Like some law of chemistry that governs the temperature and pressure of gases, the satisfaction of pairing pizza with beer is directly proportional all the way up and down the line. Shitty beer and day-old pizza? That’s fine. Top-notch beer from one of San Francisco’s best craft breweries with Detroit-style pizza? Better still.
It’s that ironclad principle that Cellarmaker Brewing has chosen to capitalize upon with its new House of Pizza in the former Old Bus Tavern in the city’s liveliest restaurant row, the strip of Mission Street between Cesar Chavez and 30th streets. And the Detroit-style pizza — or maybe “Detroit-adjacent,” since the cheese is Point Reyes’ Toma in lieu of Wisconsin brick, that mildly pungent, washed-rind cheese that’s more or less mandatory among purists — is the right companion for hazy IPAs like Professional Courtesy.
The texture of a Detroit pizza is the main draw, having migrated far beyond Michigan in the early parts of this decade. Tony Gemignani, the Meryl Streep of pizzaiolos, started serving one at his North Beach shop almost 10 years ago. It’s thick and it’s square, a departure from Neapolitan hegemony. Caramelized cheese, brought right to the precipice of outright burning, renders this once-obscure variety a completely different animal from those soggy, homogeneous throw pillows cut from a Sicilian, and Cellarmaker offers four varieties, all of which are thoroughly excellent.
Owing to the use of green garlic cream, which functions like a second cheese, the $20 Spring Sausage pie is the best. Between the cream and the sausage itself, the piquancy is spread throughout and the base note is a tangle between that and the sharp crust that readies the palate for some beer. Plainly perceptible but not dominant, the black truffle on the white pizza — which is far more elaborate than the usual mozzarella-and-ricotta slice of bianca — stays right where it ought to. Sharper still is the Detroit Red Top, a stripped-down chassis with oregano-heavy tomato sauce. They come four slices to a pie, and daintier types might go straight for the fork-and-knife route.
For a kitchen that all but advertises itself as straight-up overworked, with signs cautioning patience, Cellarmaker pays attention to presentation, especially on the sides. A couple of them, though, are hit-and-miss. Limp asparagus with tartar sauce lacks much pop, and the citrus salad is undersalted in spite of the presence of little slices of olive, although the highly Instagrammable, Alice Waters-esque roasted carrot salad seamlessly melds salsa and yogurt. The $6 chipwich, a summery treat as easygoing as a panting golden retriever in the backseat of a Jeep, comes in a metal bowl dusted with Maldon salt.
Little else about the arrangement is fussy. “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like reheated pizza,” a guy at Cellarmaker mused while I went back to the counter to order a second one. He uses a stone in his home oven, while I prefer an iron skillet to get the cheese crispy. In a roundabout way, he was answering my question of whether Cellarmaker offers pizza to-go. Strictly speaking, they don’t, although they give you a container that you can take back to your table to box things up yourself when your order arrives.
It’s casual like that. The “we serve it till it runs out, and them’s the breaks” approach has become S.O.P. in many of S.F.’s elbow-room-challenged kitchens — which is fine, and it even happens at Pizzahacker, one block down — but over the four or five times I’ve been to House of Pizza, it’s never been anything but crowded. This means you have to be extra-assertive in claiming a space, because if your food comes out before you have a corner to yourself, you might already be holding a beer, silverware, and plates before having to find additional room, which may very well be on a railing next to the fermentation tanks. Congestion wasn’t such a concern during the Old Bus days, because that was more brunch-centric and the light poured in through the skylights. The interior feels darker now.
Still, judged by its dual core competencies, it’s a hit. For a long time, Cellarmaker has been one of the very few worthwhile places on Howard Street, which has long been SoMa’s mystery dead zone. While Standard Deviant, Anchor, Black Sands, and others have their virtues and their partisans, the consensus among hopheads has long been that growler-friendly Cellarmaker represents the city’s best. And since pizza and beer are directly proportional, it’s killing it on two tracks.
Cellarmaker House of Pizza 3193 Mission St., 415-296-6351 or cellarmakerbrewing.com/house-of-pizza