It’s All About the Sauce in this New York-style Pie
2995 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
Southern edge of Downtown
Open Tue.–Sat., 5–9 p.m.
Cash only, limited seating
I don’t mind when a restaurant has a limited menu. That just means you don’t have to take that much time wondering what to get. And I really don’t mind a limited menu when the only options are pure heaven.
I’m not saying Emilia’s Pizzeria serves pizza pies like pure heaven, but it’s pretty darn close.
This tiny little shack of a pizzeria opened late last year, and it was started by a guy who wanted to make true New York-style pizza with the minimal toppings, great sauce and slightly charred thin crust. Keith Freilich, owner and pizzaiolo, spent years toiling in the tech industry but also spent half his career making pizza — starting out at Pizza Hut back on the East Coast and then focusing his craft for years at Oakland’s Pizzaiolo (and briefly at San Francisco’s Flour + Water).
Freilich, who named his space for his daughter, is pretty much a one-man shop. You’ll often be placing your phone orders with him, and you’ll see him behind the gas-oven making the pizzas when you pick it up at his tiny space.
The place is so small, you really see maybe just two tiny tables, a sign listing toppings on one wall, and a picture of Frank Sinatra near the ceiling. Emilia’s is really a spot for takeout and because of its size, there can be lines at times so he recommends you call ahead to place your order. (He starts taking orders an hour before opening; if you order when you’re there the pizza takes a minimum 45 minutes to prepare.)
So I mentioned the limited menu. Here are the rules:
- Only one size pizza: 18 inches (basically a large)
- The base starts with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil for $18. You can add toppings, but the choices are often limited to just red onions, peppers, mushrooms, pepperoni, sausage and soppresata.
- You have to buy the whole pizza. No slices.
- Cash only
I had to kill some time (went to the nearby Berkeley Bowl) because my pizza wouldn’t be ready until 5:30 p.m. But after I picked it up, I jumped on the bus to head home. And on this day, the pizza gods must have been smiling on me because I had the best bus ride. I had to connect to two routes and both buses came one after the other, bringing me home to Oakland in just 20 minutes.
I mention this only because I wonder what the pizza would have been like if it took longer for me to get home. Still, the pizza was a bit cold when I actually sat down to eat it. But it didn’t matter. What struck me first was the incredible tomato sauce, slightly sweet and not acidic at all. I felt the sauce really made the difference in this pizza.
The mozzarella cheese melted nicely on this thin pizza that didn’t have a super crisp crust but more the right balance of thin but filling, slightly chewy but not tough. It really did hold in my hand like pizza slices I ate in New York.
There were only a few basil leaves like accents here and there, and the sausage was nice and tasty. Since I was eating this pizza by myself (because I’m the Single Guy), I barely finished half of it. I ate the rest as dinner or late-night snack for the following two days.
Emilia’s Pizzeria is a bit far off my track to go to regularly, and as the Single Guy it’s hard to justify the 18-inch pizza for one. But I can say that it’s the type of pizza that I think back and remember fondly, plotting my next time I can make the trip out there for a bite.
Single Guy rating: 4 stars (a pizza that delivers)
Explanation of the Single Guy Chef’s takeout rating system:
1 star = Might as well cook yourself
2 stars = Nice to know it’s an option
3 stars = Definitely will return again
4 stars = I have its number on speed-dial
5 stars = Can I live here?