P izza. 'Za. PEET-suh.
Whatever you call it, the word elicits a Pavlovian response, as few other foods so universally do. It's fast, filling and fabulous. So what better time to celebrate the beauty of pizza than the hectic holidays, when time is at such a premium and our bellies need filling with something seriously joy-inspiring?
Here are a few of the North Bay's finest pies, perfect for snacking on during breaks from gift shopping or for taking home to a feast with family in front of the holly-bedecked fireplace. Good will to all, and pizza on earth.
It's 5:45 on a Friday night, and the crowd clamoring to get into Rosso chokes out the door, into the strip mall parking lot of Creekside Center in downtown Santa Rosa. Reservations are only taken for parties of six or more; the hostess barely has time to look up from scribbling in her book of waiting guest names to cheerfully chant, over and over, "It'll be an hour and 15."
It's a wild turnout for the small (legal occupancy just 89 bodies) shop that opened this summer under the direction of former Tra Vigne chef John Franchetti. And it's like this all the time.
What's got the mobs so worked up? Absolutely, it's for the pizza, spun lavosh-thin and fed into a fire-breathing brick oven until it emerges bubbly and spotted black like the surface of the moon. Franchetti opts for meager but meticulous toppings, maximizing results by providing only a bit of embellishment and letting the ingredients do the work (he favors Point Reyes blue cheese, Crescent Moon basil, McEvoy Ranch EVOO and house-ground meatballs of Pozzi Farm veal and Bailey & Long pork). No pie escapes a generous, sharp jolt of shaved garlic.
The Funghi ($12.50) is rustic grace, sprinkling Carpati Farm shiitake and crimini mushrooms, Taleggio and fontina cheese, shaved artichokes and fresh thyme. And while I've heard mixed reactions on the Goomba ($12), as "clumsy" or "strange," I love it. Yes, sparse handfuls of skinny spaghetti and cubes of firm, herby meatballs do belong on a gourmet pie.
"It looks like there's an empty spot there, down at the end of the bar," a man says brightly, as I push past him on my way outside after dinner. "Shall we try?"His companion peeks at the crush, and shrinks back against the wall. "You go," she replies. "It looks too dangerous."
He disappears into the throng, and she calls loudly, "Save me a piece!"
Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar, 53 Montgomery Drive (in the Creekside Center), Santa Rosa. 707.544.3221.
Anyone out there who grew up eating Chef Boyardee pizza from a box kit, raise your hand. Mine's up, and I'm not ashamed. The stuff wasn't half-bad for a kid in the early 1970s, mainly because the crust could be finished so thin it was nearly transparent.
Such is the crust at Pizza Antica. Well, not Boyardee (Antica uses homemade Roman-style dough that proofs for nearly three days before its enters the gaping yaw of a glass-fronted, red-glowing oven), but the result is impossibly thin bread that's so fragile it shatters like a cracker. The bottom is the tiniest bit chewy under the toppings; the edges puff into huge bubbles that collapse on the teeth with a puff of yeasty tang.
It's true that at first glance, I'm not sold on Antica—it feels very much like the chain that it is—but at first bite, my tune changes. The ingredients, if not boutique, are excellent, with local salutes like the Mt. Tam triple cream cheese that glistens as the base of a mild and marvelous Bartlett pear and sweet garlic combo ($10.95, small).
Toppings are generous enough to be filling; there's lots of that lace-thin pear on the glossy Mt. Tam pizza, plus plenty of doily-sliced heirloom potatoes, caramelized onion and spritzes of earthy white truffle oil on another pie ($10.50). Intensely fennel-perfumed sausage, portobello and roasted onion cover one crust edge to edge ($10.95). And one particularly interesting recipe brings a woodsy flurry of bitterish grilled radicchio, dollops of local goat cheese, dry curls of pancetta and a bright green slick of pesto ($10.50).
Grab a table close enough to the exposition kitchen, and you can watch the chefs at work, subduing each knot of dough with an enormous rolling pin until it's flat, flatter, flattest.
Pizza Antica, 800 Redwood Hwy., Mill Valley. 415.383.0600.
Brick's Tiny chic place with a great array of smart salads and an endless list of pizza variations. 16 Kentucky St., Petaluma (in the Lanmart Building). 707.766.8162.
I Love New York Pie Big, foldable, addictive slices the way they serve 'em on the East Coast. Sit-down, takeout and delivery. 65 Brookwood Ave., Santa Rosa, 707.526.9743.
La Vera Pizza Takeout available as well as pizza by the slice. 629 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.575.1113.
Mary's Pizza Shack Eat in, take out or receive delivery on the steaming pie from this well-loved local chain, carpeting all of Sonoma County, with one store each in Marin and Napa: 121 San Marin Drive, Novato, 415.897.6266; and 3085 Jefferson St., Napa, 707.257.3300. Too many Sonoma locations to note. www.maryspizzashack.com.
Mombo's Pizza The crust is thin and the toppings eclectic. Delivery. 1800 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.528.FAST; and 560 Hwy. 116 N., Sebastopol (in the Fiesta Market center). 707.823.7492.
Old Chicago Pizza Deep dish from the windy city. Eat in or take out. 41 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 707.763.3897.
Pinky's Pizza Parlor This was a staple growing up. 321 Petaluma Blvd. S., Petaluma, 707.763.2510; 345 Third St., San Rafael, 415.453.3582.
The Red Grape New Haven&–style thin-crust pizzas. 529 First St. W., Sonoma. 707.996.4103.
Sal's Bistro A nice neighborhood spot. 919 Lakeville Ave., Petaluma. 707.765.5900.
Amici's East Coast Pizzeria Online and telephone ordering, plus they'll even deliver home-style chicken soup. 1242 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.455.9777.
Dario's Pizza Restaurant Look for such as the Thursday "family" night special that wraps one large three-topping pizza, a salad and a six-pack of soda into a $21.99 price. 2829 Bridgeway Ave., Sausalito. 415.332.6636.
Ghiringhelli's Calzones, special salads, hot hero sandwiches as well as an extensive list of pies. Delivery. 45 Broadway Blvd., Fairfax. 415.453.7472.
Lo Coco's Pizzeria Offers partially baked pies, needing just five minutes or so in your oven. 638 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo, 415.453.1238; 631 Del Ganado Road, San Rafael, 415.472.3323.
Mulberry Street Pizzeria Winner of the Food Network's "Pizza Battle." Dine in or take out. 101 Smith Ranch Road, San Rafael. 415.472.7272.
Red Boy Pizza A Marin mini-chain, Red Boy pizza is hard-wired into the DNA of some Boho-ites. Several locations; yes, delivery. www.redboypizza.com.
Small Shed Flatbreads Innovative slate of cracker-thin pizzas, or "flatbreads." Dough rolls available as takeout, as are "take-'n'-bake" pies. 17 Madrona St., Mill Valley. 415.383.4200.
Fazerrati's Pizza Great pie, cool brews, the game's always on. Super place for post&–Little League. 1517 W. Imola Ave., Napa. 707.255.1188.
La Prima Pizza Everything from fish 'n' chips to steak sannys to a full slate of pizzas. Three locations: 1010 Adams St., St Helena, 707.963.7909; 1923 Lake St., Calistoga, 707.942.8070; 3070 Jefferson St., Napa, 707.253.7909.
Pizza Azzurro Run by a former Tra Vigne and Lark Creek Inn alum, the pizza is simple and thin, and ranks as some of the best in the North Bay. 1400 Second St., Napa. 707.255.5552.
Tuscany Firewood-fired pizzeria, Tuscan-style atmosphere. 1005 First St., Napa. 707.258.1000.
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