The owners of North Beach Neapolitan style pizzeria Il Casaro are bringing a different slice of Italy to San Francisco with Barbara Pinseria and Cocktail Bar, opening this Friday, September 21. There, Francesco Covucci and Peter Fazio hope to whisk diners away to Rome with pinsa — a regional precursor to pizza made with a lighter crust — cocktails, and a full menu of Italian dishes (below). Meanwhile, at next door Barbara Express, they’ll sling Roman pizza al taglio, in square slices cut to order with specialty pizza scissors.
At 431 Columbus (in the former Panta Rei Space), Barbara Pinseria and Barbara Express occupy a large corner sliver of San Francisco’s historically Italian neighborhood. The room expands back into a large dining area with a full bar, behind which Carlo Splendorini (Michael Mina, the Modernist) has a menu of beer, wine, and Italian-inspired cocktails. Also behind the bar, diners will notice Barbara herself: A mural by ubiquitous local artist Jeremy Fish inspired by Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday (picture her on a Vespa).
The real namesake Barbara is Covucci’s Roman great grandmother. While he and Fazio hail from Calabria, Covucci has a soft spot for Roman cuisine, and he’s watched square Roman pizza al taglio explode in popularity with chains like Bonci leading the charge. Pinsa, meanwhile, has gained local traction with restaurants like Montesacro.
One reason to love the Roman style is its digestible crust, Covucci says. “If you speak with Italians, they see a good looking pizza, and they say ‘looks good — but let’s see tonight how I feel.’”
The dough — for both Barbara’s pinsa and the square slices al taglio at Barbara Express — is made from a combination of soy, rice, and wheat flours (rather than the Neapolitan standard of doppio zero flour). It’s high-hydration (with 85 percent water rather than 60 percent, as with most Neapolitan pizza), long fermentation (48 to 72 hours), and baked at a lower temperature than screaming-hot Neapolitan pizza ovens.
Another plus: Square pizza al taglio is sturdy enough to hold lots of toppings and travel well — delivery from Barbara Express is in the works.
Barbara’s main dining room offers sit-down service for individual oblong pinsas, antipiasti, and classic pastas like cacio e pepe (Fazio and Covuccio are also behind popular North Beach pasta restaurant Pasta Pop-Up). Meanwhile, Barbara Express will serve its pizza at the counter to eat at cafe style seating or to go, as at popular Roman slice houses and local staples like Golden Boy.
Just one twist: Customers will pay for pizza by the ounce, rather than the slice. “Is San Francisco ready to pay for pizza by weight? Covucci wonders. In fact, he’s agonized over the decision.
We’ll just have to see if San Fransicans can do as the Romans do.
Starting Friday, September 21, Barbara’s hours will be 11 a.m. to 12 a.m., Sunday to Thursday, Friday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., with brunch coming soon.
Barbara Pinseria Menu by on Scribd