Tonight, a friend and I took our second trip to Gioia. I had last gone in August/September, and was looking forward to this trip, despite being somewhat pizza'd out lately (due to an excess of Cheese Board), and despite a lackluster experience last time.
Last time, I had a slice of the mushroom (cremini) pie, as well as either the pepperoni or the cheese (I can't recall exactly). I remembered being unimpressed with the crust (far too soggy for most of the slice, until I got to the too-thick lip of the slice), but after hearing so many raves about Gioia I decided to make a go of it again.
This time, I made sure to arrive at a time when I figured turnover would be fastest - around 7 pm. Sure enough, there was a fairly quick turnover at that point, and people were coming in and out picking up pies to go. Some were just hanging out at the counter and having a couple of slices. Will Gioia (the proprietor) was there, and I thought that would be an especially good pizza omen.
Will and the other guy working the counter were as nice as can be - when I inquired about which pizzas had most recently come out of the oven, Will pointed toward the pepperoni, but directed me toward the broccoli rabe and fresh ricotta pizza (no tomatoes), telling me that it was the first time they had ever made such a pie. Very well; I like broccoli rabe on my pizza, so I ordered a slice. My friend ordered three slices: the spicy anchovy, the pepperoni, and the mushroom. Will then popped all four slices in the oven. Although it is my habit to order slices "well done," I wanted to see how the owner himself would reheat my pizza, given no special instructions.
I'm glad I didn't ask for my slice of broccoli rabe to be heated until "well done," because the crust was pretty crisp in spots. The slice was fine - not great. I was surprised to find it to be rather bland. The crust was unexceptional - bland (does it need more salt?), soggy and floppy in places with the exception of the lip of the pie, which was far too thick for a New York-style slice. The crust on the lip was also too crackery-crisp. In fact, it was probably as thick as the lip of the pies at North Beach Pizza, which of course is essentially a California-style slice.
I also sneaked bites of all three of my friend's pizzas - all soggy, greasy, and weighed down by the cheese and toppings. It seemed as though the dough, while stretched impressively superthin, was probably waterlogged from the tomato sauce, olive oil, and cheese on my friend's slices. His three slices were exactly how I remembered the two tomato-based slices that I had eaten the last time I went to Gioia in August/September. I was beginning to appreciate my "white" pie's lack of sauce.
As I finished my first slice, out of the corner of my eye I saw Will/his partner pull another pie out of the oven. When I inquired about the pie, Will's partner explained that it was a sausage/tomato-sauced/cheese pie, it was something that they rarely made due to its simplicity, but they would be selling it that night. As they joked, Will's partner sliced the pizza, and Will slid a slice of it onto a plate for himself before calling it a day. Well, I figured that since (1) it was such a fresh pie, and (2) it was good enough for Will himself to eat, that I would have to try a slice. After all, this should represent the best of the oven, right?
I will say this about the sausage slice - I could taste the high quality of the ingredients at Gioia. But in its execution, the pizza was, unfortunately, oily and soggy, similar to the other tomato-based slices I'd had at Gioia before, but perhaps even more so. My slice was as fresh from the oven as a slice COULD be, and yet instead of being crisp and toothsome (not to mention foldable), as a New York slice should be, the ratio of cheese to dough was off (too much cheese), and consequently the olive oil, cheese, and toppings slid around on my waxed paper, independent of the crust. The sausage was toothsome and delicious - but the crust was, sadly, all wrong. I also didn't really like the balance of flavors from the cheese/tomato sauce, but the crust was the main problem. When I got to the lip of the slice, I experienced the same problem as before - it was too thick.
I really want to like Gioia. I appreciate the concept, and I think it's a great addition to Berkeley's pizza scene. In fact, my friend adores it for the pepperoni alone - he acknowledged that the crust wasn't the greatest, but for him, the quality of the pepperoni is what makes a slice of pizza. The little restaurant is cozy and attractive, Will and the counterguys are awfully nice, and the topping ingredients are top-notch. But as long as Pie in the Sky and Arinell's (cheese slice, reheated "extra dark") are still around, I don't think I can justify going to Gioia anymore.
So what does it take to get a properly crisp-yet-tender, non-soggy slice at Gioia?
1586 Hopkins St
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