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Maiden Visit to Pauline’s Pizza in San Francisco

Melanie Wong Dec 20, 2010 03:45 PM

Pauline’s Pizza celebrated 25 years in San Francisco this month. With recent posts praising the desserts here as well as tips for feeding large groups, I thought I’d add my thoughts and invite others to comment. My mother and I grabbed dinner here on July 8. We started off in the wine bar annex with a glass of Nalle Zinfandel and the charcuterie plate, reported here.

This was a first time for both of us, despite my many years in San Francisco. We started with the Green salad with breadstick, $8. Only baby lettuces plucked from one’s own kitchen garden and served within minutes could possibly be any perkier. Mom munched through the herb and cheese breadstick and considered ordering another.

Our pie order, the special vege pizza of the day: Giant red mustard greens, winter savory, muffaletta, and feta, required a long wait even at an early hour. Sitting next to the ovens, we could see how slammed the cooks were. Our waitress did a good job of keeping us posted on how much longer it would be, I suspect responding in part to the forlorn look on my mother’s face watching orders bypass our table. The $19.25 for a medium size seemed a little on the high side. However, as my very thrifty mother had concluded after trying an “expensive” pizza at Oakland’s Dopo, she pronounced this one well worth it too.

Peppery greens, fresh herbs, briny notes from the muffaletta spread, and the salty bite of the feta cheese added up to lots of deliciousness in each mouthful. And that crust! While it may look bready, it’s not at all. Golden brown, crackly, airy and light, I’d heard those descriptions and more over the years. Yet that first bite of the unique crust was still a stunner, certainly a delight to remember. Even more surprising was how well the crust held up overnight and bounced back after reheating in a skillet.

Jonathan Kauffman’s interviews with Pauline’s founder and the origin of the crust are linked below.

“Pauline’s Pizza Turns 25”

Pauline's Pizza
260 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

  1. Melanie Wong Dec 21, 2010 04:55 PM

    Oh, and for the 25th anniversary party tonight, free pizza at Pauline's 6pm to 10pm.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Melanie Wong
      vulber Dec 21, 2010 08:34 PM

      except they ran out at 8:15; and many pizzas were sloppily prepared

    2. a
      alfairfax Dec 21, 2010 07:24 AM

      Well, now, maybe THAT Pauline's Pizza is 25 years old, but it took the name and reputation of the REAL Pauline's Pizza. Improved upon the rep, perhaps, but still not the original. When I moved to SF over 30 years ago, Pauline's was on Mission and run by Severio. It was a large room with restrooms in the back through the kitchen. A great trip too, because in the kitchen were huge stainless bowls of proofing dough for the next day's pies. What an aroma! Severio visited every table and was pretty much a one man show. He claimed to have invented pesto pizza, which I had never heard of. He said he had made pesto for dinner at home once and had some leftover which his wife would not let him toss so he put it on a pizza dough and baked it. I asked if it had cheese. Severio's eyebrows rose up past his forehead. "Sure", he said (imagine herea a very thick Italian accent), "every house gotta have a good foundation." Was that a gourmet pizza? Maybe not by current artistic/artisanal standards, but the crust was fabulous and I still miss the original Pauline's.

      Pauline's Pizza
      260 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

      4 Replies
      1. re: alfairfax
        Melanie Wong Dec 21, 2010 04:42 PM

        You guys are amazing. Took me 25 years to eat at Pauline's Pizza at long last, and you can hark back to what the original was like 30 years. Thank you.

        Pauline's Pizza
        260 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103

        1. re: Melanie Wong
          alfairfax Dec 21, 2010 05:49 PM

          I finally checked the sfweekly link and found I had misunderstood Salvario as Severio. The piece did remind me that he had gone to the new place as chef after selling his old place to them. And I was glad to be reminded also that Pauline was his mom. And that crust! I don't mind the crackery crust often found today, but his was like a great piece of chewy white bread.

          1. re: alfairfax
            Robert Lauriston Dec 22, 2010 08:23 AM

            Salvario sold his old place on Mission to someone who turned it into a Chinese restaurant called Royal Kitchen, but thanks to a rave review by Stan Sesser in the Chron people kept going in asking for the pesto pizza, so he kept working there for a while.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston
              BernalKC Dec 22, 2010 03:16 PM

              OK, so I'm not hallucinating that memory. That was my first taste of pesto pizza, and it was about as incongruous as it sounds.

      2. Robert Lauriston Dec 20, 2010 04:26 PM

        Wow, has it been 25 years? The pesto pizza where they paint it on with a brush also came from Salvario.

        The modern American artisanal pizza tradition dates back a bit earlier, to the opening of Chez Panisse Cafe in 1980. That inspired other restaurants such as Prego in SF to make creative pizzas. In 1982, when Wolfgang Puck opened a Chez Panisse Cafe knockoff in LA, he hired Prego's pizza cook, Ed LaDou, to make pizza. So gourmet pizza was already fairly trendy when Pauline's opened.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston
          vulber Dec 20, 2010 11:42 PM

          Didn't Wolfgang Puck also assist in opening California Pizza Kitchen around that time (which my friend who lived in LA back then tells me used to be quite good before it started to expand), which I'm guessing also helped to popularize the movement?

          1. re: vulber
            Robert Lauriston Dec 21, 2010 08:56 AM

            Ed LaDou developed the original CPK menu.

          2. re: Robert Lauriston
            Melanie Wong Dec 21, 2010 04:41 PM

            A holiday party on Sunday afternoon had Vicolo pizza, and it made me think about the first time I had one when the shop was still open.

          3. BernalKC Dec 20, 2010 04:20 PM

            That's the closest I've heard her come to revealing her crust secrets. A very tightly guarded secret, one that she has previously claimed would not likely be duplicated. I might have to do some experiments with egg whites in my pizza dough....

            The sfweekly interview was fun too, but failed to trace her pizza making origins back to their Mission Street roots. My first taste of her pizza was ordered from a side menu of a Chinese restaurant where she worked before she had her own place - if my memory servers me it was a place located where jasmine Tea house is now. Anyone else remember?

            1 Reply
            1. re: BernalKC
              Melanie Wong Dec 21, 2010 04:36 PM

              I was surprised that she said as much about the crust too. Please let us know (on the Home Cooking board) how those experiments work out!

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