The first good omen was a welcome in from the pouring rain a full 10 minutes before the restaurant was scheduled to open. I find this gesture characteristically “un-American,” in the best possible way. Rather, it felt like I was walking into a family-run Italian restaurant, albeit one with a laid-back local vibe. I had ventured out in the middle of a storm, on a mission to try Lucia’s Neapolitan pizza, admittedly skeptical.
The closest the East Bay gets to Napoli-style pizza is A16 (also in San Francisco), with its chewy crust, cooked fast in a wood-fired oven. Lucia’s version is better. But why?
Co-owner Alessandro Uccelli, a Venice native, says it’s all about Italy. I say it’s about the dough. Both are, perhaps, true. The oven that occupies the back quadrant of the space is from Stefano Ferrara, a famous Neapolitan maker of handcrafted pizza ovens. This one has a floor of special bricks made in Sorrento (on the Amalfi coast), designed to keep the interior heat evenly distributed. It gets up to 1200 degrees in there, but pizzaiolo Saverio Miranda, who masterfully oversees pizza production, keeps it at around 900 degrees, which allows each pizza to cook in 70 seconds, perfectly blistering the outer edge of the crust and leaving it crisp all across the bottom. And oh, the crust.
There are several kinds of dough available, but the “regular” one, if you will, is made from Pizzuti type 1 flour (also from Salerno), coarser and less processed than the often-lauded type 00 flour. The result is a chewy, but light and easily crisped dough. Miranda makes it look easy, but it’s not.
Toppings are a precise architecture as well. We ordered the classic Margherita with buffalo-milk mozzarella (made locally by Belfiore) and the house special white pizza with stracciatella, mortadella and pistachios. The tomato sauce on the former is as simple as red sauce comes—all sweet tomato essence with a hint of salt. The cheese is sliced thinly enough to melt in the 70 seconds it takes to cook the pizza, but thick enough to avoid overcooking.
While I’m a sucker for all things tomato, the white pizza ranks among the best I’ve ever had, with paper-thin slices of mortadella under the stringy cheese, punctuated with roasted pistachios for an earthy-sweet throughline. We got this one made with dough from live-sprouted grain flour, said to be more easily digested than the more glutinous regular flour. It was also quite delicious, ever so slightly darker in color than the type 1 flour, but still very light and chewy.
Co-owner Steve Dumain is the locus at which Naples intersects with Brooklyn. A recent transplant to the East Bay from New York, Dumain is responsible for the playful pizza names (Lips of Fire, Sprouty Scamorza) and the introduction of gluten-free crust (which I’ll be back to try). He wants Lucia’s to be a community gathering place where guests feel like family, and he and Uccelli are already thinking about what their guests might need: kid-size pizzas with animal faces made of olives and mushrooms, later hours for the after-theater and college crowds, and maybe even lunch service at some point in the near future.
The small wine list features all Italian selections by the glass and bottle and Broc Cellars (a Berkeley winery) on tap. I tried a nice natural red wine from Puglia, a Poggio Braccanti Gragnano with a slight effervescence, a bargain at $9.