In 2017, shortly after Jon and Kayta Smulewitz closed Adesso, their eight-year-old sister restaurant to Dopo, the couple was having breakfast with friend, restaurateur Dona Savitsky, who approached them with a compelling idea. Savitsky, who owns Doña Tomás in Oakland and Tacubaya in Berkeley, told them she was moving Tacubaya to a new space on Fourth Street and wondered if they’d be interested in taking over the space she was vacating.
“She mentioned she was moving over to the Café Rouge spot [more recently, it was Pompette] and said, ‘You should reach out to the landlord and do something there,’” Kayta Smulewitz told Nosh. “We said, ‘That’s interesting!’ but we had just got rid of one thing and wondered, ‘Do we want to start another project?’”
Turns out, yes, they did.
“My husband is the artist and he gets bored, he wants to do something new and exciting,” Kayta said about Jon, the chef in the partnership; she handles front of house. “We wanted to make it happen.”
But rather than mirroring their sit-down Sicilian cuisine-focused restaurant, Dopo, the Smulewitzes wanted to do something different at the Fourth Street location. They settled on a concept that will be called Pollara, a counter-service Roman-style pizzeria.
Roman-style pizza, or pizza al taglio, is baked in long, rectangular pans. Pollara will use baking trays that measure 2-feet long. But aside from its angular shape, Kayta Smulewitz says the dough is what really makes this style “not your average pizza.” Made with a high-protein flour, the dough is highly hydrated, which makes it difficult to work with. It also requires a longer fermentation period, about three to four days, to develop its flavor. Smulewitz told Nosh it’s been “an ongoing work in progress with the dough,” but their main source of inspiration is a version from famed Italian chef Gabriele Bonci, who popularized the modern Roman-style at his restaurant, Pizzarium in Rome and two U.S. pizzerias in Chicago opened under the name Bonci. The Smulewitzes said they made a few trips to Chicago to do a bit of recon.
“It’s Bonci’s style that we’re imitating,” Smulewitz said. “We just liked his dough. It’s airy, light, but still crispy.”
Unlike other pizza styles, it’s able to retain its integrity even when heavily loaded with a variety of toppings, many that are added after baking. Pollara will offer 10 different types of pizzas at a time. Toppings will change with the season, but expect a variety of combinations, from the classic tomato, basil and mozzarella di bufala; meaty versions with thinly sliced coppa and whole Cefalù anchovy filets to vegetarian-friendly pizzas with Stracchino cheese, poached figs and mint. “There’ll be lots of color, lots of variation,” Smulewitz said.
All pizzas will be baked in a Moretti Forni electric oven, then placed in a 9-foot display case, for customers to choose from. Like at a deli, diners will approach the counter and order portions of pizza by weight (pizza al taglio translates to “pizza by the cut”). The slices will then be reheated in an oven behind the counter before it is served. Service will also be like a deli, in that instead of standing in line, guests will take number tags.
“You’ll come in and take a number. That way, there will be no anxiety about waiting in a line,” Smulewitz said. “You can go to the bathroom and walk around and not be stressed out about losing your place in line.”
Aside from pizza, Pollara will offer a few other Italian favorites that can also be ordered by weight, like a variety of charcuterie, antipasti and fresh burrata.
Pollara is currently in construction mode, but Smulewitz said most of the changes made to the space will be cosmetic. Near the entry, where Tacubaya had a retail area, Pollara will have a bar for diners to stand and eat. There will table seating for 40 to 45 diners inside, as well as communal outdoor seating shared with Market Hall. To put their own stamp on the place, the Smulewitzes have taken out some columns inside, put in new tile, added marble countertops and a black steel facade for the bar. They’ll slap on a fresh coat of paint and hang up family portraits, including of Jon’s grandmother, who’s the restaurant’s namesake (her maiden name is Pollara).
The couple hopes to open Pollara this summer, possibly as soon as the end of July, but more likely by mid-August.
“We’re getting everything in place, getting a handle on opening another restaurant with a completely different concept than Dopo. It’s going to be a whole new thing. We’re excited to see how it works,” Smulewitz said.
Pollara will be at 1788 Fourth St. (at Delaware), Berkeley