Overall Experience - 8.6
Summary : One of the coolest mobile pizza operators around, Pizza Hacker's DIY attitude is almost as appealing as the pies he cranks out of his makeshift Weber grill.
During a west coast road trip back in July, my girlfriend and I made our way from Portland, OR to Los Angeles, CA. After great meals at Ken’s Artisan Pizza and Apizza Scholls in Portland, our next pizza destination was in San Francisco. We only had two days to spend there and although there are nearly a dozen pizza places I hope to visit one day, I only made room for one this time around: The Pizza Hacker.
Some year back I heard stories about a mobile pizza vendor in San Francisco that sets up shop at street fairs and outside of bars, and cranks out delicious pies. The Pizza Hacker doesn’t make his pies in a truck, however, which is how most mobile vendors operate. Rather he converted a conventional Weber Charcoal Grill into a “mini-mobile-wood-burning-pizza-oven” that reaches 1000 degrees and cooks pizzas in two minutes. The Pizza Hacker’s website notes that this makeshift oven — called the FrankenWeber — has enabled him to “take [his] pizza to the people (albeit illegally).”
Although starting a fire on the streets on San Francisco may have been cool to see, on this particular Sunday afternoon, The Pizza Hacker was making pies at a (completely legal) independent street fair near Jackson Playground in the Pontrero Hill neighborhood. When we arrived around 4:30PM, The Pizza Hacker (who is actually named Jeff) was slaving away at his station while helpers took orders and managed the oven. In total, The Pizza Hacker had made enough dough for 120 pies for this event and noted that he usually overstocks a bit. All dough, by the way, is prepared by hand.
There were four pies on the menu:
Margherita (tomato sauce, fresh basil, smoked salt, fresh cow mozzarella, and Bariani olive oil)
Cherry Pie (cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, smoked salt, fresh cow mozzarella)
Hot Cherry Pie (cherry pie with hot cherry peppers)
White Out (fresh basil, garlic, cow mozzarella, olive oil)
We opted for the Margherita and the Hot Cherry Pie. All of the pies, as you can tell by the ingredients, are simple. They range from $13-$15, which is a little pricey, especially considering that the size is on the smaller side. To compare, the pies at PizzaMoto (a mobile pizza operator in Brooklyn) are about $1-$2 cheaper and a bit larger. But they’re a bigger operation than The Pizza Hacker and can probably save money by purchasing ingredients in bulk.
Price aside, both pies were excellent. I enjoyed the Margherita better than the Hot Cherry Pie. Although the ingredients were generously applied, they could have been spread a bit closer to the edge, so the last few bites weren’t all crust. The crust itself, however, was soft and chewy and served as a solid basis for the pie. Anyone can throw delicious toppings on a pie and call it pizza. But the trick is achieving such a great crust. On the Hot Cherry Pie, I thought the hot peppers could have been cooked a little better. They were still flavorful though. Part of the trick when pies are only cooking for two minutes is making sure all of the toppings are cooked too. Perhaps giving some vegetables a “jump start” by lightly sauteing them before putting them on the pies would help out with this.
Part of the allure of The Pizza Hacker is the way in which the pies are prepared and cooked. If only we could all have a contraption as cool as the FrankenWeber to make pizza on. The downside of having such a small oven, however, is the wait time. Because only one pie can be cooked at a time, at an event like this there is generally going to be wait (ours was about 20 minutes). Hopefully, as The Pizza Hacker continues to expand and garner more press and attention, he will perhaps be able to turn his business into a multi-oven operation.
But even if that isn’t in The Pizza Hacker’s immediate plans… good news for you… the pizza will still taste great. And is it wasn’t already evident, it’s most definitely worth the wait.