It's always exciting to see folks who make great food move from the world of trucks and pop-ups to the world of brick and mortar. In the Bay Area, we know that what starts as a temporary offering can quickly become a national foodie phenomenon (I'm looking at you, Danny Bowien & Mission Chinese). It's sort of like watching people's dreams come true right before your eyes. So needless to say, I was thrilled to hear that my favorite pizzaiolo, Jeff Krupman aka The PizzaHacker, would be leading the charge as director of pizza R&D at The Forge, the newest restaurant to hit Oakland's burgeoning food scene.
You may have seen Jeff on the streets of the Mission or outside Bloodhound serving up pies with his Franken-Weber, a hacked Weber grill. Or, most recently popping up at Vinyl Wine Bar on Thursday nights. He's making what I think is the best pizza this city has to offer and he's teamed up with Michael Karp (who owns Orinda's Barbacoa and Table 24), Bob Burke (a Pat Kuleto vet), Jeffrey Amber (XYZ, Chow, Moose's) and Jeff Hayden (Boot & Shoe Service and Dopo). I wondered if he could scale his operation – keeping the quality of these pizzas high while serving to the masses, as The Forge occupies a 4,736 square foot space. We went to Oakland to find out during this past weekend of preview dinners for friends and family.
First impressions: There were more children at The Forge on Friday evening than I've ever seen in San Francisco. Was this because it was a 'friends and family preview' or is this just the East Bay in general? Key take-away: the restaurant is family friendly. So maybe not your best pick for a romantic date, but certainly great for groups and kids.
Also, 4,736 square feet is huge. The restaurant has three distinct dining areas – each with a unique feel. The main room is dimly lit with an open bar, booths, tables, and high tops. The big screen TVs will be a huge hit on Sunday – who doesn't love pizza, beer, and the Niners in the Super Bowl? If that's not your speed, nestled in a smaller section of the restaurant are a few tables surrounded by rustic red walls.
But perhaps the best feature of this new spot is the ample amount of outside seating, where you can sip on a drink around one of the fire pits or dine under the covered patio (heated, of course, and available for private events).
Personally, I’m for more outdoor seating anywhere we can get it.
Just don't get lost going to the bathroom – I swear it was 1/4 mile away from our seats. The Forge is playful about this, at least, and a long arrow spans the hallway to make sure you know you haven't gone too far.
The Food: Enlisting an official Director of Pizza R/D means you are serious about pizza. Does this role even exist anywhere else? I'm happy to report that they maintained the high quality I'm used to with PizzaHacker. Jeff takes his dough very seriously and it pays off. The hand-kneaded and naturally leavened approach, inspired by Tartine's method, separates these pies from the rest. The perfectly salted crust makes it that much better. I'm sad that some of my favorite pizzas didn't make the cut, though, so hopefully the menu will change up with the seasons and the pizzas will follow suit.
The fried cheese curds also really piqued my interest and taste buds. We devoured them alongside our IPAs. Between two of us, we ordered the cheese curds, a salad, and two pizzas. Needless to say, we ended up leaving with half a pizza as leftovers for a late night snack.
Staff/service: Wasn't keen on the trucker hat/ flannel uniforms – they screamed franchise waiting to happen. Please ditch the hats. But beyond that, the staff was pleasant, enthusiastic, quick, and on point. Which is way more important than attire. For the first weekend, I was impressed that everything felt seemingly smooth.
With The Forge, The Eat Real Festival, and new restuarat Lungomare slated to open in February, Jack London Square is carving a name out for itself in the East Bay food scene. Now let's get those water taxis up and running across the bay for some dock-to-dock service. But until then, here are ways you can get there by yourself.
Photo credits: Andrew Dalton