All Photos by Naomi Fiss
Much like our insatiable love for coffee shops, bakeries, ramen joints, and taquerias, there seems to be no limit to the number of pizzerias San Franciscans will support. Does the Mission/Bernal area really need another place to get a pie? Beretta, Flour and Water, Little Star, Arizmendi's, Pauline's, Arinell's, Zante's, Pizzeria Delfina, Bernal Heights Pizza, Pizza Express, and La Nebbia, Haystack, and Paxti's over in Noe Valley: still not enough to sate your chewy dough n' cheese cravings?
Apparently not, judging by the happy crowds scarfing up fresh-from-the-oven pies at PizzaHacker, Mission Street's latest pizza destination. Located on Mission St. near 29th St., in the former Inka's space, PizzaHacker is the brick-and-mortar incarnation of the pop-up venture that owner Jeff Krupman started in 2009. Strings of multi-colored Edison bulbs loop above bright-orange metal picnic tables, making what was probably once a bank feel like a beer garden. Painted chalkboard walls serve as outlets for free expression by the chalk-scrawling youngsters who create masterpieces while waiting for the dough-slingers in the open kitchen to send out their pizzas.
One thing to note: all those hard surfaces means the place gets loud, loud, loud, especially when the under-10 set's in the house. But those skinny communal tables don't encourage lingering; the modus operandi is get your pizza, share a salad, down a beer or two and head out, for bar-hopping or bedtime. The staff is smiling and sweet, and the food shows up fast, another reason it's been instantly popular with parents in the nabe.
The choices are relaxingly few: five pies ($15), one salad ($8), four local beers on tap ($5), a red wine, a white wine ($8/glass), and four bottled soft drinks ($3).
Loaded with chickpeas, kidney beans, grated eggs, carrots, and cucumbers, and lathered up with a slightly sweet poppyseed dressing, The Intermezzo salad is a big-bowl throwback to the generous hippie salads dished out at the much-missed Cafe Intermezzo, a longtime Telegraph Avenue staple that burned down in 2012. There may be more raddichio, and fewer sprouts, than in the hippie original, but the generosity of spirit (and portions) is the same; the salad also makes a filling vegetarian option for the gluten-free or cheese-avoident.
The basic pie is the Top Shelf Marg, with tomato sauce made from dry-farmed early girl tomatoes, a stretchy, snuggly blanket of house-made mozzarella, plus some leaves of basil here and there. It's heavier on the cheese than, say, the austere, puffy-crusted pies of Una Pizza Napoletana, where crust is all and the stingy toppings feel meted out for the lesser enjoyment of those who can't yet subsist on flour and water alone. Here, the cheese is sweet and snow-white, unctuously layered over a light, well-proofed crust. A little too much char here and there, yes, a few too many black bubbles indicative of a crust left for just a few seconds too long in the 700-degree heat of the electric pizza ovens. The tomato sauce takes a bit of a back seat, but overall, for those who like their cheese, this is very pleasing (and kid-friendly) pie.
On to the rest of the winter menu: Rocket Man is topped with a lovely, lemony-bright salad of fresh arugula, a fluffy garden arranged around a just-set egg, with garlic, teasingly spicy Calabrian chile paste, and yes, plenty of mozzarella underneath. So lemon-juicy! So tangy and fresh! If you like the pizza+salad combo, this is the one for you.
The local-love evinced in the beer and wine list (Proving Ground IPA from Magnolia Brewing in SF; Burning Oak Black Lager and Ol' Brick Bitter from Oakland's Linden Street Brewery; Cali Coast Kolsch from Calicraft in Walnut Creek; Donkey & Goat Red Blend from Berkeley) shows up in the Yo Vinny!, PizzaHacker's version of a classic sausage-peppers-and-onion pie. The West Coat locavore version? Sausage from 4505 Meats, bright sweet-tart rings of pickled goat horn peppers from Mama Lil's in Seattle, and marinated onions, plus the usual tomato and cheese. For this skinny-jean crowd, Vinny is as burly (and manly) as it gets.
We haven't tried the Winter Pie (marinated Brussels sprouts, 4505 bacon, garlic, Calabrian chile paste) or the Crowd Pleaser (radicchio, dried Black Mission figs, Point Reyes Blue cheese, balsamic, mozzarella, rosemary), but you should, even if they sound more like salads than pizzas.
When owner Jeff Krupman moved to San Francisco in 1994, there wasn't much pizza around, especially outside of North Beach. He started making pizzas in his home kitchen, then in a modified grill in his backyard, first to recreate the cracker-crusted, provolone-and-pepperoni style of his Ohio youth, then to emulate the sublime Neapolitan pies tasted on a mind-expanding trip to Italy. Pop-ups in Precita Park, a months-long stint feeding SoMa bar crowds from his sidewalk "FrankenWeber" grill-turned-oven, years in start-ups that never quite became the next big thing, and now, with advice and investors, Krupman's a restaurant owner, already carving out a friendly hangout after less than two months in business. Welcome to the neighborhood, hacker.