While New York City and Chicago are famous for delicious pizzas, out on the west coast the city of San Francisco (and its vicinity) is quietly gaining a reputation for being a pizza capital of its own. Little Star Pizza’s deep dish pizzas, Pizzaiolo, Pizzeria Delfina, Emilia’s, Flour & Water, Pizzeria Picco, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, Pulcinella and Una Pizza Napoletana, formerly in the East Village in NYC and recently reopened in SF, are all tough competitors on the SF pizza scene. Pizzetta 211, a tiny store in the Richmond district, has been satisfying pizza cravings since 1999, long before artisanal pizza became a trend. I found my near perfect pizza and pizza joint in this unassuming charming restaurant that only has 4 tables and 4 counter seats. During rush hour you may have to wait outside in the San Francisco chill for a while, but on the afternoon that I went, it was only half full and I cozied up to the counter in front of the tiny kitchen to watch the chefs make my pizza from scratch.
Pizzetta 211 was opened by Ria Ramsey and Sher Rogat, neither whom are formally trained chefs, but both with a passion for food with an emphasis on local seasonal food, sustainability and quality ingredients. Maybe it’s their laid back personality, or the fact of having women in the kitchen, but I felt an instant ease and comfort in slipping into my seat and watching them construct my pies. There was no loud music, no chaos, no rush and no attitude- just a relaxing time in this peaceful pizza haven as they poured their hearts into each vegetable and drop of oil that garnished the pizzas.
The small countertop is filled with fresh seasonal produce, from heirloom tomatoes and mission figs, to locally cured olives and brocolli rabe. Pizzetta 211 has a few classics on the menu like a simple basil, tomato and mozzarella pizza with a choice of pepperoni or white anchovy, but most of the pies change weekly, and one mustn’t become too attached to any one creation. This is easier said than done, as I myself am left yearning and fantasizing about the 2 pizzas that I had, almost to the point of torture.
Each individual order begins with the preparation of the crust, a smooth white dough that the chef stretches and shapes by hand with a delicate, unaggressive feminine touch. The first pie, a piadine, is drizzled with olive oil before going into the oven, after which it becomes beautifully decorated with baby romaine, dry farmed early girl tomatoes, applewood smoked bacon and shavings of pecorino cheese. The thin crust is perfect for me, evenly cooked through to the center, withstanding the vegetable juices and olive oil well, and not becoming soggy at all. The consistency is doughy and chewy enough to give substance, but unobtrusive and undistracting from the fresh ingredients on top. Its texture is soft and supple, like a woman’s body. Its flavor is light and delicate, creating the perfect base upon which the main characters can take center stage and shine. This pie is mostly about the farm fresh salad, but each bite reveals a perfect hint of smoked bacon to add richness and roundness to the flavors. An amazing, well thought-out and delicate pizza that reflects the grace and beauty of its female artisans.
The farm egg, house made sausage, pimento pepper, fontina and cilantro pesto pizza shows a more robust and daring side to Pizzetta 211. The crust is baked a little more, crispier at its brown edges while still maintaining a pleasurable chew in the center. It too holds up to the layers of moist ingredients in the center, like the creamy fontina cheese and sunny side up farm egg that paints the rest of the pizza a golden yellow with its rich oozy yolk. The homemade sausage chunks with the slightest hint of spices are amazing, as are all of the other components of the pie which each serve their purpose. Nothing is out of place, and everything is in perfect balance.
Other pizzas on the rotating menu that week were a rosemary, fiore sardo cheese and pine nuts pizza, and a roma tomato sauce, savoy spinach, feta, red onion and nicoise olive pizza. The latter I witnessed being made for a table in the corner, with a barely there thin spread of tomato sauce topped with just the right amount of cheese for an unaggressive and classy presentation to enhance the star ingredients. At Pizzetta 211, a cozy homey nook run by 2 exceptional women, I found my perfect pizza in the sensational piadine. The only imperfection is that I will likely never see it again. But then again, ‘even imperfection itself may have its perfect state’ (Thomas de Quincey).
211 23rd Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94121-2008
Random trivia: Did you know that pizzerias represent 17% of all restaurants in the US?