East Bay Bite of the Week: Emilia's Pizzeria
At Emilia's Pizzeria, timing is everthing. The spot is hardly bigger than a pantry, and it's been a favorite among local folks for four years. In the back, Keith Freilich takes phone orders, spins pies, and serves up some of the best pizza in the bay. The thing is, it can be awfully hard to get.
To get your hand on some of the expertly-charred dough, you'll have to man your phone like a cowboy mans his gun, and slip a call in right after 4 p.m. with your order. Freilich only takes orders for same-day pizza, and arranges pick-up times across a precise, minute-to-minute schedule. If you're dead set on dining out, the restaurant's single four top table makes a cozy arrangement, especially if you bring your own wine and cups. Which, you should.
Freilich, a sporadically-trained, verified pizza nerd, boasts an impressive background that points to time at Pizzaiolo, Flour + Water, as well as a stint at Pizza Hut in the 80's and some time at Grimaldi's in New York. He knows what he's doing, and he's had 20 years to hone his style. The pizzas are big ones, clocking in around 18 inches. Wide and flat, they are deemed to be New York Style, featuring a thin but hearty, lightly charred crust.
Toppings are clean, simple, restrained, and fresh. Think soppresata, aleppo, housemade sausage, and cheese from the Emilia region of Italy. Freilich won't divulge much about the cheese he uses or how he makes the fresh sauce, calling it "magician's code." We do know, though, that every pizza gets a dusting of fresh parm right out of the oven. The Margherita pizza and Freilich's soppresata specialty have become winning staples of the place, and make a good place to start.
What makes Freilich's pizza so good is hard to say. There's the novelty of filling orders one-by-one, and the charm of corking your own wine at a plastic table while the only other person in the room, the pizzaiolo, crafts your dinner. And then, of course, there's the pizza. Soft yet crisp, firm but foldable. It's a mastery of balance, texture, and flavor. Berkeleyside recently wrote a lovely comprehensive review of some of the better ones, and Emilia's own website offers a charmingly reductive introduction to the microbusiness and its pizza. On Ashby and Adeline street in South Berkeley, the spot is within striking distance of the BART, and in the beginnings of what's shaping up to to be a mighty fine Indian summer, that's a heck of a good reason to trot over to Berkeley.
Molly Gore The no-frills exterior of Emilia's Pizza.