A restaurant review, a former editor liked to say, is a snapshot in time. Kitchens change: staff moves on, recipes change, ingredients move in and out.
When I ate at Addie’s Pizza Pie in Berkeley back in January, I loved the frozen custard, not so much the pizza. Owners Jennifer Millar (Sweet Adeline Bakeshop) and Thomas Schnetz (Flora, Doña Tomás, Xolo, Tacubaya) were reaching for something interesting — East Coast thin-crust nostalgia filtered through the consciousness of someone who couldn’t imagine living without a weekly CSA box — but what they ended up wrapping their fingers around seemed, well, underbaked.
The pizza dough seemed like something a pastry chef (that’d be Millar) would come up with, the crispness and textural polish of something yearning to be a tart crust. And the toppings on the Southside were odd, frankly — tomato sauce and olives were fine, but the Italian sausage seemed like a misguided attempt at deconstruction, all craggy pork bits and large, limp pieces of fennel.
Since then there’s been a transformation at Addie’s, which just turned a year old. After a visit last week I left with a different kind of snapshot than the one I stored in my food memory’s cache last winter. Earlier this summer, Addie’s got a new kitchen manager, Joe Pelzers, who — though he’s only 23 — has managed to cook a lot of pizzas in his young career. He started out at Rustica, did a gig at now-shuttered Pie in the Sky, then worked as pizzaiolo at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, Tony Gemignani’s borderline-obsessive North Beach pizzeria.
At the same time, Millar and Schnetz had a consultant suggest tweaks to Addie’s offerings, including the crust. No more hundred-percent Caputo 00 flour, now it’s a mix of 00 and Giusto’s organic. The crust is chewier than before, more elastic, less brittle: better. So is the Southside ($14.75), spread with a mildly spicy tomato sauce Pelzers has made adjustments to, nubs of more conventional Italian sausage than this pie once floated, and fennel that keeps its presence to a soft, perfume-y whisper. It was good pizza, and made a better case for bringing together New York and California, in the vault-like shell of an historic South Berkeley bank.
Pelzers told What the Fork the kitchen is putting a bit more of a sustained beat on the seasonality of pizza toppings, stuff like the corn-topped white pizza with goat cheese on the current menu. You put corn and goat cheese on a pizza in New York, chances are you’ll have to defend yourself against the general outrage with an oven peel.
As for the frozen custard, I’m glad to say it’s the same as it ever was. After putting away the better part of a pizza and a pint of Drakes Blonde, I ate two scoops (vanilla and milk chocolate). Unlike driver’s license photos and those sweaty, red-faced drunk shots from trips to Vegas, some pictures just don’t need re-taking.
Rockridge used to be the center of East Bay high-end restaurant culture, but no more. All through the last decade, the neighborhood grew older, better off — same thing that happened to Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto the decade before that — and things got stuffy. Oakland’s fun center shifted to Uptown, a setting more thrilling, more awesomely urban than the low, orderly storefronts of College Avenue. The Great Recession bit hard in Rockridge. The Water Lounge and Raw Bar space is still empty; so is Citron (a recent report suggested À Côté owner Jack Knowles has plans to open a casual place there called Next Door, though the launch date is probably sometime in the second half of 2012, at the earliest).
This Sunday, though, Rockridge will be bustling again, with the side-by-side recurrence on October 9 of the Rockridge Out and About Festival and Market Hall merchants’ Picnic In the Street.
Out and About will close College to car traffic between Alcatraz and Manila, with bands at the main stage, a wellness tent, a place for kids, and even a runway for fashion shows. Meanwhile for Picnic, Market Hall is packing a chefs’ stage with local talent: urban farmer Novella Carpenter, cookbook author Rosetta Costantino, and Oliveto owner and Community Grains pitchman Bob Klein — sort of new West Oakland meets classy old Rockridge.
Market Hall tenants will sling food and drink, including iced drinks from the guys of Highwire Coffee Roasters (formerly known as Peaberry’s), burgers from Marin Sun Farms, pulled pork sandwiches from The Pasta Shop, and spit-roasted porchetta from Oliveto.
Also going down Sunday: a cookbook exchange — bring a used book and trade it for (or buy) a different one. Proceeds benefit the Rockridge branch library. And artist Mattie Ignacio will be hawking cheese-box art, reclaimed containers for chèvre or brie, made into something nice. All proceeds from that benefit Oakland’s Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA).
Picnic In the Street happens along College Avenue between Shafter and Ocean View. Both events are free (bring cash for food and drink!), and run from noon to 6 p.m.