After asking around town what the essential pizzerias were I had to try while in the Bay Area, I kept getting the same answer: "Cheese Board!!"
The Cheese Board Pizza Collective lies on Shattuck Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares in the college town of Berkeley. It gets its name from the cheese store next door, which boasts the most impressive selection of cheese I've ever seen-
Cheese louise! I love how this staggering list of cheese is perfectly organized by type and animal. When I first saw this I just stood there staring for a few minutes. So that's where the first part of the name comes from; the second portion is exactly what it sounds like: both the Cheese Board and the Cheese Board Pizzeria are co-ops, collectively owned by its employees
How effing cool is that? If you're over 100 years old in Berkeley you get free cheese! As soon as the doors opened to the pizzeria I started snapping photos and calling attention to myself. Some places (*cough* Grimaldi's *cough*) freak at the sight of cameras, so I was apprehensive when the guy behind the counter said, "hey, you takin' pictures?" I sheepishly admitted to doing so, but was pleasantly surprised when he practically dragged me into their kitchen and introduced me to Steve Manning.
This is Steve slicing up a massive amount of low-moisture mozz. Steve has been a member of the Cheese Board for eight years, and as an amateur photographer himself he was more than happy to show me around the place and chat me up. The Cheese Board's gimmick is that it only creates one (sauceless) style of pizza a day. No substitutions.
"Why is that?" I asked. The answer is simple, really. Sticking to one pizza allows for several streamlined advantages: this allows the board to buy high quality ingredients in bulk, cutting down on cost to provide their customers with the best toppings for the cheapest price.
This, combined with the "no tomato sauce" edict, also allows them to pre-make all the pizzas the day before. FYI, leaving tomato sauce for a prolonged period on dough turns what would be a great pizza into a soggy, sloppy disc of gross.
This ultimately lets each of the employees/members specialize in one area: register, baking, dough prep, cheese slicing, etc. Pretty impressive in my opinion. I had never seen ovens like the ones being used at CB, but they're essentially gas ovens with "suicide"-style doors with room for 4-5 pies to cook at a time.
How the pizzas at the top of the oven come out as consistent as the ones in the center is beyond me, but a wall of these suckers provides this place with the ability to rapid fire pizzas into and out of the oven.
I ordered two slices of the pie of the day, which was mozzarella, Crimini mushrooms, onions, goat cheese and garlic olive oil, and it came with my favorite garnishment:
An extra mini slice of pizza! This is typical of Cheese Board, though I couldn't get anyone to explain why this tradition exists. I didn't want to push it- I'll take a free slice any day.
CB has one of the coolest vibes I've ever experienced in a pizzeria. Almost as soon as the doors opened that afternoon, a jazz band set up in back and started jamming away. I was informed that music performers become temporary members of the Cheese Board for one day, and make the same amount as the rest of the staff for that given day. HOW. COOL.
The Cheese Board sits exactly across the street from Alice Waters' legendary restaurant and arguably the birthplace of California-style pizza, Chez Panisse. While I only had time to visit one or the other, I opted for style over historical significance, and I have no regrets.
The fantastic pizza (I went back for another slice and a half) combined with the Cheese Board's welcoming laid-back attitude and unique communal business model made it my favorite pizza joint in the Bay Area, and would love to see something like this back here in the East.