Berkeley. It’s a nice place to live and has some pretty good pizza in The Cheese Board, but the problem is that sometimes you get tired of vegetarian pizza, as good as it may be. Plus, they have an obsession with garlic olive oil which they apply liberally to all their pizzas. Not that it’s bad, but it makes things a bit greasy sometimes.
Recently, I needed a pizza with meat that didn’t involve the deep-dish heaviness of Zachary’s and Yelp pointed me to Emilia’s Pizzeria, over on Shattuck near Ashby. Emilia’s (named for the owner’s daughter) is a one-man operation run by Keith Freilich, who’s pizza pedigree includes Flour+Water over in SF, Pizzaiolo in Oakland, and in New Jersey, Grimaldi’s and a random Pizza Hut. Keith started as a Princeton grad (he mentioned wanting to go to Carnegie Mellon, which gives him bonus points) and worked in IT, which brought him to the Bay Area. After the dot-com bubble burst, we decided to get into pizza full time.
Because this is a one-man operation, he’s streamlined things to fully utilize his resources. This means that you can’t just call up and expect pizza in 30 minutes. On the day you want pizza, you call in and pick a time slot. He starts answering the phone at 4pm – the line is typically busy and you have to keep trying. Depending on the day of the week, you’ll typically get a slot at 6pm or later. I’ve called at 5pm and gotten an 8pm slot. The one nice thing about this is that your pizza will definitely be ready at the stated time. Period. I’ve ordered close to a half-dozen pizzas from Emilia’s and he’s always been on time.
Then you have only one choice of size, the 18″ which is a large to extra-large pizza. Thin crust with sauce, mozzarella, and basil are standard for $18. Then you can add up to 4 toppings from a short list, including sopressata and Calabrian chilis, which are Italian hot chili peppers. I wish black olives were on the list. The pepperoni and sausage are both tasty toppings.
Excellent ingredients and a great crust make for a superb pizza. Keith uses a high heat gas oven cranked to over 800 degrees F to simulate a coal fired oven – the result is a lightly charred crust somewhat reminiscent of New York style pizza. Good chew, while still being pretty light.
I love it. It’s great. While I still prefer Pizza California (not to be confused with CPK) down in the South Bay because I like their crispy medium crust, loaded with toppings (Earthquake!) this is a wonderfully tasty option up here in the East Bay. I am always drooling with anticipation when I’m driving home with a pie in the car. Heck, if you’ve read down this far, you’re probably hungry. Click on the first image of this post for some full-size mouth-watering deliciousness. If you’re not hungry, well, check your pulse. I never have leftover pizza.
While you can eat at Emilia’s, be aware that there are only two tables – it’s a small establishment. Oh, and they only take cash. They’re open Tuesday through Saturday from 5pm to about 9pm. It’s worth checking the webpage for updates (he also tweets @emiliaspizzeria) as Keith occasionally closes on random days or has special opening days as he recently did for Super Bowl Sunday. Street parking is usually available right in front of the store.