32 Pies, 12 Months
and one five-star-worthy champ.
Here are the top-tier pizzas CL food critic Jon Palmer Claridge found during his year-long trip through Bay area slices in search of the perfect Margherita pie. These are the places he visited throughout his travels; you can read more about Jon's pizza passion, and the reasons behind the marathon itself, here.
BEST IN SHOW
It’s the Hallelujah Chorus in your mouth, with each element taking its turn in a contrapuntal polyphony of exciting flavors. “King uh-huff kings” and the bright notes of acidity from Bianco DiNapoli’s sweet, perfect organic tomatoes leap across your palate. Then the fresh, house-made daily mozzarella proclaims “and lord uh-huff lords.” You try to catch your breath as the air is sucked out of you by rapidly repeated gut punches of pungent garden-fresh basil trilling “and he shall reign… and he shall reign,” in growing intensity. Finally, the tang of the artisanal 72-hour sourdough leavened, multigrain crust, boldly pushed to the edge of flavorful char, hits your taste buds.
A few places use sliced tomatoes on their Margherita, but this downtown Tampa pizzeria alone decides to throw a tomato-basil tango party. Absolutely tons of fresh, diced tomatoes dance wildly with dots of the yummy herb; miraculously, the crust maintains crispness despite the odds. What a great example of New York-style pizza at its finest. Plus, the pizza is so huge it’s almost laughable.
While there’s a twin in Ybor, it’s the Clearwater location’s crisp coal-fired crust that catches my attention with excellent chew and slight char; even the edges are delicious. And while there’s not much discernible salt or sourness to the dough, the fresh tomato flavor of the sauce balances acidity and sweetness. There’s not too much cheese or oregano, but huge leaves of torn fresh basil make this a delicious pizza worthy of Italy, though it’s clearly New York-style.
Chef Joshua Hernández produces the most beautiful Neapolitan pizza. It exits the handmade Acunto oven looking perfect and camera-ready. There’s a puffy, huge edge (what the Italians call cornicione), fresh sauce and a tangy crust with great char and chew, but no crackle. A true Neapolitan pie, it’s designed to be eaten with a knife and fork. The few basil leaves may also be authentic, but I sure would like a chiffonade. Even so, this SoHo creation is a knockout.