San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
Thriving Bay Area scene is red hot as chefs make the most of portable ovens
Bay Area chefs get even more creative.
Pizza popups have proliferated during the pandemic, with producers putting their personal spin on regional styles found around the world. Nearly a dozen pizza popups have started since shelterinplace, and now some of these popups are turning into permanent operations, such as longtime Bay Area chef Eric Ehler’s That’s Outta Sight, which will be serving slices out of Fig & Thistle Wine Bar in San Francisco starting in May. This new wave of pandemic pizza popups is enabled in part because of access to portable pizza ovens from companies like Ooni and Gozney. These ovens can reach temperatures up to 950 degrees, allowing for heavily charred pizzas with quickcook times as little as one minute and promising “restaurantgrade” quality, according to makers of the Ooni as well as its professional patrons: “If I made a Neopolitan out of my Ooni, and I made a Neopolitan out of my oven restaurant, it’s hard to tell” the difference, said longtime pizzaiolo Tony Gemignani of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in North Beach. “You get the char, you get the blistering, you get leoparding.” Whereas previous mobile pizza operations required custombuilt pizza ovens or trucks, the portable pizza ovens offer an easier and more affordable means to produce pizza, and sales have skyrocketed during the pandemic, a time when people are out of work and looking to make extra cash. Gozney, which is based in the United Kingdom and makes the $499 Roccbox oven, has seen a dramatic increase in sales since the start of the pandemic, according to Tom Gozney. Half of all sales go to the U.S., with the majority coming from California and New York. “We have tracked on average five times the previous year for the bulk of the year,” Gozney said. “Sales are still climbing now.” Visit a random brewery on any given weekend and you’re likely to stumble upon a different pizza popup utilizing a portable pizza oven, like Hart’s House at Standard Deviant in the Mission, Evolution Baking at Ghost Town Brewing in Oakland or Cosmic Pie Pizza at Humble Sea down in Santa Cruz, all of which use a portable pizza oven. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship: The popups provide hungry beer drinkers with food while the breweries provide a home for pizza entrepreneurs without the fixed costs of a standalone restaurant. But not all popups are using the portable ovens nor are all hosted at breweries. Nicholi Ludlow’s Psychic Pie offers Romaninspired square pizzas baked in large industrial commercial ovens from a commissary in Santa Rosa. Ludlow debuted the business in March, has experimented with delivery and has plans to debut hot food at farmers’ markets in the near future. Like many, Ludlow is navigating a fledgling business during an uncertain time. “Who knows what else the future holds?” Ludlow said. Here are some pizza popups to seek out across the Bay Area, ranging from classic oldschool New Yorkinspired versions to those topped with California’s finest seasonal produce.