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Food & Drink

San Francisco Has a Hot New Pizza Place

Written by Omar MamoonPublished Aug. 31, 2023 • 5:30am
In the latest episode of PFG, Cacio e pepe pizza and mozzarella sticks are standouts at Flour + Water Pizzeria's North Beach outlet. | Source: Video by Mike Kuba and Jesse Rogala

San Francisco’s pizza scene is diverse and delicious. Every pizza style under the sun exists in our foggy city, from classic, leopard-spotted Neapolitan pies to trendy Detroit “red top” squares and timeless, foldable New York slices. 

Flour + Water Pizzeria is the latest addition from the Mission District-based Flour + Water Hospitality Group, which runs two other restaurants, a “pasta shop” that also serves sandwiches and a cocktail bar. But the pizzeria marks its first foray into North Beach, the iconic Italian neighborhood once described by the late Chronicle columnist Herb Caen as “1,001 neon-splattered joints alive with the Italian air of garlic.” Even Flour + Water’s space at 532 Columbus Ave. is infused with food history, having been formerly occupied by the beloved Rose Pistola, which closed back in 2017 after more than two decades. 

Thomas McNaughton, left, and Ryan Pollnow, right, of Flour + Water Pizzeria pose for a portrait outside their new restaurant in San Francisco on Aug. 10, 2023. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

But since it opened in June, Flour + Water Pizzeria has held its own as a new member of North Beach’s venerable pizza community. Unlike, say, Tony's Pizza Napoletana across the street, Flour + Water’s pies don’t fit into a specific pizza genre. 

“It’s not Neapolitan, but we want a high char; it’s not New York, but we cook in a deck oven,” said co-chef Thomas McNaughton. 

The 13-inch pizzas are cut into six slices, which I suppose is enough to feed two. But I prefer going with a one-pizza-per-person principle. Sometimes more is more. 

Sous Chef Mikee Tocus adds the finishing touches to freshly made pizzas at Flour + Water Pizzeria on Aug. 10, 2023. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

The menu offers tomato-sauce-topped red pies and sauceless white pies. The crowd-pleasing pepperoni ($22) features crispy cupped pepperoni, aged and fresh mozzarella and spicy pickled chili peppers, while the Hawaiian (also $22) has capicola in lieu of ham, pineapple sliced so thin it almost melts into the pie and chili crunch for heat. (It just may end the pineapple-on-pizza debate for all eternity.)

But the standout—the PFG option—is the cacio e pepe pizza ($20). It was developed by Ryan Pollnow, the other half of the Flour + Water Hospitality Group’s leadership team, who sought to re-create the quintessential Roman pasta dish in pizza form. 

The cacio e pepe pizza, which literally translates to "cheese and pepper," is a deceptively simple creation that has emerged as a star of the menu. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

But Pollnow couldn’t use pure pecorino, which would be a salt bomb. Instead, he created a five-cheese blend of dry, aged mozzarella, fontina, fior de latte, Parmigiano Reggiano for umami, and a mixture of pecorino and heavy cream. Before the pie goes into the oven, it’s hit with a crack of Tellicherry peppercorns; it gets another generous crank of the mill after it comes out beautifully browned.

“It’s just the right combination of salty-slightly funky-rich,” Pollnow said.

A salad provides some balance to all that bread and cheese. Flour + Water’s Caesar is made with Little Gem lettuce and escarole for a touch of bitterness.

A summer chop salad features market veggies, chickpeas, pepperoncini, parm frico and creamy Italian dressing. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard
A stone fruit and fennel dish is made with ricotta salata, pistachio and lemon oil. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

There are other seasonal vegetables and fruit-forward small plates. Stone fruits are juicy and delicious right now, and the pizzeria serves them with shaved fennel, chopped pistachios for crunch, ricotta salata for cheesy saltiness and some bright lemon oil. 

But don’t get so preoccupied with vegetables that you skip the PFG starter, which is none other than the mozzarella sticks. Aged mozzarella is cut from blocks into sticks, rolled in flour, dipped in batter and coated in seasoned bread crumbs spiked with panko for extra texture. They’re shatteringly crispy on the outside and ooey-gooey on the inside and come with a bright, beautiful marinara dipping sauce made with organic canned Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes.

Fresh mozzarella sticks are a standout item on the sides menu at Flour + Water Pizzeria and required hours of research to meet the high standards of Pollnow and McNaughton. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

Creating the perfect mozzarella stick involved quite a bit of R&D, McNaughton said. The sticks are refrigerated overnight to allow the batter and breading to set so they won’t explode in the deep fryer.

When they land on your plate, you can slowly pull them apart to create a perfect photo-worthy cheese pull. Or better yet, just eat them. 

Flour + Water Pizzeria

🗓️ Daily | 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
📍 532 Columbus Ave.,  San Francisco

Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco-based writer & cookie dough professional. Find him at @ommmar.

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