Naples in North Park: A trip to Caffe Calabria on 30th Street

Our table was right next to the steady stream of handmade pizzas

On election day I made a special trip over to Blind Lady Ale House to try Lee Chase’s White House Honey Ale.  It’s one of my favorite spots for pizza, so I ordered up a Salsiccia, the honey ale, and settled in.  Neighborhoods being what they are, I ran into another lover of the craft beer who runs a tech company and he started regaling me with tales from the Lost Abbey Rare Beer dinner.  Then he said something that shocked me.

I’ve been to every place that serves pizza within three miles of 30th Street.  Yes, DeLuca’s, Mazara’s, Alexander’s on 30th, Mosaic Wine Bar (flatbread) Lefty’s Chicago Pizzeria, Paesano, North Park Foundry, Il Postino, The Linkery (flatbread), URBN North Park, Splash Wine Lounge (also flatbread), Pizzeria Bruno, Brooklyn Pizza, and Blind Lady.  I left out the chain by Western Steakburger and the other chain by The Loving Hut because let’s be honest, that’s barely pizza.  So my friend Matt (the aforementioned craft beer techie) says, with a straight face, that the best pizza in the neighborhood is at Caffe Calabria.  Really?  Wait, REALLY?!?  I like the Monsters of the Midway pizza at Lefty’s, plus they are super pro-neighborhood and just really good for North Park.  We’ve grown to into big fans of URBN, too.  As soon as they committed to not having a dance club at night and they added a nice local craft beer line up they endeared themselves to us.  And it helps that the “New Haven” style pizza is just flat out good.  But my favorite pizza has been Blind Lady for at least two years.  The crust is thin, but flavorful and holds its shape enough to enjoy the whole slice.  I could go on about the many good options there, but the point here is that my friend Matt suggested the best pizza in the ‘hood is actually fired up at Caffe Calabria.

Pizza decisions shouldn’t feel like such an impact on my personal worldview, but it’s such a staple food group that navigating this choice is pretty serious.  I wondered if it could be true.  If someone could replace my favorite bike-riding, community-supporting, great-beer having foursome at BLAH as the top of the pizza mountain.  Fast forward two days and wife and I are really hungry after a long day of not working with our hands (yes, I think white-collar “workers” are kind of punks when it comes to being actually tired).  I sat down to my Interweb gadget to find some food and remembered I’d signed up for Mogl at the San Diego Brewers Guild Festival earlier during Beer Week.

RANDOM MONEY-SAVING ASIDE:  Mogl is awesome. They give you money back (10% of your credit/debit card charge) if you eat at a restaurant on their list. I’m not kidding.  I’ve already gotten back $13.76 just this week.  If you are enticed, use my code to sign up, they’ll give us both $10.  No, there are no restrictions and no you don’t have to do anything special.  There is no catch.  They make their money directly from the bar/restaurant and that’s also how they pay us.  Here’s the link to join (this links to my code, enter my name and we’ll both get $10) and for the site generally.

Anyway, so back to Caffe Calabria.  We walked down to 30th Street and made our way north.  It’s across from El Take it Easy and The Office, just past the bank and the janky magazine store that I kind of like for the character but wouldn’t mind if it were, I don’t know, a men’s dress clothes store.  I’d just been to Calabria early that morning because they make these delicious little euro-breakfast sandwiches on crusty bread for $1.95.  They are VERY small, but if you just pretend you’re in Italy it will feel normal.  Go with the Sopresata.  We settled in to a table right away, even though it was 8:00pm on a Thursday night. So that didn’t suck.  After a short delay made longer by our grumbling stomachs, our server came over with his strong Italian accent and Italian charm and took our order. He was from a seaside town on the east coast called Pescara, and was very Italian.  We ordered up a bottle of a nice Barberra, Bresaola, Mixed Greens and—again—a salsiccia pizza.

Here’s the Bresaola.  It’s house cured meat, light greens with some lemon juice and a bit of flatbread.

Bad picture of the house cured deliciousness in our starter

The picture doesn’t do it justice.  That’s because my crappy Evo is the worst phone ever.  My photos will upgrade soon, thankfully, as soon as the new Optimus LG comes out.  I’ll skip the mixed green photo, suffice it to say it tasted like they had a garden out back.  Really good.  Wouldn’t be surprised if it came from Suzie’s Farm, but didn’t have time to check.  Then it was time for the real test.  The pizza order went in and 2 minutes later we had this

Bits of cheese on this sausage pizza are about all you can see because of my janky HTC Evo camera phone.

That is a big ol’ leaf of basil in the middle of our pizza.  If you are one of those people who need a ton of toppings on your pizza I have two things to say to you.  First, you won’t love this–but maybe try it anyway.  Second, it might be time for a cholesterol check.  Just sayin.  I kid.  This pizza, was, well, solidly in the top three of slices I’ve consumed in 2012.  The biggest upside was the sausage.  Very strong fennel taste and just a bit spicy.  I could’ve used a little more sausage on my pizza, but that’s just a personal preference thing.  It’s a thin-crust pizza, so if you need all kinds of dough to make you feel like you are eating pizza, this might not work for you.  For the rest of the pizza-loving world, Caffe Calabria produced a very good slice.  I realize I am leaving off the price, but that’s just because I can’t actually remember.  It must’ve been between $10-16 because outside of that range I’d have made a mental note to either rave about how cheap it was or complain that despite being good it was too pricey.  Yes, I know a couple of my favorite BLAH pizzas are more than that, but if you’ve been you’ll understand why they get a special exemption.

Another very cool reason to go to Calabria is that with less than a five-minute walk you can grab an interesting drink, see some art or have some dessert.  If you’ve made it by, and have thoughts on the pizza, please share.  Thanks for reading.

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