As Pauline's Pizza Turns 25, We Chat with Owner Sidney Weinstein: Part 1

Categories: People in Clogs
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Pauline's Pizza, the little yellow pizzeria on Valencia that still feels hidden away from the Mission's main restaurant strip, is celebrating its 25th anniversary next Tuesday. And while its pies, with their crackly crusts and seasonal toppings, resemble anything you'll find at Pizzeria Delfina or Gialina, December 1985 was a good 20 years before the San Francisco artisanal pizza rush began. Owners Sidney Weinstein and Randy Nathan also began growing vegetables for the restaurant not long after it started, a farm-to-plate commitment that feels even more timely now than it did in 1985. On the eve of the pizzeria's anniversary, I interviewed Sidney Weinstein about the pizzeria's history. 

In part 1 today, she talks about the restaurant's origins. In part 2, Weinstein focuses on the gardens and her thoughts on why pizza has gone upscale.

SFoodie: One of the things I've been coming to Pauline's for since the early 1990s was your crust. Where did it come from? Were you a baker?

Weinstein: I taught myself to cook by baking. The crust itself came from our first chef, Salvario. However, he left abruptly six months into the restaurant's life, and we had to close the restaurant and come up with an equivalent crust because he never taught it to us. He would make the dough in secret. [Before he left,] we started measuring the ingredients to get some idea of the amounts he was using, but there was a secret ingredient we couldn't figure out.

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Dave B./Flickr
My boyfriend at the time, Kennedy, and his best friend, Randy ― who's now my husband ― started the business. They were also working on a pesticide-residue testing program for vegetables, so they used a gas chromatograph to test the remaining batch of dough. However, we couldn't tell if it was egg whites or flour. They have similar carbon strings. Eventually we figured it out by reading an Elizabeth David recipe. Randy had been cutting the pizzas before Salvario left, so as we were testing recipes Randy knew how it should feel and sound.

You've mentioned Kennedy, Randy, Sidney, and Salvario. So who was Pauline?

Pauline was the mother of the original chef. They had come from Rome when he was a young boy and had a series of restaurants called Pauline's.

Was there anyone in San Francisco at the time who was making the same kind of airy, crisp crust?

No, I don't think so. Pretty soon after we started, Viccolo and Ruby's started, but they were using an oilier, denser cornmeal crust. I would get people from Ruby's trying to work here wanting to make dough. They came for the trade secrets.

What was the neighborhood like at the time?

It was rough. We didn't have a dishwashing machine, so we'd get done at 2 in the morning. Sometimes we'd call the police to sit outside the door as my dishwasher and I left. The neighborhood has improved pretty dramatically. A few years ago, when the Levi's building closed but before the school started, there was a lot of difficulty with people shooting up in the entryway to that building, so I would go over there at 5:00 and ask them not to shoot up because there were kids playing in the playground.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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