Square Pie Guys Is All About That Vodka Sauce

A Detroit-style pizza pop-up opens in SoMa with a surprisingly uncommon ingredient.

Photo by Peter Lawrence Kane

Vodka sauce, that rust-orange, tomato-and-cream companion to penne, goes great on pizza, endowing it with a bit of extra snap. But it’s all too rare in California, and for no discernible reason.

Until now. Square Pie Guys, now open in SoMa, is the city’s new spot for it. Since last September, partners Danny Stoller and Marc Schecter had been making Detroit-style pizzas on Thursdays and Fridays at Vinyl Wine Bar — or “Winyl Vine Bar,” as a blooper from their Kickstarter video put it. They quickly began hitting capacity at every venue they traveled to, so it was time for a forever home.

Only a few months after The Board vacated 1077 Mission St., Square Pie Guys has gone in, and while some of the decor (like the lotería-themed restroom) looks much as it did during the days when AQ spinoff Fénix was there, build-outs cost money. (Hence that Kickstarter.) Stoller and Schecter have leapt into the action with a number of seasonal, deepish-dish quadrilateral pies, many of them with goofy names like “Don’t Go Bacon My Heart” or “How Mush-Room,” and you can get any of them made with vodka sauce for free. Schecter grew up with grandma-style pies three time zones away, and while the thick pan quality of a Detroit-style pizza is evident, things move a shade in a Lawnguyland direction, but with a distinctly West Coast sensibility, with gluten-free dough and vegan cheeses available. (Stoller is vegan.)

Standards like a pepperoni pizza called The 6×8 populate the menu, but one of the best is the decadent yet balanced summer elote corn, made with garlic-ricotta cream, cilantro-lime crema, taco seasoning, and cotija. That crema reappears on El Pugilista, whose Molinari chorizo and pickled peppers put up a bit of a fight, plus there are impressive pub fare bites like a cheeseburger made with bread-and-butter pickles and shredded romaine and a batch of Szechuan dry fried wings. Surprise: cilantro-lime crema once again.

So with strong ingredients like that, why use vodka at all? The neutral spirit just cooks off, right? Not exactly — it’s a carrier for olfactory compounds, and since alcohol is an emulsifier, it brings the fats and oils into greater harmony with items made of vegetable matter. Just more proof that the latest crop of pizzerias in San Francisco — Hayes Valley’s Gioia and the Mission’s Flour + Water Pizzeria being among the more prominent — have already carved out personalities for themselves. Be there and be square.

Square Pie Guys, 1077 Mission St., 415-872-9290 or squarepieguys.com

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