Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Review: Berkeley Pizza, San Diego CA

San Diego is a great town in a lot of ways, starting with its beaches and the best weather in America. The city's historic Gaslamp District is an attractive area for tourists and conventioneers at the nearby civic center, and it's home to a wide variety of restaurants.
Spinach and mushroom slices
While 5th and 6th Avenues are cluttered with the bland national chains (Dick's Last Resort, Hard Rock Cafe, Starbucks, Old Spaghetti Factory), the area gets much more interesting when you venture a little bit west (mini-Chinatown) or east (East Village). As far as I can tell, San Diego has little deep pizza history, but there are some notable adaptations of pizza styles from other places.

We experienced New Haven style apizza in the East Village at BASIC urban kitchen + bar, and it was as good or better than the original versions in Connecticut. Walking from the excellent boutique lodging at Hotel Z on 6th Avenue, we stumbled on Berkeley Pizza on Island Avenue. 

With its retro-hippie sign and reference to Berkeley California, I anticipated a place for vegan and gluten free pies, or quinoa pizza topped with free-range acai berries and amaranth sprouts. That impression was completely inaccurate. Instead, Berkeley offers Chicago-style deep dish pizza and a nice selection of craft beers.

Unlike most deep-dish places, Berkeley sells pizza by the slice. I had about a half dozen choices, and I opted for a slice of their signature pie with spinach and mushrooms ($4.25), and a sausage slice ($3.75). Full pies take one hour, but it's only five minutes to reheat a slice.
Sausage slice
There is a small and homey dining space with perhaps 10 tables and windows open to the street in this relatively quiet Gaslamp location. I was served one fairly large sausage slice, and two smaller slices of the spinach/mushroom pie - perhaps I got two for the price of one because they were from a smaller pie?
Underside of the crust
Like most deep dish pies, the sauce is the outstanding ingredient. This pie sported full-flavored tangy and chunky crushed tomatoes, deftly seasoned. There was perhaps a quarter inch thick sea of sauce that covered everything except the high and rigid cornicione, and a generous dusting of Parmesan on top.

While the overall depth of the pie was substantial due to the distinctly raised cornicione and the amount of sauce and cheese, the bottom crust itself was only medium thickness. It was crisp on bottom, a little buttery, and a little flaky. Not an amazing crust, but a sturdy and tasty vehicle for the ingredients pooled within.

On the signature slice, there was good mushroom flavor that was distinctive even buried under the sea of red sauce and molten cheese. The spinach, on the other hand, was more visual than taste-able. Like most deep-dish pies, there was a LOT of cheese, probably a bit too much. 

The mild mozzarella never gets any oven browning, and thus it is denied a chance to shine. Still, the excellent sauce, the flavorful mushrooms, and the nicely executed crust combined to provide a highly satisfying experience.

The sausage slice repeated the nice crust, lava flow of cheese, and excellent chunky red sauce. The sausage was present in generous quantity and it lent a good salty and meaty flavor. Two excellent slices, and the sauce was the star in both.

After resisting deep-dish pie for a long time, last year I had an amazing one just south of Chicago at Louisa's. This pie won't make me forget that superb benchmark, but it was expertly rendered and comes with the nice bonus that you can buy it by the slice.

Thumbs up to Berkeley Pizza. I really had no idea that my visit to San Diego would turn up some solid examples of New Haven apizza and Chicago style deep dish.

Berkeley Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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