20” New York pizza pies are cooking inside of a new Oakland kitchen
At Mama’s Boy Pizza, business partners Ezra Berman and Miles Palliser are making simple pizza pies. “We’re not breaking the creative mold, and we’re not making pizzas with the most original toppings on them,” Palliser said. “We’re making very classic pies.”
Berman and Palliser aren’t chefs themselves, but they’ve been working together in Bay Area hospitality since 2012. In addition to Mama’s Boy, they own and run The Athletic Clubs in San Francisco and Oakland. Neither of which is home to locker rooms or hockey sticks. They’re sports bars with familiar American starters and entrées on the menu.
They decided to open Mama’s Boy because they felt there wasn’t a New York style slice shop in the Bay Area. Or at least ones with 20 inch pies. Their pizzeria also serves a few sandwich and salad options, but the focus is on the pizza. “It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, and we finally found the opportunity to do it,” Palliser said, speaking on behalf of Berman, who’s currently out of the office on paternity leave. “The reaction that we’re getting from customers so far is that it’s what they’ve been looking for, so that’s been rewarding.”
“For probably 10 years, we’d been talking about opening a classic slice shop specifically, not just great pizza,” Palliser recalled. When the location on Grand Avenue opened, it turned out to be on the same block as the Athletic Club. It also used to be a pizza shop (Extreme Pizza) and was perfectly laid out for Mama’s Boy. “This is our first order at the counter concept. It’s a smaller team in a smaller space,” he explained. Mama’s Boy can accommodate deliveries and takeaway, but there’s a sit-down mezzanine level that can host up to 30 fast casual diners.
Berman and Palliser went on a pizza tasting tour in New York before opening Mama’s Boy. “We worked with Angelo Womak, a friend of ours who’s based in Brooklyn. Womak’s entire career has been pizza,” Palliser said. He’s an alumni of Roberta’s, which has locations across the country. Over the course of two East Coast trips, they ate 44 slices of pizza in four days. “I’ve definitely learned more about pizza in the last six months than I’ve ever learned about anything in that amount of time,” he added.
Even though neither partner is a chef, they took the time to understand the product, how it’s made and when it’s not coming out right. Jose Sarza is their head chef and Mama’s Boy manager and is someone they’ve been working with for the past five years. “We brought Jose in from the beginning to train with us,” Palliser said. Instead of finding a chef, they built upon an existing relationship with “a great team member” who had been working at The Oakland Athletic Club.
“We don’t talk about this directly, but what Ezra and I both really enjoy is creating experiences,” Palliser explained. “It’s rewarding to create something and have other people enjoy it, to see the same people who become regulars. There’s a feel-good factor about it.”
Mama’s Boy serves the usual array of classic pies, from cheese to pepperoni. Palliser said the white pizza is “fantastic.” But he pointed out two highlights, noting, “I recommend our sausage pie, which is made with tomato, mozzarella and our own house made fennel sausage.” The sausage ingredients include Calabrian peppers and green onions. The second pie he mentioned is the burrata. “It’s basically a cheese pizza, but we put fresh burrata and fresh basil on top once it comes out of the oven,” he explained. Then it’s finished with hot honey. “It’s got the richness of the cheese, but it’s also got this hint of sweet honey. It’s a really great combo.”
Vegans can also partake in this bounty of New York slices. “We’ve got a great vegan cheese slice that people can use to build their own pies,” Palliser said. Once the dust settles, the plan is to expand upon their initial vegan option as well.
Mama’s Boy Pizza, open Tues to Sun 11am–10pm. 15 Grand Ave., Oakland. 510.400.5404. mamasboypizza.com.