As a die hard pizza lover (I mean, the guy who’s only eaten pizza for 25 years sounds like my perfect man), working at Pizzacraft is a dream. Between testing our pizza-making products, writing new recipes, and photographing gourmet pies, there’s always pizza in our company kitchen. I never get tired of it.
However, we do sometimes get tired of making the pizza ourselves. And it’s always useful to get outside the office and see what’s going on in the pizza world. So for lunch today, Niki and I decided to venture out to Little Star Pizza on Solano Avenue in Albany, CA for a local pizzeria review. The new-ish pizzeria’s three Bay Area locations are already hugely popular, threatening East Bay heavy hitter Zachary’s Pizza’s title of “Best Bay Area Deep Dish.”
The restaurant was mostly empty when we came in, but for lunch on a Monday it wasn't too surprising. (Niki said it gets very busy at nights and on the weekend) Solano Avenue is a long drag through Albany and neighboring Berkeley, dotted with great places to eat and fun indie shops. Little Star’s corner location is ideal, and the restaurant itself was open and inviting. Niki made particular note of the beautiful reclaimed wood wall; I liked the floor-to-ceiling windows that brought the gorgeous April day indoors.
Because Little Star is known for its deep dish, we went ahead and ordered a classic ($19 for a small; deep dish with sausage, mushrooms, onions, and green bell peppers with tomato sauce and mozzarella). However, because the two veggies I hate more than anything are onions and bell peppers, we swapped them out for basil at our waiter’s helpful suggestion. At Niki’s suggestion, and for comparison, we also got a thin crust pie of their chicken pesto ($19 for a small; thin crust with pesto base, roasted chicken, mushrooms, onions, and mozzarella). Niki had enjoyed this pizza in the past, and considered it their best – mostly for the delicious homemade pesto. The wait for our pies was considerably shorter than the wait times at Zachary’s, which can take up for 45 minutes for their “stuffed” deep dish pies. Perhaps because it was a slow lunch hour, or perhaps they’re just quicker in the kitchen, but Little Star had our meal out to us in under 20 minutes.
Both pies looked beautiful when they came to our table, stacked up like bunk beds on a metal wire frame. I dug into the bottom bunk – the deep dish – right away. The first thing I noticed was that the pizza wasn't as “stuffed” with fillings as Zachary’s. When you visit Zachary’s, the first slice is always served by the waiter, who has to sever the string of cheese that trails from the slice with an expert flick of their metal spatula. At Little Star, there weren't so many fillings that it needed to be served up by a pro. I put a neat slice on my plate and got to work. Though the slice wasn’t overflowing with ingredients, the ones that were there were clearly high quality. The sausage was flavorful and juicy, although the thin slices of mushrooms got lost in the mix. The tomato sauce, which was on top of the other ingredients in that Chicago deep dish style, had large chunks of crushed tomato. A thin layer of mozzarella cheese lined the crust at the bottom.
But it was the crust that stole the show. Little Star’s deep dish pies use a cornmeal crust that’s absolutely amazing. It was thin enough to hold the pie together and add its own mellow, sweet cornmeal flavor without weighing the rest of the pie down with breadiness. Around the edges it was baked to a deep brown, crispy perfection that crumbled just a little bit as you finished off your slice. I usually don’t finish my crusts, but this time I picked it up off the plate and finished it all off.
The thin crust chicken pesto pizza was also good, but nothing to really write home about. This pie used a traditional, crunchy flour crust, and was piled high with hunks of chicken, mozzarella cheese, and a thick swirl of dark green pesto. My slice was satisfying and left a big smear of golden olive oil on my plate, but once it was gone, I opted for another slice of the deep dish instead.
Although Niki came into lunch favoring the thin crust, she left converted to a deep dish fan. She agreed that the crust was delicious and it didn’t need overwhelming amounts of cheese. One bite of crust and she was happy.
As we took our remaining slices to go (and there were a LOT of leftovers – that deep dish is filling!), we debated telling our office-mates that there were Little Star leftovers. That cornmeal crust has its loyal fans, and we knew if they caught wind of it, it’d be gone before we could get it into the fridge. Niki and I instead swore each other to secrecy so we could take our doggie bags home. After all, we couldn’t resist the idea of a second round of delicious Little Star pizza.
Little Star Pizza
1175 Solano Ave
Albany, CA 94706