Bruno's Pizzeria Cucina

Bruno brings everyone's favorite Italian savory pie to the Fillmore historic jazz district
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Photo by Rory McNamara

paulr@sfbg.com

What do pizza and jazz have in common? Why, two z's, of course — the pair of identical twins that also appears in such exciting words as nozzle, nizzle, pizzle, pazzo, and cazzo. Put these all together and shout them from the rooftops and you'll have quite a riff, if not quite a jazz riff. For music, play ZZ Top. Then run from the obscenity police.

Other than that, pizza and jazz go together like ... well, they don't actually go together. There is no connection I know of. Nonetheless, our drastically refurbished jazz district, along Fillmore south of Geary, now has a creditable pizzeria to go along with the fancier places across the street, Yoshi's and 1300 Fillmore. The pizzeria is called Bruno's and, in a most un-Italian development, is unrelated to the Mission District old-timer of the same name. Old Bruno's has had enough facelifts to rival Phyllis Diller. New Bruno's, on the other hand, is new — with freshly painted reddish-brown walls, nicely upholstered booths, a gleaming bar against a far wall, a showy kitchen, and jazz memorabilia everywhere, the walls laden with portraits and plaques.

In Europe, jazz has long appealed to the French more than the Italians, but Bruno's, despite these musical festoonings, is Italian to its core, right down to the patrone, Claudius Oliveira (owner of several other Italian restaurants in northern California, many in the East Bay) who circulates through the dining room, shaking hands and checking, and the service staff with their winsome accents. The cultural flavor is very much that of Little Italy, and part of its beguiling spell is to intensify the experience of the food.

Pizzerias aren't generally known for their grace notes, but Bruno's offers several. To begin, there's the basket of marvelous garlic bread, which is not only flavorful but of a brioche-like tenderness and plumpness. Tasty bread so often exacts a steep price in crustiness and toughness, but not this stuff. Even if you couldn't eat it, you'd be happy enough just feeling it with your fingers. But you will eat it, and then they bring you more, along with an amuse-bouche — a little ramekin of roasted red pepper soup, say, with a broad hint of cayenne kick. One is typically afforded this type of treatment only when ordering seven-course tasting menus at much starchier places.

Given the slight sports-bar aura, it isn't surprising to find that the list of appetizers includes buffalo wings ("Texas style"), along with a parade of goodies from the deep fryer, among them calamari and zucchini sticks. But a better choice might be the drunken prawns ($10.95), spiked with tequila.

There is both an Aloha and a Hawaii 5.0 pizza, both with pineapple. Fruit (tomatoes excepted) does not belong on pizza, but pepperoni does, sausage does, salami too, and you'll get all that and more with the signature Bruno's special ($14.99 for a 14-incher), along with bell peppers, onions, mushroom slices, and a sprightly tomato sauce.

Most noticeable is the crust, which bucks the current trend toward thinness and crispiness: It's big, puffy, and bready in true old-school California style. Although I prefer thinner crusts for a variety of reasons — a thin crust doesn't distract from the toppings but does provide a discreet, pleasurable crackle — there is a case to be made for the more billowy kind. Such a crust does make any pizza look bigger and so, perhaps, enhances one's perception of value, no small matter in shrinking times.

A nice bonus: if you show up in a ZipCar, you get 10 percent off. And ZipCar has only one Z!

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