In these divisive times, it can be difficult to find something we can all agree upon. Fortunately, there’s pizza.
“Pizza is the one thing that unites all of us,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín at a media event last week for the city’s upcoming month-long celebration of everyone’s favorite cheesy, carby comfort food.
On Tuesday, Jan. 30, Berkeley City Councilwoman Kate Harrison will make it official, announcing February as Pizza Lovers Month at the city council meeting. Of course, there’s more to the proclamation than just a simple passion for the pie. Berkeley doesn’t just want you to eat more pizza — the city wants you eat more pizza made by Berkeley restaurants.
So, for the entire month of February, as part of Pizza Lovers Month, the Downtown Berkeley Association is inviting area residents to participate in a Pizza Lovers Crawl of nine local restaurants that offer the dish most loved by kids and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Here’s the gist of the crawl. Diners will pick up a punchcard at one of the participating restaurants in downtown Berkeley. You’ll get one card punch when you buy a slice or a whole pie, another punch if you also order a drink. If you’re the kind of person who has pizza-themed clothing or accessories, take note: Wearing something with pizza on it will get you one extra card punch when ordering at a participating restaurant. And in case you’re wondering, pizza-themed tattoos count — we checked. Once you get a total of 16 card punches, you can enter a raffle for a prize package featuring various tickets and gift certificates to local businesses, and if you get the maximum 24 total punches, you can enter the raffle, plus you’ll automatically win an extra prize. There aren’t many times that getting punched a lot is a good thing, but this is one of them.
The nine downtown Berkeley pizza joints participating in the crawl are Arinell Pizza, Barbarian, Bobby G’s Pizzeria, Gather, Gio’s Pizza & Bocce, Jupiter, Lucia’s, PIQ Bakery and Café and Red Tomato Pizza House, which all offer pretty different pies at a variety of price points.
Here’s a quick and dirty guide to the pizzas you’ll find at each spot.
ARINELL PIZZA For many, the gold standard of Berkeley New York-style pizza is Arinell, which first opened in Berkeley in 1975. As with the best slices you get in NYC, it’s thin crust pizza that’s fast, cheap, unpretentious and delicious. If thin crust isn’t your thing, Arinell also has a more doughy Sicilian slice. Toppings are pretty much the classics, and don’t expect anything fancy like house made sausage or locally grown organic vegetables here. However, it is Berkeley, so if you don’t dig on cheese, a vegan version made with Daiya is also offered. Just remember, Arinell is cash only. 2119 Shattuck (at Center), Berkeley. BARBARIAN Barbarian is the newest pizza spot to open downtown. It offers New York-style thin crust pizza, with a fairly large selection of pies, including a few with hints of Indian flavor, like its chicken tikka masala pizza. The pizza chef is from New York and has spent time at respected local pizzerias, like Rotten City in Emeryville. He makes many of the toppings in house, too. But what many locals know Barbarian for — especially Berkeley High fans — is the value. You can get a slice for $2, making Barbarian the cheapest pizza you’ll find in the area. Barbarian, 2012 Shattuck Ave. (at University), Berkeley BOBBY G’S PIZZERIA Bobby G’s New York-style pizza is not as thin as Arinell and Barbarian, so if you like your slice crispy, but with a bit more heft, this could be the spot for you. The selection of pies range from the classics to more creative options, like the Roasted Chile Pepper pie, slathered with chipotle sour cream spread and topped with diced mozzarella and provolone cheese, roasted peppers, sliced jalapeños, chopped tomatoes, red onions and fresh avocado. Yes, avocado. All the New York-style pies can be made gluten-free or with vegan cheese. Another specialty you’ll find here is pan-fried pizza, a 9″ crust that’s fried in olive oil, then topped before it’s baked. Bobby G’s Pizzeria, 2072 University Ave. (near Shattuck), Berkeley
GATHER While Gather isn’t a dedicated pizzeria, the brick-oven baked pies here are worth noting, especially if you’re looking for ones with fresh, seasonal ingredients or with beyond-standard toppings. There’s a chef’s pizza that changes weekly, but a handful of pies that you can get regularly, like the vegan Spicy Tomato, topped with olives, cashew puree, chili oil and parsley and the Dancing Mushroom, with shrooms, ricotta cheese, mozzarella, green garlic and thyme. Gather, 2200 Oxford St. (at Allston), BerkeleyGIO’S PIZZA & BOCCE You’ll find two types of pizza at Gio’s — thin-crust and a grandma pie (as with a Sicilian pie, it’s served in a rectangular sheet pan, with the marinara covering a layer of mozzarella cheese). The thin crust version pizzas come in five varieties, from simple Margherita to something different, like the Shrimp and Spicy ‘Nduja Sausage. The Sausage and Mushroom pie comes topped with fennel sausage made in house. And diners can get any of pizzas made with gluten-free dough. Gio’s Pizza & Bocce, 2420 Shattuck Ave. (between Haste and Channing), BerkeleyJUPITER Beer comes to mind first when mentioning Berkeley pub Jupiter, but the pizzas here get a lot of love too, which makes sense, as a thick crust pizza is a perfect accompaniment to knocking back suds. Jupiter offers a large variety of hand-stretched, wood-fired pizzas, all with delightfully nerdy astronomical names. Want to try a Jupiter pie you won’t find anywhere else? The Perseus comes with lemon ricotta sauce, shaved Brussels sprouts, mozzarella, onion, bacon, red pepper, rosemary, thyme and balsamic reduction. Jupiter, 2181 Shattuck Ave. (at Allston), Berkeley
LUCIA’S Lucia’s takes pride in its pizza, which owners Steve Dumain and Alessandro Uccell say is made in the true Neapolitan style. In fact, the owners consult regularly with a veteran Italian pizzaiolo and bake their pizzas in a real-deal Stefano Ferrera wood-burning oven. But the pizzas at Lucia’s also have a California flair, meaning you’ll find an attention to high-quality and locally sourced ingredients, as well as some creative culinary twists, like a pie topped with ghost pepper maple syrup. You can’t go wrong with the classic Margherita here, which has the tell-tale char marks you want to see on any self-respecting Neapolitan pie. Vegans take note: Lucia’s uses Miyako’s cashew cheese for its dairy-free option. They also offer gluten-free dough. Lucia’s, 2016 Shattuck Ave. (between Addison and University), BerkeleyPIQ BAKERY AND CAFÉ Italian bakery PIQ makes their pizzas with a thick, pillowy crust. You’ll find seven variations, like the Parma, with tomato sauce and mozzarella, with paper-thin prosciutto slices spread atop. Or the Pollo Pesto, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, pesto and breaded chicken breast. Like an even more substantial dough? The Pizza al Metro is PIQ’s meter-long foccacia-style pizza. PIQ Bakery and Café, 91 Shattuck Sq. (between Addison and University), BerkeleyRED TOMATO PIZZA HOUSE Love Domino’s and Pizza Hut, but want to support a local alternative? Red Tomato Pizza House is the spot for you. The nine specialty pizzas here are loaded with toppings, but if you want a pared down version, you can create your own pie. Choose between four crust varieties — skinny, original, pan or stuffed. Daiya can substitute for dairy cheese, and gluten-free crusts are also available. Red Tomato Pizza House, 2017 University Ave. (between Milvia and Shattuck), Berkeley