North Light is probably the only place in the East Bay where you can buy a book recommended by local chef-author Samin Nosrat or singer-songwriter Patti Smith; find hard-to-come-by vinyl records, like a limited deluxe edition of James Brown’s “Live at the Apollo, Volume II;” and order takeout food.
If North Light sounds familiar, you may have heard about it from Nosh. Or maybe, you read owner Dan Stone’s recent essay in The California Sunday Magazine, about North Light’s history and what it’s like to keep a bar open during the pandemic (spoiler alert: it’s really hard). I’ll admit I’d never made it to North Light before now, even though I live close by, but reading Stone’s somber article sure made me wish that I had sooner.
When ordering from North Light, I recommend giving yourself extra time to peruse its online menu. For now, its food menu only features pizza kits, so you won’t be spending much time deciding on the eats, but I enjoyed browsing the recommended reading lists from the luminaries mentioned above, as well as Michael Chabon, Rebecca Solnit and George Saunders.
North Light also offers wine by the bottle at reasonable prices (mostly in the $15 to $20 range), beer, liquor and quite a list of to-go cocktails, some that make three or four drinks. While many have taken up drinking as a quarantine pastime (no judgment here), I stuck to the assignment and solely ordered a DIY pizza kit.
What: Pizza Kit
Where:North Light, 4915 Telegraph Ave. (at 49th Street), Oakland
Hours: 2-8 p.m., Friday through Sunday
Price: $16 for a Margherita Pizza Kit that serves at least two. There’s also a Pepperoni Pizza Kit for $20.
Ordering and pickup: Order online for pickup at North Light. The ordering form has a box you can check if you want to request curbside pickup, although it was easy enough to grab my order at the door. The hand-off took place in a safe manner by a friendly staffer wearing a mask.
Packaging and presentation: The Margherita Pizza Kit comes with dough, housemade tomato sauce, a ball of buffalo mozzarella and individual basil leaves. Items come individually packaged in plastic containers. The dough ball was slicked with olive oil before it was placed in a plastic bag so it didn’t stick to the sides and was easy to remove (nice touch!). Cooking instructions were emailed to me after I placed the order.
Preparation: Pizzaiolos make it look so simple and fast when they stretch dough into a uniform circle. It’s probably no surprise that it’s not as easy to do it yourself if you’re new to it. While the kit takes a lot of the prep work out of making pizza at home, it won’t make you an instant pizza chef. Like many things, stretching dough into an even thickness takes a lot of practice.
I happen to have both a pizza stone and a peel at home. (I obtained both in aspirational moments when I thought I might make more homemade pizza than I actually do). But for those who don’t own either, the instructions say you can also use an oiled pan to cook the pies.
The kit makes one large pizza or two individual sizes (I found it was much easier handling and getting two smaller ones into the oven). The directions — which are likely the same for both pepperoni and margherita kits — say to add the sauce and toppings next, but I knew from previous experience that the fresh basil would quickly burn in a 500ºF oven, so I left off the leaves, adding them on the pizza after it was out of the oven — that was the right decision.
Although the pies only take a few minutes to bake, you’ll need to set aside a bit more time to pre-heat the pizza stone. The directions say to pre-heat the pizza stone for just a few minutes before baking, but longer would be better and would have resulted in a crunchier crust. I’d pre-heat the stone for at least 30 minutes, but an hour is best. And, leave enough time for clean-up, too. In my case, there was quite a bit of flour to sweep up on the kitchen counter where I pressed the dough, and on the floor, because well, I’m not the neatest of cooks.
Taste: The dough comes from Arizmendi, well-known for its pizza, so it’s no surprise that it’s delicious. Made with sourdough, it has a faint tang. The mozzarella tasted high quality and the tomato sauce had just the balance of sweetness and acid.
Done well, a margherita pizza is a thing of beauty in its simplicity. The kit simplified the process and the pizza’s flavor did not disappoint. I did enjoy the process, but given my inexperience handling the dough and the mess in the kitchen afterwards, I’ll probably leave pizza-making to the professionals.