The smell of blistered pizza crust wafted through Vinyl on a warm Thursday night. I sat staring at a turquoise wall with a twisted, disconnected driftwood installation and bare light bulbs hanging naked around the dining room. The constant buzz of chatter was only interrupted by the clink of wine glasses or the occasional laughter of a boisterous woman a few tables down. I mentally noted that whoever’s iPod was playing the obscure remixes that I had just found that morning was on top of it. “Hmm,” I judged. “So far I like this place.”
OK. Now back to the kitchen for a quick hi. The first time Casey Crynes and I spoke was for an Eater interview. His personality poured through the phone and he struck me as a funny, opinionated guy who just fucking loved pizza. Since Casey’s Pizza is launching San Francisco’s first pizza truck in August, I wanted to try his pies while he was still considered “street,” selling pizzas fresh off his jerry-rigged Weber grill at various corners around the city.
To be fair, Vinyl is a pop-up restaurant at Cafe Divis. So that night, coming out of electric ovens indoors, the food wasn’t exactly “street” but let’s just ignore that part.
I went to sit down and take some more photos and a curly haired gentle-sir at the communal table asked if I was the official photographer or something. “Ehh, you could say that,” I quipped. After talking a few minutes, I found out that he’s Casey’s little brother who helps him. A family affair, if you will. And he had just as much cheeky personality as Casey. A family of pizza slangin’ talkers.
Then out came the Margherita, in all its bubbly, blistery glory. It had gorgeous char going on the crust, and plenty of cheese and basil to go around. YES. It’s so depressing when a Margherita comes out with one lonely basil leaf, eaters scrambling to cut it into 6 microscopic pieces. It’s just sad.
Was the crust perfection? Perhaps. The bottom was crispy and thin, charred just enough for crusty texture and flavor. When you picked it up, it didn’t flop over and get the “beagle ear,” as Casey calls it. There was plenty of chew. I’d call it “glutenous,” but Casey might make fun of my terminology again (AHEM. For the record, I still think that’s a perfectly acceptable word to use when describing a chewy crust).
The cheese ratio is made for salt lovers. He uses 70% aged mozzarella and 30% fresh, “like the guys in New York.” It has a deeper flavor and thicker melted texture than pizzas that just use fresh mozz.
Then Casey sat down with us with a funghi pizza: sprinkled in earthy shiitakes, dusted in bright thyme, drizzled with floral extra virgin olive oil, and dashed with extra hot chili flakes. It was gorgeous.
Wine in hand, we compared notes on all the top pizza places in the city: Zero Zero, Beretta, Pizetta 211, Una Pizza, The Pizza Hacker, Ragazza… some terms we threw around (and didn’t always agree on), in no particular order, were delicate, tacky, sacrilege, purist, and good. The man’s definitely got opinions and he’s not afraid to share ’em. In a world where everyone is afraid to talk to writers, the candor was refreshing and appreciated.
Now that I’ve got the insiders tips on the best pizzas, I’ll be hitting up these places again soon. And future visits will just have to reveal who we thought were better than others. So, who should be first on the list?