Deep dish! Sicilian! Grandma! Classic New York!
Rumor has it that the “Grandma” style of pizza was genetically engineered in the kitchens of Long Island grandmas before being released into society. They’re still a rarity on the West Coast, where Neapolitan pizza crusts blister in brick kilns and Zachary’s makes the platonic ideal of a deep dish pie. But there it is on the menu of Chef Laura Meyer’s new pizzeria.
Having only been open a couple of weeks, Pizzeria de Laura is already making a ton of dough. Alongside the Grandma, Meyer is making a classic New York thin crust, Sicilian squares and a Detroit deep dish. It sounds like a TV slogan from the 1980s, but there’s really something for everyone.
For over a decade, Meyer worked at Tony Gemignani’s Pizza Napoletana. While she was there perfecting her craft, the chef also competed in and won a couple of pizza cooking competitions here in the United States and in Italy. Those competitions took place before the pandemic. Like many others, the lockdown afforded her the time to reassess her goals. Meyer saw that not only were many restaurants closing down, but people were also getting out of the industry altogether. She understood those feelings of being burnt out all too well.
“But for me, I always come back to the restaurant industry; it’s something that I love,” she said. Meyer felt that she was young enough to open her own place and knew that she would regret it if she passed on the opportunity to do so. Pizzeria de Laura occupies two floors of a downtown Berkeley building. Previously, the space was a cafe and, many lifetimes before that, a Chinese restaurant where I once went on a first date with someone I shouldn’t have.
Meyer’s aesthetic fits in perfectly there. It’s as if the space had been patiently waiting for her arrival. Walking inside Pizzeria de Laura, one immediately feels a sense of familiarity, at ease and at home. The chef understood how to conjure nostalgia for pizza parlors from our childhoods while updating the décor with clean white table tops, natural light and an open bustling kitchen.
The menu’s central focus is, of course, the pizza, but the starters aren’t afterthoughts. The arugula salad’s ($13) lemon vinaigrette softens and sweetens the edges of this occasionally prickly green. A plate of two arancini ($12) held a surprise in their centers—a ragu. Made with saffron risotto and cheese and covered in a bright red tomato sauce, Meyer’s arancini are crispy on the outside and tender to bite into.
Since it’s such a novelty, we decided to try a Grandma pie with vodka sauce called “Lil One.” While we were waiting for our pizza, large trays of Sicilian, deep dish and New York pies came out of the oven to land on nearby tables. There were many groups of people gathered together sharing these immense pizza pies. Nobody sang “Happy Birthday,” but there was something celebratory in the air. That’s the general mood upstairs and downstairs at Pizzeria de Laura. Perhaps diners are finally relaxing and feeling like it really is okay to eat out again in public.
The thin crust on a Grandma pizza is closer to a baked focaccia dough. It’s chewy, dense and filling. I liked it and would order it again, but I will admit that when the deep dish pizzas zoomed by, I wanted to come back the next day to try one.
Meyer describes her approach to making several different kinds of pizza as a “multiplicity.” The chef loves the idea of being able to appeal to more than one crowd at a time. “Being able to offer something for everybody—that’s always appealed to me,” she said. “Having work with Tony for a long time, I come from the thought process of ‘Anything is possible.’”
We also couldn’t resist the idea of trying the G.O.A.T. fried calzone ($15), with mozzarella, prosciutto, ricotta and a side of tomato sauce for schmearing or dipping. The G.O.A.T. is a golden brown triangle, puffed up from a hot oil bath. It’s sized to please a table of four and will miraculously cure said table of the desire to ask for a dessert menu.
Pizzeria de Laura, open Wed to Sun 5-9pm. 2049 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. 510.984.0409. pizzeriadalaura.com.