ginger and salt

sunday in the park: del popolo.

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After staying out way past my bedtime with the Halloween revelers and Giants fans and wannabe-fans, I was definitely feeling lazy and groggy as the beautiful San Francisco sunshine crept through the blinds.  Knowing I must fight through the exhaustion and be a good little tourist, I was thrilled to find out that the Del Popolo pizza truck was going to be parked at the Presidio (a beautiful park with views of the bay) for the Off the Grid Picnic.  Venturing to a different part of the city while eating delicious pizza in the sun on a blanket with good friends? Sounded like the recipe for a perfect Sunday.  (Side note: I’m the master of killing two birds with one stone when food is involved.)

Del Popolo first caught my eye earlier this year in the “Best New Pizza Places in the West” article featured in FOOD & WINE Magazine.  The striking truck is a thing of beauty and was created by transforming a 20-foot shipping container.  One would assume it’s a case of ‘form follows function,’ but the truck looks so amazing and is so different from all other food trucks that it could have easily been the other way around.  Reading on in the article, I learned that Del Popolo was founded by Jon Darsky from Flour + Water (highly revered Italian restaurant in SF), so I knew it was a dynamite combination and immediately added it to my never-ending list of ‘restaurants to try.’

First, let me correct myself by acknowledging that Del Popolo isn’t a food truck, it’s a ‘mobile pizzeria.’  It was easy to spot among the other food trucks for two reasons: the unique vehicle itself and the line snaking out onto the lawn.  With a group of four, we took turns holding our place in line, scoping a spot for our picnic blanket, and walking up closer to the truck to peek inside and eye the amazing concoctions coming out.

The man working the window had a great look to him with his thick-rimmed glasses and bright green vest and he was quite popular with the customers.  Definitely a no-nonsense kind of guy, but still warm and helpful.  We decided to try one of each pizza (they serve three types), a chocolate chip cookie, and a Mexican Coke for me (a life-saving elixir after a night of one too many cocktails).  My sister, being the extrovert that she is, shared with him that I would be writing a blog post about this and he threw in an extra cookie for free, “to ensure a good review,” he said.  But don’t worry readers, I will not be bribed with free baked goods (although they don’t hurt).

The pizza coming out of the oven at Del Popolo is Neopolitan-inspired, with thin, often-charred, bubbly crust and simple ingredients.  My favorite of the pizzas was the classic Margherita with mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil.  There is something to be said for the Margherita when it’s done well…it’s pretty close to perfect.  The sauce was bright and fresh and when you can get a bite of the mozzarella pooling together with the tomato goodness enveloped in the hot chewy crust, it’s pure joy.

My second favorite was the special of the week which was the Meat Pizza with pancetta, rapini, mozzarella, and pecorino. I’m not one that typically goes for a green like rapini on my pizza, but I’ve since learned that the vegetable is commonly paired with pork in Italian dishes, and for good reason.  The pecorino was also a nice touch and added a subtle nutty tang. My one complaint was that for being called the ‘Meat Pizza’ there could’ve been more meat, as I only got two pieces of pancetta on my individual slice.  But maybe I’m just an American who’s been over-exposed to commercials for “Meat Lover’s Pizza” from Domino’s.

Lastly, we shared the Bianca Pizza which was topped with mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, and basil.  I’m always partial to the acidity of tomato sauce on pizza, so I suppose I’m not a fair judge of the ‘white’ variations.  It still tasted good, don’t get me wrong, it just felt a little bland compared to the others.  Our friend Harry also pointed out that it might have been left in the oven a minute too long as it was noticeably more charred than the others, particularly on the bottom.

We polished off every last crumb of thin-crust deliciousness and shared the remaining Chocolate Chip Cookie (the other was inhaled as we were paying).  I never thought a cookie could be that wonderful coming out of a wood-fired oven, but it’s up there with one of the best I’ve had.  The little sprinkling of salt on top didn’t hurt either, as salty and sweet desserts are one of my many weaknesses.

Three pizzas, two cookies, and one Mexican Coke (and Bloody Mary from the cocktail truck) later, I was finally feeling like myself again.  We happily tossed the Frisbee around and soaked in some Vitamin D, watching an abundance of cute families and dogs come and go.  With hurricanes out east and dreary rain awaiting me that evening in Seattle, I felt grateful (and full) and truly relished the last few hours of my trip. A perfect Sunday in the park, indeed.

Del Popolo, Locations Change Daily (See Website http://www.delpopolosf.com or @pizzadelpopolo on Twitter), San Francisco, CA. Open Tuesday-Friday with limited events on nights and weekends.  Cash only.

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