Friday, October 07, 2005

The Best Pizza in America?

This is a copy of a recent article for SFist in which I eat my way around the Bay Area in alphabetical order and then write about it in SFist style using the 'royal we'. The the letter M was published a few weeks ago whilst I was on vacation.

Mmmmmm! One letter repeated many times that describes a state of deliciousness. Hence, we had high hopes for the letter M. There are so many Bay Area eateries beginning with the alphabet's middle letter, which one would we choose?

A return trip to sumptuous Supper Club Mecca lacked the lustre and glamour of previous visits. It seemed overly expensive, the food was so-so and we were shocked speechless when the waiter told us that it was a better idea to keep our rosé chilled in an out-of-sight fridge than it would be to put it in an ice bucket at our table as we'd requested. Next we decided to try out Moshi Moshi on a Monday for their poetry mic night that we'd heard fun things about. Well, poetry might be a good way to draw the crowds to a sushi place on Mondays when the fish is less than stellar, but on our visit, there was none of the advertised verse on display. Not even a haiku. The fish was disappointing, and we'd rather remember Moshi Moshi on a good day instead.

With a couple of failed Ms under our belt, we decided no more messing, let's go straight for the top. And so we decided to test the reputed pinnacle of pie and the Best Pizza in America.

'Huh?' say you, 'who says?' Well, the Food Network says, actually, after they staged a competition to settle the argument once and for all. Mulberry Street Pizza, up on the North Side of San Rafael trounced competitors from all over the country, including New York, to take home the coveted bragging rights.

If you have any serious sensibilities about what a good pizza should be, don't bother with a journey up 101 North because Mulberry Street just won't be on the same wavelength. Their pizzas claim to be New York style and, unlike many of the new kids on the Bay Area block, have nothing to do with trying to create a true taste of Neopolitan Italy.

Mulberry Street's prize-winning 'For the Love of Mushrooms' 'pie is certainly a temptation for fans of funghi. Don't ignore the words rich and filling on the menu. They really do mean it. A toasty wholewheat base with no red sauce is topped with a mountain of garlicky mushrooms, and enough cheese to feed an extended family of mice for an entire week. And for some, otherwise inexplicable reason, they probably wanted to catch they eye of the judges, including Mario Batali, with a something unique, they dribble the top of the pizza with an ugly purple-pink creme fraiche and wine sauce. This bizarre flourish, looking something like a bad graphic design experiment, adds nothing, except visual originality, to the end result. The pizza isn't actually bad, it's just not our kind of pie, it's not what we dream of when we think of pizza. It's too much food, as well. We defy a regularly-sized person, with an average appetite, to eat more than two out of the six enormous slices. This king of all American pizzas tastes more like a homemade, vegetarian student experiment than the kind of pie we like to spend our money on when paying to go out to eat.

mulberry.2.jpgSo why would anyone come to this unfashionable part of Marin to spend money on pizza anyway? Well, it's certainly not for the decor. It would be hard to find uglier wallpaper. It can't be because of the quirky caesar salad special we encountered either. Experimental and gimmicky, it comes as no surprise that the pile of pink sushi ginger was served in a bowl on the side, because when you mix it in, with the lettuce, dressing and cheese it makes one of the most awful food combinations we have ever tasted. What was the chef thinking? If Mulberry was a bargain, it would go some way to explaining its popularity. But, even for Marin, it's pricey. We've been eating well, at lunchtimes in Marin, for over four years and can't remember a lunch bill quite so expensive ($50+ for two pizzas, two tiny glasses of wine and a salad.) Well, they must be doing something right, afterall, they do make the best pizza in America...

Mulberry Street Pizzeria
101 Smith Ranch Road
Suite C
San Rafael, CA
(415) 472-7272

Archive Alert! On this date in 2004 I wote the first review of many about Tabla, which over the last year has become my absolute favourite lunch spot in Marin.

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The Best Pizza in America?


  • At 7/10/05 07:47, Blogger Barbara Fisher said…

    Gari with caesar salad? Oh, double ugh! Gari can be used effectively in salans, but not something with parmesan in it--oh, gah, my gorge rises to even think of it!

    And the pizza does sound very unappealing as well. It isn't that I have anything against garlicky mushrooms or whole crusts--far from it--but it just sounds overwhelmingly huge. And the viniferous creme fraiche doesn't sound like it belongs.

  • At 7/10/05 08:38, Blogger Monkey Gland said…

    Oh the irony. I was just bemoaning the general lack of good pizza in London, and here you go rubbing my face in it (as it were)

  • At 7/10/05 09:34, Anonymous david said…

    Ick. That Caesar Salad with pickled ginger! The cook who came up with that idea should be banned from kitchens for the rest of his or her life.

  • At 7/10/05 10:17, Blogger Rachael said…

    Food Network, fah. They also think Emeril Lagasse has merit. The actual best North American pizza, hands down, is Fieros in East Hampton, NY. The. Best. Pizza. Ever.

    And as for pickled ginger and cheese...well...I just cant go there...and Im sorry you had to...

  • At 7/10/05 11:29, Blogger cookiecrumb said…

    Oh good lord, that purple squizzle is just ugly.
    Thanks for the warning!
    (Couldn't you have reviewed Michael Mina? ---I know, I wouldn't either. $$$$)

  • At 7/10/05 15:08, Blogger Owen said…

    well, I liked th sound of the mound of garlicky mushrooms - can I get them without the rest?

    And why would somebody want to ruin perfectly good pickled ginger by adding a caesar salad?

    Also, what were you thinking? Nobody is going to agree with some media pick of the best pizza! I haven't found a single person with whom I can agree on that subject! Or any other pair of people who can agree! After all, everyone knows that the best pizza is from.....

    ...actually I'd like to try a pizza from one of those New York places with coal-fired ovens - that sounds like it might be good. Failing that, I am actively looking around for designs/supplies/ideas for building my own wood-fired oven. If I get that done then I'll know where to get the best pizza...

  • At 7/10/05 18:50, Anonymous Chubby said…

    Hi Sam,

    I too was tempted by the claim. After dinner, I asked the owner if this was the EXACT recipe that won the prize. "No, it's been modified"

    I think that you get to eat better 'za if you are a judge.

    Your pal,

  • At 8/10/05 10:06, Blogger Sam said…

    Barabara - ugh indeed. you are absolutely correct in every respect.

    Monkey - yes I saw your post and empathized with you. However, this pizza was in Marin. In San Fran itself there are quite a few wonderfully good pizza restaurants of which you londoners should be insanely jealous!

    David - i agree. Especially since he used the worst, sweetest, lowest quality sushi ginger I think I have ever encountered.

    Racahel - I don't like Emeril at all on TV but I ate at his restaurant in New Orleans in 1995 or 6 and the meal was superb.
    I just had to try the ginger thing out because I knew it would make a good story.

    Cookie Crumb - I have read enough about MM to be in no hurry to try it. I did have a reservation there once for when it first opened but at the time I was out of cash so we cancelled it. Maybe one day. dunno if it is worth it.

    owen - think you would like the mushrooms.
    You could order the whole thing and just eat the mushroom part and still be full. We will be waititing for the pizza and pool food bloggers party at your pad next summer with fresh made dolmades from your vine leaves.

    chubby - did you see the TV show? I dont think it is too far from what was created. Maybe they used fancier mushrooms on the show.
    I actually used to live up the road from Mulberry when I first arrived in the US. It was the only place in walking distance for wine and dinner. It was my first experience of pizza in America and so I thought that was what all pizza in America was like. Little did I know this pizzeria is pretty unique and out on a limb.

  • At 10/10/05 06:59, Blogger Cate said…

    The purple drizzle does seem a little strange. I'm surprised a NYC joint didn't make it as best pizza. Next we'll find the best bagels aren't from NY either. ;)

  • At 9/11/05 03:31, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I actually frequent this particular pizza place (having tried virtually all the others in Marin) and this is perhaps one of the most unfair reviews that I have read.

    I routinely order a small cheese pizza, perhaps with a little garlic, perhaps not. And it always hits me as the best thing I've ever tasted.

    The pizza sauce is spectacular and the crust is second to none, at least in my experience.

    The cheese and toppings can be a little hefty sometimes, but they'll happily make you a pizza with a little less.

    Departing from my preferences, my friends love the generous toppings. In fact, even friends that don't like pizza can find something they love at Mulberry Street, whether it's soup or pasta.

    One part of this review that I find a little itellectually dishonest is the account of how the mushroom pizza is merely a modified version of the one that won the championship. Arguably, the biggest change between the pizza you can go in and order and the one that won the championship is that the restaurant version's mushrooms aren't painstakingly carved into little hearts.


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