It’s cause for celebration when a fast-food chain establishment gets replaced by an artisan restaurant.
Redhill Shopping Center in San Anselmo was upgraded three months ago when Pizzalina took over the space that was formerly Round Table Pizza and opened in September 2012.
And I mean upgraded. Pizzalina, a small, independently owned eatery created and run by Louisa Franz (a San Anselmo resident for many years and a restaurant business veteran) is one of the best pizzerias to enhance Marin County in the last few years.
What makes it so good? Pride of place is a wood-burning pizza oven. It turns out blistery-crisp crusts, thin as wafers. In texture they seduce with crackling chew and loads of smoky good-bread flavor thanks to Italian double-00 hard red wheat flour. Pizzalina also has a mission to serve locally grown and sourced ingredients as much as possible, with the emphasis on organic. Everything, including a couple of exceptional desserts, is made from-scratch, in house.
The décor is a mixture of urban slickness and rustic funk. There are exposed pipes, cement walls offset by earthy wood ceilings and great fixtures with Edison bulbs.
A tall communal table with stools, at the front of the restaurant, attracts mobs of Drake High School kids at lunch and mid-afternoon snack times.
One wall of the restaurant is hugged by a padded, welcoming bench. The open kitchen unspools aromas of baking crusts, sizzling pan-cooked pastas, melting cheese: good things to eat.
I popped in for a solo lunch to get a sense of what to eat. I wish I could have had a bigger appetite to go through more of the seasonally changing menu. I simply had a salad, a pie and a dessert. Based on those three items, however, I would say that this is a special restaurant, with tremendous, if subtle, style. And it can only get better as it matures.
A sandwich board outside the front door advertises one or two pizza specials of the day. These might include the complex, meal-on-a-crust of three cheeses, bacon, green peppers, mushrooms and chives ($16). It was advertised with Calabrian chili oil, which you can as for on the side (as I did) if you prefer a milder pie.
All pizzas are one-size only, individual 12-inchers that sport enough toppings to make a meal for one or two, especially if you eke it out with side salads or antipasti.
Caesarlina ($10) was one of the better Caesars I’ve had lately. Whole leaf romaine lettuce leaves were perfectly sluiced in a lemon-egg-anchovy dressing that was aggressively full-bodied, yet complementary to the greens. Even the croutons were excellent, garlicky, irregularly torn nuggets of top-quality bread.
Tempting starters also include burrata with da Vero extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and crostini; oven-roasted pears with prosciutto, burrata, endive, arugula and balsamic syrup; baked vegetable of the day with extra-virgin olive oil and salt, to name a few.
You can create your own pizza, but the house combinations all read so appealingly, I say go with the menu flow. Most pies are named after San Anselmo streets, such as the Yolanda, with tomato, basil, mozzarella, parmesan, prosciutto and arugula crudo; or the Lansdale, with fig confit, pancetta, caramelized onion, rosemary and Point Reyes blue cheese.
Pizzas range in price from a classic Marinara (sauce only) with herbs for $10, to the high-end Roys, with tomato, buffalo mozzarella, black kale, fresh garlic and extra virgin olive oil for $18.
In addition to pizza, the menu features gluten-free beef and pork meatballs in marinara sauce ($8); PEI mussels with garlic, fennel and Calabrian chiles ($14); risotto with wood-roasted butternut squash, sage and fried garlic ($12) and three different pastas, including a gluten-free version.
Besides Three Twins organic ice cream, there are only two desserts, but they showcase the same dedication to good ingredients and robust combination of flavors, as the savory foods.
I loved a rosemary olive oil cake (gluten-free), based on almond flour, with sliced poached apples and vanilla-bean-flecked cream. The cake was haunted with rosemary, the almond and olive tastes were subtle, the overall effect was like a dessert you’d be served in a celebrity chef’s Umbrian farmhouse.
Over time, Louisa Franz hopes to grow her menu and offer more opportunities for private parties and special events. By spring and summer, the outdoor patio will be thriving with a fire pit and a ring of tables.
The menu also features beer and wine. Monday to Friday lunchtime special for Drake students include a quarter for $4 and a small green salad or drink, for $2.
I’d call Pizzalina a major contender In the artisan pie boom taking place in every upscale community around the Bay Area. Redhill Shopping Center is now a much more exciting destination thanks to its presence.
Pizzalina is at 914 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., SanAnselmo, 256-9780, www.pizzalina.com.
It’s open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Free parking on site.
Contact Leslie Harlib at firstname.lastname@example.org.