycological melee of portobello, shitake, and porcini mushrooms, with white truffle oil. Take that, Golden Boy! (They're the other thick-crust folks in town, but you can't even compare the two, really.) Personally, the Niman Ranch pancetta and caramelized onion slice rocked me hard, but my friend, who was being naughty, said, "Ya gotta sample Nick's sausage." Let's hear it for some sausage. Anyway. Nick's sausage is homemade, has a nice little kick—it hails from a recipe from the Inn at Little Washington's Patrick O'Connell. It's some mighty tasty sausage. The slice also comes with some nicely roasted peppers. Unimpeachable, that slice.
I even did a follow-up taste test: my very exacting and official Friday night tipsy test, and man, that slice was good enough to fall into bed with. A total pepperoni party. Especially since it was 11pm and it was literally the LAST SLICE. You know you're blessed in moments like that. The last slice. It's right up there with finding money, Doris Day parking, and asking to try on the last pair of shoes in a store window, and they're your size.
Speaking of size, so yes, the space is tiny—but what the heck, it's a pizza joint! There are some window seats available, with a few tables outside. Otherwise, there's a long counter where you can stand (pretend you're European!) over by the pizza oven, and on a typical SF night, that's not such a bad place to be. Toasty. It has cheery butter yellow walls, original black-and-white checked floors, tall windows, vintage-inspired overhead fans, and a spacious pizza display cabinet Nick had custom-made so you can survey your victim in the case before you commit to having it warmed up for you.
What's great is the sense of community in this place. Nick knows a lot of people, and fortunately has enough energy to keep up with all of them. They all say hello, whether they're saluting him from the sidewalk, coming in for a high-five, or trying to evade the eye of the watchful Walgreen's parking lot attendant across the street and surreptitiously park their car in the lot so they can sneak in for a slice. Where else can you meet characters with names like Edwin Heaven? It's enough to make you sit down (or stand, heh) with a glass of one of the nice wines Nick has selected, sink your teeth into a serious slice, and thank your lucky stars you live in San Francisco.
Sidebar: as many of you may, or may not know, I mentioned in a previous issue of tablehopper that Nick is no longer involved with Nick's Crispy Tacos next door. Lawsuit. Issues. Drama. Bottom line: I miss those tacos. So when I start jonesing for a taco "Nick's Way," I have to share a little secret: La Taqueria (2889 Mission St. at 24th St.) in the Mission has a pretty good approximation. Just order your taco "dorado" and you'll get a crispy taco wrapped up in a soft one, with cheese. No, it's not on the menu. Yes, it's ridiculous how much La Taqueria charges for their tacos, and they aren't even name-checking a designer meat on their menu. But I gotta hand it to them, their carnitas really are all that. And don't miss their agua fresca of melon. Buen provecho.
Nicky's Pizzeria Rustica
2109 Polk St.
San Francisco, CA 94109