Only in Berkeley

By Paula Zurowski
Friday December 21, 2007

Standing on the corner of Center and Shattuck in downtown Berkeley, I peer longingly north, toward the Gourmet Ghetto, wishing I had enough time to get to the Cheeseboard Pizza for a slice or two before class. 

Only one kind of pizza slides in and out of their ovens daily, but day to day the choices are unique: pear and gorgonzola, red cabbage and walnuts, roasted mushrooms with goat cheese, corn with lime and cilantro, roma tomato with lemon zest, roasted eggplant with feta, roasted red peppers and olive tapenade, three-onions with four-cheeses. Roasted potato with Gruyere is my all-time favorite. But truly, I enjoy them all. 

The line for pizza can be long in the evening, reaching well past the main Cheeseboard storefront two doors to the north. As the line inches forward, there's plenty of time to unwind from the day. You can chat with friends, people watch, catch up on reading, or listen to the free live musical performances. 

To the right as you enter, the ingredients of the pizza of the day are written on a large sheet of copper, along with the quote of the day, which is often political, sometimes philosophical, and always provocative. This provides something to ponder as you approach the counter, where you don't have to decide what kind of pizza to order, only how much. If you overhear comments like "Only one kind of pizza? No tomato sauce? No meat?" you know a newbie is about to purchase their first Cheeseboard pizza. 

Behind the counter, tall rolling racks loaded with uncooked pizzas await their turn in the hot ovens. Empty pizza boxes are stacked to the ceiling. To encourage recycling, a quarter is credited for returning a box for a refill. I return mine so often that every few months it's declared too tattered to carry one more pizza home, confiscated and replaced. 

After ordering, you move left to pick up your pizza, passing plates stacked high with giant heads of roasted garlic, inviting you to grab one to spread like butter on your slices. After each pizza is pulled from the oven, its hot crust is painted with olive oil infused with fresh garlic, then garnished with fresh herbs, parmesan cheese and sometimes a squeeze of lemon. Whether you order one slice or a whole pie, you're always awarded with a sample slice for the road. I rarely make it out the front door with my bonus intact. 

When I get in my car the morning after I bring home a Cheeseboard pizza, I savor it again, assaulted by the lingering garlic aroma held captive overnight. What a tasty way to start a new day.