Summer Kitchen Bake Shop

2944 College Avenue (Berkeley)

Summer Kitchen Bake Shop slice

The basil was fresh, but look closer and you'll spot overzealous salting!

Is pizza a particularly fragile dish?  I would vote no, but certainly one wrong move can ruin an entire experience.  Take my latest visit to Summer Kitchen Bake Shop, a tidy shop in a particularly gentrified area of College Ave.  The interior is a spotless white, like you’d expect pizzerias in heaven to be.  So far, so good.

The first sign of trouble was when I noted that there was no parmesan cheese or red pepper flakes anywhere in sight.  This is usually a bad omen.  Still, the oven looked promising enough (even if it’s exterior label of ‘wood stone’ was a little too noticeable).   I ordered a slice, sat down, and watched as the lone pizza-maker worked at a furious pace.  A new pizza seemed to come out of the oven every minute, when the pizza man would promptly slice it AND deliver it to the tables before quickly preparing the next one.  This was all fun to watch, but the hurriedness would set the stage for the atrocity to come.

In short: the pizza was over-salted.  Well, actually it tasted like it had gone for a swim in the Pacific ocean.  So I will try to describe, as best as I can, what I could taste through the salt.  But , overworked pizza-maker or not, a pizzeria’s job is to deliver good pizza.

Actually, the best part of this pizza was the basil.  It was fresh and flavorful.  The pizza was somewhat undersauced – I saw the chef measure two ladlefuls for each pie; three would have been perfect.  I don’t think I tasted the sauce much – it just provided a liquid film connecting the crust and cheese (the picture over-represents the amount of sauce that was actually there).  I think the cheese and crust would have been above average, but they were hard to taste through the salt.  The crust had some nice heterogeneity from the oven – all parts were cooked well, but there was natural variation in color and flavor.

The oversalting notwithstanding, Summer Kitchen Bake Shop produces above-average pizza (I think).  But be wary – haste can make waste, and pizza can be a fragile dish.

Summary: Probably(?) above-average pizza, but the quickness in the creation led to disastrous levels of salt.

Verdict: Maybe stop by.

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Published in: on August 21, 2010 at 11:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Emelia’s Pizzeria

2995 Shattuck Ave. (Berkeley)

Emelia's pizza slice

Some of the best pizza in Berkeley is at this small joint in Ashby.

Emilia’s Pizzeria has quite the intimidating web site: it is basically one big FAQ section telling you to order 3 hours in advance, reserve a table even further ahead, and by the way…don’t be surprised if the pizza runs out and you can’t get any.  Is this place really worth all the trouble?

Yes, yes it is.  Actually, once you get past the initial hurdle of ordering a pizza here, the rest of the experience is pretty friendly.  If you dine in, they’ll do their best to ensure the pizza gets out of the oven right as you arrive  (there’s no ordering at the table; remember, you have to order three hours in advance…) .  If you like hours of table conversation, this is probably not a good thing.  But if you want get down to business and not muck about with appetizer menus then this is a welcome change.  Despite the aura created by their web site, the interior is actually very, very small, with only one small table, one larger table, and one portrait of Frank Sinatra.

Oh, so you’d like me to talk about the pizza.  Well, it is quite superb indeed.  The highlight is definitely the sauce – they don’t skimp on it, it has ‘pop’, and the consistency hits exactly the right note between chunky and smooth.  The crust is thin for the majority of the slice, but thickens up at the edges.  The best feature of the crust is its thin crisp layer which reveals a soft inside.  The crisp layer can be so thin at points that it burns a little – this may be a feature that you enjoy or not.  The cheese, which comes as islands of mozzarella, is very good as well.  A touch of basil rounds out the slice.

Despite having amazing flavor, there is one disappointing aspect of Emelia’s pizza: it is not filling at all.  We had 2 large pizzas between 5 people and came away somewhat hungry afterwards.

Emelia’s is a must-try pizzeria in Berkeley.  But you’ll have to plan the experience in advance and reserve a table – since when did ordering pizza become planning date night at a French restaurant?

Summary: Superb East-coast style pizza, but a little light on the stomach and requires advanced planning.

Verdict: Go there!

Published in: on August 21, 2010 at 10:12 am  Leave a Comment