By the Slice @ Gioia Pizzeria, Berkeley

Pepperoni Pizza @ Gioia Pizzeria, Berkeley. The crushed red pepper and dried Italian herbs are after-market add-ons.

Being from California, I’m not obligated to swear my allegiance to any one particular style of pizza. It’s a bit of a relief, really. The Chicagoans and the New Yorkers can wage their apples-versus-oranges debate for as long as they wish — that tired routine will never be resolved. In the meantime, I’m happy to mind my own business, so long as I continue to have access to the pizza itself. Pizza is important, and it’s imperative to know which places excel, and which ones fall short. At its very core, pizza is a simple food, so any shortcomings are always going to be on clear display. In the Bay Area, the best places tend to offer New York style pizza, which seems to suit Californians like me. After all, thin-crust pizza complements a fast-paced lifestyle: just a quick re-heat in the deck oven, and it’s ready to go, out the door. Even at the most popular places, the lines always move fast.

In terms of New York-style pizza, the best slices must be held with two hands. The crust should be crispy, yet thin enough to bend under the slightest layer of cheese. In the ideal scenario, the first three bites should also be a race against total frontal collapse. The first bite, in particular, is never quite voluntary — it’s often more like a knee-jerk reaction, an attempt to prevent the cheese from sliding right off the front. More often than not, this is the kind of pizza that they serve at Gioia Pizzeria in Berkeley. Of course, this restaurant is hardly a secret — every time I visit, Gioia has a line that backs up to the door. There’s usually four or five pizzas to choose from, which always includes such staples as sausage or pepperoni. Naturally, Gioia also betrays its Berkeley roots with a rotation of more esoteric choices, such as butternut squash with Gorgonzola, or broccoli with ricotta. Cash only.

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