The Deep Divide

A San Francisco pizza that's geared to the discerning hipster palate

I've always contended that the divide between San Francisco and Oakland/Berkeley goes much further than just traversing a bridge over troubled, gridlocked waters.

The physical barrier is one thing. You get in your car or on your Richmond-bound BART train. You sit. You sit some more. You sit until the bones in your hindquarters and the springs beneath your seat become acquainted in the biblical sense. And then you sit just a bit longer. Long enough to ponder the sociological, ideological, and yes, even spiritual issues that truly separate west from east.

Issues that include: If a few dozen SUVs fell into the bay and no one saw me push them, would idiot drivers still stop and stare in bewilderment at all the orange Caltrans barricades?

Or, if Zachary's had an estimable city-side rival, would people still swerve off the freeway on their way back from vacation, extending their drive an extra hour, just to get a half-bake for dinner?

This last question is not as simple as it appears. It goes straight to the heart of the old existential conundrum: Which is more important -- the journey, the destination, or the pie?

Since early '05, Little Star Pizza (846 Divisadero, 441-1118, www.littlestarpizza.com) has no doubt been giving Zach's a run for its menu, offering sunken pizza in the Chicago model to admirable reviews and an even more admirable following. But as to whether it will dethrone the deity of deep dish -- that's where things get murky.

In the anticipation category, both are a lot like Tom Petty's "The Waiting" song -- you gotta take it on faith that you will eventually get seated, be visited by a waitperson, and eat. Zachary's has got a slight edge on the waiting part; the staff lets you order right away, so that by the time you sit, the pizza's usually coming out of the oven. At Little Star, the thumb-twiddling time on a Friday or Saturday night can be as long as two hours -- and that's before you've even looked at a menu. It goes by fast though when you're sipping a Kermit Lynch Côtes du Rhône or quaffing cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon (even faster if you're doing this while browsing the city's most eclectic jukebox, stocked with dozens of fabulous bands you've never heard of).

Stylewise, Little has it big, geared more to the discerning Western Addition hipster palate than the frat house/soccer mom crowd. (As owner Brian Sadigursky puts it, "We're delivering a dinner experience, not just a place to fill your belly.")

Still, all the walnut- and Gorgonzola-strewn salads don't matter a lick if the main attraction lacks in the flavor department. Happily, the Mediterranean chicken pizza (ordered here because Zachary's version is practically legendary) delivers in spades.

Little Star opts for a cornmeal crust, which, unlike Zach's, doesn't taste like a giant bag of biscuit flour and isn't hard enough to break a tooth on. Also, there's no second crust on top to form an actual "pie" -- a Zach's signature touch that invariably sends me into a carbo-load coma. Butter, olive oil, and salt meld together to form a shell that stands up to robust, grown-up fillings: tangy, chunked tomato sauce; house-baked chicken seasoned with pepperoncini juice and garlic; salty feta; piquant green olives and red peppers; artichoke hearts; and lots of whole-milk mozzarella.

By and large, it's a more sophisticated pizza than its East Bay counterpart. Something to contemplate if your hindquarters are hesitating to cross the great divide.

 
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