Join us for Tag Along, where local writers, artists, food authorities, and celebrities shine a spotlight on the best food and drinks in their favorite Bay Area neighborhoods.
Marc Schechter is an unabashed pizza fan. It makes sense, as Schechter founded Bay Area brand Square Pie Guys with good friend Danny Stoller, helping to popularize Detroit-style pizza in San Francisco. Schechter’s journey behind the pizza peel first began at home, making pies for friends while navigating a day job, then begging PizzaHacker owner Jeff Krupman to hire him for a weekend gig after trying their pies in 2018 — despite having no restaurant experience whatsoever. Schechter eventually took on other industry jobs including at Pizzeria Delfina, while also lending a hand with Krupman’s PizzaHacker pop-up at Vinyl Wine Bar. He eventually started a pop-up with Stoller and they gained a solid following, leading to three permanent locations of Square Pie Guys in San Francisco and Oakland.
Despite making a mean pie of his own, Schechter still gets out regularly to try any and all types of pizzas, supporting and cheering on other pizzaiolos in the Bay Area. And it only makes sense that Schechter has strong opinions about pizza. He’s become friends with many other Bay Area pizzamakers and when asked to create a list of his favorites in the East Bay, he took the challenge seriously. The Oakland resident knows what he’s looking for in a great pie.
The first indicator? The crust, Schechter says, dangling a slice vertically from one hand so we can inspect its underside. “I’m looking for this nice brown color,” he says, pointing before scratching at the exposed crust. “You’re gonna hear it in the back of your jaw and your ears, the crunch on the inside. That’s what I want.”
Diehard pizza fans take note as we tour the East Bay shops that fuel Schechter’s pizza passions.
130 Railroad Avenue, Richmond
To kick off the tour, we head to Raymond’s Pizzeria in Point Richmond. Open since July 2019, Raymond’s, which is co-owned by pro skateboarder Brad Staba and Up & Under Pub and Grill Nathan Trivers, built a following for its East Coast-inspired pizza. Staba tried a lot of pizza in his 20-plus years in the skateboard scene, eventually tinkering with a pizza recipe of his own. “He made a splash in the minds of pizza folks that know pizza,” Schechter says. “This one should be on your list.”
Schechter grew up on Long Island and when he landed in the Bay Area, he craved was a classic cheese slice from home — much like what Raymond’s offers. “It’s just a really solid, simple, balanced cheese slice that is just greasy enough to keep bringing you back to it,” Schechter says, “but isn’t filling you up in this intense way.” One notable hallmark of Raymond’s pizza: The sauce is spread on top of the cheese, meaning “you get these nice bursts of the acidic tomato and you get that balance,” Schechter says, “not just super cheesy or super saucy.”
1960 University Avenue, Berkeley
Next, we head to Rose Pizzeria, nestled on a stretch of University Avenue in Berkeley. Owners and couple Gerad Gobel and Alexis Rorabaugh make pizzas out of a tiny 115-square-foot kitchen and bake pies with crusts that Schechter compares to sourdough bread — which is to say they have a crustiness “while still being thin and delicate and chewy.”
Schechter admires Gobel and Rorabaugh’s use of quality toppings, such as smoked mozzarella and Ezzo Sausage, one of his favorite brands. Schechter points out the orange hue on top of the pie, which he says marks high-quality pizzas. “That’s the grease and the sauce and the cheese becoming one thing,” he says. “That is what happens when you have that ‘chemical reaction.’ If the pizza doesn’t have that orange grease, something was wrong with the ratios.”
2995 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley
Emilia’s Pizzeria, the 14-year-old Berkeley restaurant from pizzaiolo Keith Freilich, makes our third stop. It’s not a restaurant in the traditional sense; it’s a takeout-only situation, with customers preordering their pizza online when orders start at 8:55 a.m., selecting an evening time slot for pickup. The quirky setup is the result of Freilich working as a one-man operation, but it’s worth the extra effort, Schechter promises. “If you can do one of these, it’s a fun time,” he says.
We take our pizzas back to Schechter’s car on Shattuck, where we eat slices out of the trunk. He calls the pizzas “New York meets Neapolitan” meaning the crust isn’t “pure crisp, but there is a lot of char,” noting the leopard spots on the crust. Emilia’s offers a delicate, yet supple and chewy pizza that’s not soupy like some Neapolitans can be, he says. We try the Brazilian, a variation on a Margherita with a mix of mozzarella and Parmesan, plus pepperoni and Mike’s Hot Honey. “There’s something about the whole experience that I think should be appreciated,” Schechter says. “The whole online ordering, going back and it’s just one guy making your pizza. It’s not like a [traditional] shop.”
State Flour Pizza Company
2985 College Avenue, Berkeley
Schechter shares almost a kindred spirit with our final stop, State Flour Pizza Company and its owner Derek Lau, since they’re both alums of PizzaHacker in San Francisco. Like the other pizzerias on this list, Lau welcomes Schechter into the kitchen to watch the process and document it for the @pizza Instagram, which boasts 1 million followers and to which Schechter contributes. Lau lets Schechter choose ingredients for an off-menu pie, settling on an upside-down vodka sauce pizza.
Schechter comments on Lau’s technique of rotating the pizza between a stone and a screen — “it’s a lot of stuff that anybody who has worked at PizzaHacker would very instantly recognize,” Schechter says, crediting PizzaHacker with informing his own pizza palette. Still, Lau is forging his own path, using seasonal, fresh ingredients such as summer tomatoes, basil, and pickled onions. “He’s also doing his riffs on super New York-y, Sicilian, grandma-style, with pepperoni and burrata,” Schechter says. “It’s like your California pizzeria meets some New York-ness and some core pizza Americana, all in one spot, in the most Berkeley neighborhood. It just makes me very happy.”
Update: October 13th, 2023, 8:05 a.m.: This story has been updated to reflect that Marc Schechter is the founder of Square Pie Guys and to clarify the ordering system at Emilia’s Pizzeria.