Hey, so I promised a Margherita Pizza round-up, so here goes. These things are all so different. Not all thin crust–some of it quite puffy and thick. Not all of it scorched–not all of it wood-fired. Only, like 4 here are wood-fired. Maybe 5. Some have copious basil–some have just a dusting. FWIW when I was in Naples it was very scant–much to the chagrin of some of the Americans used to PILES. Honestly, arugula was more popular on pizza than basil–something RIDICULOUSLY RARE here. Can someone please change this? LOTS of versions have raw tomatoes installed, ranging from Rod & Hammers’ beautiful roasted cherries nestled to annoying wall-to-wall fat slabs of grainy pink. BUT THE CHEESE! This is what separates the men from the boys. If your *margherita pizza* looks like a cheese pizza with basil on it, you are automatically at the bottom of the list. Ask yourself: Are you still reaching for the grate? I’ve included a couple flatbread’s here: two of them advertized as such and one claiming to be pizza in a spot that should be ashamed.
- PALO MESA WOOD FIRED in Arroyo Grande and NO this pizza is not served at any of their other 4 locations. Because wood fired and one person makes every pizza and serves it and consistently wins awards at international pizza competitions. See the olive oil on the crust? That’s important. See the braised basil? Again. See the pink tomato-y fruit break-down in the sauce? This is the real dealio boys & girls. Open every day lunch and dinner.
2. FLOUR HOUSE in San Luis Obispo and the offspring of Joe & Debbie have turned the venerable Vennei Vai into an Italian powerhouse. Dinner only 5 days a week.
3. ROD & HAMMER’S and the highest entry raw tomatoes will see on this list. The SLO Stills patio is where they fire up the real oven on Mondays for club-members and Saturday-Sunday for everyone else–weather permitting. And yes, they make every dough from scratch every day.
4 & 5. GIUSEPPE’S and basically a tie… I mean HOW do you decide which location makes better pizza??? Stupid-thin crust with giant air bubbles and blotches of mozzerella all with proper rosé and SLO is open for lunch.
6. HUMBLE OVEN is open 6 days a week lunch and dinner inside SLO Public Market and despite the appearance of way too much cheese–possibly even grate–this thing honestly comes off just about right. It’s the sauce and the ratios and the crust that pulls it all together.
7. BRASSERIE SLO and only marked down because of inconsistency. I love popping in here for lunch at the bar with a glass of rosé but often the margherita is not on the menu–though they ALWAYS make it on request–and different cooks make it different ways. I have 10 photos of this dish in my phone and they are all ridiculously different.
8. GRAPE LEAF DELI in the most-unlikely spot for wood-fired marg: in a middle-eastern restaurant but there it is. Rather nicely done and GUARANTEED 100% handmade EVERYTHING. Hell, he probably even makes his own mozzy. Gotta eat it outdoors, though, and prepare to be shouted at. PRO TIP: order it and take it over to Legends across the street–as they will allow ANY food inside.
9. MAMA’S MEATBALL and razor-thin crust with decent toast and lots of cornmeal lubrication but a TON of cheese. Still rather classic and would be fun to put side-by-side with Torricelli’s.
10. Oft-forgotten CAFE DELLA VIA Main St. Cayucos comes in with a seriously worthy effort. Ridic thin crust, nice mozzy grouping, not enough raw tomatoes to be annoying and gentle basil. There isn’t a margherita technically listed on the menu, but ask for it.
11. OCEAN GRILL’s little oven-aquarium is a STAPLE at this beach-view spot and I enjoy watching the pizza being made and delivered to the kitchen. I love this pizza, despite its slices and gobs of bread. Hey: look at the demographic.
12. ANTONIA’S PIZZA owner-operated despite the corporate/franchise digs in the bro-corridor downtown slo which begats literally IN-EDIBLE fare but this could change that. Massive cubes of tomato spaced around sliced globs of precious. Kinda looks like the inside of a bus accident but rather good and just squeaks out of the Top-10.
13. THE CARRISA and a staple of their brunch menu-which I hope comes back someday–and despite the huge puffy crust is covered with proper globs and scant basil. Currently NOT on the Rod & Hammer Whiskey Lounge menu, but I’m putting this here as a hint.
14. HARMONY CUCINA ITALIANO in Cambria and the first flatbreat to make the list and Giovanni likes his arugula! So do I. Almost always on the daily special.
15. STAXXX WINE BAR & BISTRO in Morro Bay loads their flatbread up with lots of cheese, cherry tomatoes and gobs of basil on a dense little crust. Rather well done.
16. BLAZE PIZZA is gonna piss a lot of people off landing a spot so high on the list for “FAST PIZZA” but it’s not as horrible as it sounds. It’s barely a 10-minute conveyor-belt wait and this is a non-sponsored, bone-stock pie. They offered, I refused, and went incognito with all the poly-bros. Pretty much a soggy muss but hey: it’s probably open til midnight. Brought to you by the people who also sell the worst pretzels on the planet.
17. RUSTIC FIRE in Paso Robles puts a considerable twist on their marg. Not sure if this is a Roger Sharp enterprise or a franchise or what, but despite the parm and ridiculous basil, it’s fairly yummy.
18. PIZZA PORT in Morro Bay needs to just step away from the cheese. And the tomatoes. Maybe away from pizza altogether. Another seriously inconsistent producer: I have had puffy, crusty works of art from here and then one of these clunkers gets dropped on you. I chose the uglier picture because that’s what you get.
19. FINNEY’S CRAFT HOUSE and another flatbread… this one rather artistic: I WANT TO BE THE GIRL WHO GETS TO DOUSE THE SAUCE SQUARELY ON THE FACES OF THE TOMATOES. This is not edible art, however.
20. NUCCI’S PIZZA and this is where the list gets kinda embarrassing. Here the finely-chopped basil (not complaining) and finely-diced raw tomato (still not complaining) are worked down into the grate so well, removing the LITERALLY 1/2″ OF CHEESE removes ALL flavor and you are left with wet, soggy crust.
21. BUONA TAVOLA for the piece de resistance of embarrassment: a dairyful of cheese and a garden of lacy basil on LITERALLY a Sysco flatbread crust. When W coined the phrase ‘shock & awe’ THIS is what he meant.
And here’s a pic I stumbled across in my phone from Naples. LOOOOOK at all that basil. And look at the olive oil. And look at the sauce. And look at the cheese portioning. Now scroll back up to the top-5.
Giant Grinder and Domino’s did not make the list because they do not have basil as an option. Sam’s Giant Manhattan and PiWhole and Wayward Baking may make late-additions to the list, as might My Friend Mike’s if I ever brave that offensive ritual. I went to Lebbers but they didn’t make it because I refuse to eat outside with the OC and the place in the Paso Market Walk declined inclusion because of my criticism of their hours. Piadina no longer lists margherita and Etto no longer serve pizza–astonishing since BOTH places were literally BUILT around an oven. (yes I know where Tin Canteen’s oven went, so save it) Walked in to Rosa’s and walked out because it smells like death. Might check out Cafe Roma as it’s been a minute and there’s a place in SM I have my eye on and a stupidly-good looking spot in Guadalupe called MEXIFORNO which I’m guessing is tongue-in-cheek because that’s a pretty awesome way to announce yourself. I double-dog GUARANTEE Ember Wood Fire would make a STUPID margherita, but never seen it on the menu. Also watch for EARTH & OVEN, which pops up prolifically all over–most notably Avila Friday market and Sinor-Lavallee some Sundays. But probably won’t be too many more additions, as it gets trite and boring and pointless. After the first half-dozen on the list it’s just a whole bunch of *yawn*. You can find tomato-covered cheese pizzas on practically every street corner, but that’s not what we’re lookin for here.
Speaking of pizza, Criki-Tiki closed permanently.
Via Caravaggio 147 closed for a couple weeks.
The Firestone Grill mortuary is open for dining–though not finished. At least I HOPE it’s not.
Gallo bought Daou
They tore down Foster Freeze in SLO
That’s all I remember. Tune in next week when we talk about WHERE GROWN-UPS DRINK, which you’re welcome to read from your post at McCarthy’s.
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