If you ask Max Blachman-Gentile to identify the most crucial part of his pizzas, he’ll likely tell you it’s the dough. And given his cooking and baking background, the dough is a carefully considered part of the equation with Blachman-Gentile’s new pop-up Jules. An Oakland native, Blachman-Gentile spent 10 years in New York City honing his skills, first working at Mission Chinese Food and Mission Cantina. He later moved to famed pizzeria Roberta’s working as a baker, then Emily and Emmy Square Pizza, eventually earning a Rising Star Baker nod from Starchefs. Returning to the West Coast, he worked with La Morra Pizzeria out of Los Angeles before becoming the culinary director for Tartine Bakery, eventually making his way back to the Bay Area. This is all to say that not only does Blachman-Gentile love pizza, but it’s also something he’s been thinking about for a long time.
With Jules, he’s bringing everything he learned about New York pizza and infusing it with his own baking style and fresh ingredients. “There’s great pizza places here in the Bay Area, and it’s getting a lot better,” Blachman-Gentile says. “But when you live in New York for a while, you’re used to being able to have a good pizza. You should have two good pizza places in every neighborhood. There should be no shortage of good pizza places.”
Jules begins its pop-up residency at San Francisco wine bar Buddy, and will turn up every Wednesday during August, starting on August 9. He’s working on pizzas that combine his East Coast and West Coast sentiments: the aforementioned dough incorporates the sweet, yeasty flavor of New York-style pizzas that he loves, and fuses it with a bit of sourdough starter to give it some tang, to “make everything pop a little bit more.” The result is a thin, crisp crust with a light texture inside.
The sauce and toppings are also in careful balance with that fine-tuned dough; diners can expect a mix of classic and not-so-classic pizzas at Buddy and Jules’ other upcoming pop-ups. There will be a pepperoni pie and a cheese option but done up, of course. The cheese pizza showcases a mix of fresh mozzarella made by Blachman-Gentile, along with pecorino Romano, Toscano, Caciocavallo, and Parmesan, along with basil, garlic, and a chile flake that’s similar to the Georgian spice ajika, he says. Pepperoni is similarly zhuzhed up with chile flakes and Calabrian chiles, reminiscent of a spicy spring pie at Prince Street Pizza.
Nontraditional options will rotate, and Blachman-Gentile is excited for a fennel-centric pizza, with a fennel cream sauce, fennel sausage, pickled fennel, the aforementioned cheese mix, and fennel pollen scattered on top once it’s out of the oven. The mushroom pie gets a similar, all-in treatment, combining a mushroom cream base, with a melange of mushrooms, and a cheese that “melts like fondue.” The Bee Sting pizza also references New York pizzas with the addition of an in-house-made fermented garlic honey, a nod to Roberta’s and Paulie Gee’s. “I’m just trying to bring in some of those New York references and things, but put a little bit of like a spin on it, too,” he says.
The endgame is to settle into a permanent space, but for now, Blachman-Gentile is enjoying the local pop-up scene and getting reacquainted with the Bay Area. “Everyone’s been super friendly, super supportive, and really excited about it,” he says. “I think that just goes to show the Bay Area is always a warm, welcoming place to people trying to do fun, creative things.”