Cubbies in the northwest has changed to Zeppo’s Pizza, going from Chicago-style deep dish to New York-style thin crust. While native New Yorkers like former Californian photographer John Harte may quibble with that, we found a lot to like during our visit.
The first thing you have to understand is the irrational passion New Yorkers have for their pizza, and believe me in the half-dozen trips I’ve made to the Big Apple we’ve heard it too often. To personally witness this all you need to do is go up to some stranger and ask them, “Where's the best slice in town found?” Now usually they’d tell you to buzz off if you asked any other question, but civic pride compels them to immediately insist to you that Joe’s Pizza (or any of the other dozen great places) is the place you must go. At that point a passer-by, hearing that bold pronouncement, will inject themselves into the conversation and insist that the first person is crazy and Stromboli’s (or any of the other dozen great places) has a far superior product.
If you want to continue the fun, interject that it can’t possibly compete with Pizza Regina on the North End of Boston and someone may end up getting carried away in handcuffs.
As a native Midwesterner, I do love Chicago-style deep dish pizza, and Cubbies pretty much makes the best version I’ve ever had on the West Coast, but it is a product with limitations. Unless you’re planning to live in the gym, you max out at one or two pieces as it seems to be about the size and calorie count of your average lasagna portion. It also takes a long time to bake, which in the delivery-centric pizza business can hurt. So I get the business strategy of keeping the southwest Cubbies menu the same and branch out to something different on this side of town. Though I love the new product at Zeppo’s, I’m not sure it’s legit New York style.
We sampled the Papa Zep’s ($21 for a medium) with meatballs, sausage, pepperoni (with casings causing that perfect curl-up that you see at Mountain Mike’s!), fresh garlic and tomatoes. A beautiful product, really, though I might have liked more garlic (too subtle). And the crust was fine, really: bready, brown on the bottom, but not that crazy thin, pliable enough to wrap up product I’ve had at so many New York City places. You should understand that I liked the crust, found it to be slightly yeasty and thick enough to hold up under the weight of the substantial ingredients and generous portion of cheese on our specialty pizza. As long as you’re OK with that and have a complete understanding that this is what you’ll be served, you’ll be fine. I wouldn’t change the crust at all, but I can’t say it reminded me of any of the New York places I’ve visited.
Other things we like:
• The specialty pizza list with nine fascinating creations including Molly’s Fry Pie (ranch dressing, french fries, bacon, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses) and the Edgy Vegi (spinach, artichoke hearts, onions, tomato, spinach, mozzarella and garlic oil).
• Pizza is available with a cauliflower crust, a choice growing in popularity at CPK and other pizza spots.
• The chicken Parmesan sandwich ($9) was awesome, with a crispy fried thick chicken breast presented on a garlicky toasted French roll with a lot of sauce and mozzarella cheese. Next time we’ll try the meatball or sausage and peppers, which is made with sliced link sausage. I always prefer it that was as it’s just more manageable than a whole sausage.
• Morgan’s flat knots ($5) is an appetizer we tried that had the garlicky punch we were hoping for on that pizza, with lots of mozzarella. Not really much in the way of “knots,” but a great appetizer anyway.
• A big selection of gelato, and three price points ($3, $4 and $5) because sometimes after plowing through all these carbs your dessert appetite is pretty thin and a small really hits the spot.
• Five beers on tap, including 805 and what looks to be a rotating craft handle that this night featured a citrusy beer from SLO called the Cali Squeeze and wine by the glass from bottles for $9.
• The atmosphere seems like a step up from the standard pizza place with the black-and-white checkered cloth table coverings and the wood-framed chairs. You order at the counter and they bring the food out when it’s done. Our various items were paced appropriately, and the small staff was friendly enough to inspire return visits.
Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears in The Californian on Sundays. Email him at email@example.com.