Berkeley, With Extra Cheese
Sunday, June 27, 2004; Page P10
WHAT: Cheese Board Pizza
WHERE: Berkeley, Calif.
WHY GO: Who knew socialism could taste this good?
Imagine a video store with only one movie. Not so hot. How about a pizza place with just one kind of pizza?
Somehow, Cheese Board has made the formula work. With no pepperoni vs. mushroom quandaries, ordering is a matter of simply deciding whether you want a slice, a half pie or a whole pie, and if it'll be eat-in or takeout.
For visitors, it just doesn't get more Berkeley than Cheese Board. The shop's a mile down Shattuck Avenue, the city's main drag, from the University of California Berkeley campus and across the street from the venerable East Bay eatery Chez Panisse -- and within walking distance of two acupuncture clinics. The place always has live musicians inside and frequently has petitioners outside, with a jazz-fusion trio and an education reformer, respectively, the night I visited.
And it almost goes without saying, the pizzas are always vegetarian (daily selections rotate among 20 or so different varieties). Heck, the restaurant is even a collective.
Cheese Board is so compact it spills onto the sidewalk, with the fast-moving line usually out the door. The interior is adorned with a "No War" painting next to a blackboard listing the coming attractions. One day may be roasted bell peppers, onions, feta, mozzarella, olive tapenade and parsley, while the next could bring roma tomatoes, onions, mozzarella, goat cheese, parsley, herb garlic and olive oil. Try ordering those at Domino's.
On a recent visit, I sampled a pie heaped with corn, onion, pasilla peppers, cilantro, mozzarella, feta, garlic and olive oil. On the counter, a bowl of free lime halves sat waiting to be squeezed on the pie. With the lime juice and cilantro doing a tango, each bite was a delight, and the corn created a pleasant texture.
With only five tables (three inside, two on the sidewalk) and a steady stream of customers, something has to give. And that something is sanity, as many diners picnic in the middle of the road on the six-foot-wide median of four-lane Shattuck Avenue. With my bare feet in the grass and a gourmet pizza at my mercy, I almost forgot about the 18-wheelers rumbling past.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Pizza eaters line up at Cheese Board Pizza in Berkeley, Calif., a collective restaurant with only one type of pie served in a day.