State Flour Pizza Company
2985 College Ave. (near Webster Street), Berkeley
It’s an East Bay miracle: State Flour Pizza Company, the Elmwood pie shop from Derek Lau (Biergarten, PizzaHacker), was set to start serving up East Coast-style pizzas in October. But Lau has managed to open ahead of schedule, after a couple weeks of limited service as Lau trained his staff and ensured the quality of all his offerings was high. State Flour’s regular schedule begins tonight, with dine-in or take out service from Tuesday-Saturday from 5-9 p.m., and expanded hours planned as the business grows.
State Flour doesn’t have a website or phone number yet, so take-out orders must be placed in person, Lau said. To help you decide what you want to order, Lau sent State Flour’s opening menu (it’s below), which demonstrates “the format for the next month,” though you should “expect the pizzas to change from time to time,” he said. You should definitely keep your eye out for new offerings, Lau said, as “square pies will be coming soon.”
“Logistically they are the toughest,” he said of the crispy-crust, deep dish style, “but super important to me.” — Eve Batey
Nosh’s original report on State Flour, which was published on Aug. 11, is below:
Derek Lau didn’t take the usual route on the road toward gastronomic glory. After a long career as a Bay Area DJ, he traded in his decks for dishes about 15 years ago, and learned his craft at spots ranging from gritty neighborhood gems to some of the world’s most lauded kitchens. Now he’s opening a place of his own in Berkeley: State Flour Pizza, an East Coast-inspired pie shop that will start serving diners in the Elmwood this fall.
Lau said that he turned to restaurant work after realizing that music was too financially unstable (hold here for a sigh from every independent restaurateur). To start off in his new profession, he considered enrolling in cooking school. But after attending a few demos and open houses, he said he found the environment too stifling to continue.
“I planned on learning at CCA [California Culinary Academy], but felt like the food they were making wasn’t impressive,” he said. “I also worried about racking up so much debt, so instead I decided to start working in restaurants, keep my head down, learn what to do, and just work my way up.” So that’s what he did.
Lau’s first food gig was at Minako, a minuscule, now-shuttered Japanese spot in San Francisco’s Mission District. He then staged at other noted restaurants like the Palace Hotel’s main kitchen (“I loved it but got tired of making hollandaise sauce,” he said, referring to the downtown San Francisco hotel’s famous brunch seatings), as well as Michelin-starred SF spots like Benu and Saison.
“Benu really taught me to push myself to the max,” Lau said. “There was a lot of camaraderie there compared to Saison.”
After that, Lau ran Hayes Valley’s Biergarten and Suppenküche at the same time before switching gears and heading to PizzaHacker, the ballyhooed pizza spot in San Francisco’s La Lengua neighborhood. At that popular pie shop he worked — and studied — as a line cook from 2018 to 2019.
“I learned the most from Jeff [Krupman] at PizzaHacker,” he said, praising the chef-owner for giving him a thorough education on the delicate nature of pizza creation — and the idea to open his very own shop.
“I learned a lot about dough production and how to hand pull cheese… Jeff was the first person to really share a lot about his production process with me.”
Choosing Berkeley for his own pizza operation wasn’t a difficult decision. “I lived in Berkeley for seven years off and on; I just love the vibe here, especially a neighborhood where people can bring their families or just come in for pizza and wine.”
(Until it opens, be sure to check out the signage in the window, created by Seth Vargas of Sleight of Hands Signs — the same artist who created signs for Rose Pizzeria and Delirama — replete with two intertwining California poppies. They’re the state flower, get it?)
Diners shouldn’t expect an East Bay clone of PizzaHacker when State Flour opens this fall — by October, Lau hopes. “My dough will be different than PizzaHacker’s,” he said, and folks should anticipate “pizzas inspired by New York City and New Haven, but with gourmet California toppings.”
He’s still working out the restaurant’s menu, but said that he plans on offering 14” thin round pies and 12” square Sicilians, both made with Central Milling flour. He’s also plotting an array of “high-level” starters and a choice selection of wine and beer. While Lau aims to open a chic, date-night-friendly spot, he’s said he’s also committed to sticking to an affordable price point, to keep in line with the New York City pizza ethos, (but wasn’t ready to share exact prices quite yet).
“And eventually, by late winter, we will offer a slice program with square and round slices for lunch and after hours,” he said. This is big news: One of the most glaring drawbacks of the Bay Area’s influx of high-quality pizza places is their inability, either due to cost or unyielding aesthetic, to offer pizza by the slice, a la Graffiti Pizza or Leaning Tower of Haddon Hill. After all, cramming a hot cheese slice flecked with red pepper flakes down your gullet en route to work or (covertly) on a BART platform is one of life’s most underrated pleasures.
As to how State Flour Pizza will stand apart from the region’s pizza places, he admitted that he’s “not trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to pizza.”
“When I look at Rose Pizzeria in Berkeley, which I love, we’re actually doing really similar formats,” he said, amplifying the idea that State Flour Pizza will be, at its core, a neighborhood pizzeria where neighbors can gather together over a couple slices.
Featured image: State Flour Pizza Company’s Casanova pie, topped with bacon, sausage, soppressata, pepperoni, pickled onions, sweet peppers, provolone, mozzarella and grano padano. Credit: State Flour/Instagram