1512 Shattuck Avenue (Berkeley)
Cheese Board's slice changes daily, but is always delicious.
Ask any twenty-something in Berkeley where to eat, and ‘Cheese Board’ will likely be the next two words out of their mouth. Owned by its employees, Cheese Board uses fresh ingredients and produces only one type of pizza a day (always vegetarian). There is always a line (which often wraps to the corner of the curb), but it moves quickly because the pizzas are already made and there is no customization. Although Cheese Board has nicely decorated interior seating which often features live music, the constant crowd means you’ll more likely picnic on the traffic median (under a large sign prohibiting your presence on said median…whatever, ‘the man’). Cheese Board’s philosophy and atmosphere symbolize the Berkeley culture well.
Cheese Board’s signature taste relies heavily on its namesake – Cheese Board was first a cheese shop, then a bakery, and then finally expanded to pizza. By far the best component of their pizza is the cheese, which has a pleasant tartness, stringiness, and complexity. It’s isn’t too greasy but still packs in taste and density; Cheese Board clearly pays attention to using quality cheeses in all their creations. The crust is good in the sense that it supports the pizza, but it won’t blow you away. It has a constant thickness (thin and crunchy) throughout the slice and is also somewhat tart. Lacking a soft layer, the crust is a little too dense for my liking. Beyond this description, all bets are off and what you get will depend on the day. Chances are high that you’ll end up with fresh heirloom tomatoes and cilantro; but don’t be surprised if instead you find garlic, corn, and a fresh lime to squirt over the slice (or maybe curried potato).
I do miss the lack of tomato sauce in Cheese Board’s pizza. But, all the other components are of such high quality (at a low price) that I just can’t complain for long. The next time someone asks me where to eat in Berkeley, I may just have to give in to the crowd.
Pro tip: Cheese Board’s pricing system, turnover, and ‘extra slice’ policy make it possible to game the system to get more pizza when ordering. Cheese Board has a uniform price per slice – 2.50 per slice, $10 for a half pie (4 slices), or $20 for a full pie. There is no discount. In addition, every individual order comes with a bonus ‘half-slice’. So, if you order one slice, you actually get 1.5 slices (this is pretty awesome), but if you order 3 slices you still just get one bonus ‘half-slice’. If you order a full pie, you get bumped to two bonus half-slices, but it’s not nearly as much pizza as if you ordered 8 slices individually (which would net you 8 bonus half-slices). Long story short – never order the pies. If you’re with 4 friends and want 2 slices each, then order 2 slices each (and get a bonus half-slice per person) rather than the full pie. If you’re feeling extra devious, order your slices ‘to go’. Often, ‘to go’ slices are individually pre-wrapped with bonus half-slices. Thus, ordering two slices ‘to go’ will often get you two bonus half-slices even though it’s just one order. Note that because the turnover at Cheese Board is lightning fast, there is no difference in the freshness of ordering a pie versus slices. So – go with the slices and enjoy your bonus!
Summary: Cheese Board is a Berkeley institution as much as a great pizzeria – you should go.
Verdict: Go there!