Dude, where's my pizza?
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Surfer dudes are people too, and they get hungry just like the rest of us. Surprisingly, San Francisco has such dudes; unsurprisingly, they tend to cluster at the city's western edge, a land whose great highway is the Great Highway. Just beyond the Great Highway is the beach, pounded by surf, and surfer dudes (of any and all sexes) love the surf. Fog? This is irrelevant. Surfers have other issues to contend with, such as great whites.
The far Sunset District has its mild and fogless days, anyway a blessing for those of us who sometimes bumble in from more sheltered corners of town, expecting the worst and swaddled in woolens and the prosaically named Pizza Place on Noriega has been laid out with such beatific weather in mind. Although the restaurant's glassy face peers north, its huge windows (including transoms) are filled with the light of the westering sun on spring evenings, and the woody interior (rather ski-lodgey, I thought) glows at this golden hour. Of course it rains in the Sunset too, and is foggy, and in these abysmal conditions we would have to trust to the warmth and perfume of the pizza oven, which dominates the unconcealed kitchen in its far corner of the double-width storefront space.
In my increasingly remote youth, pizza meant a visit to Shakey's, whose amusements included a player piano. PPoN doesn't have a player piano, but it does seem to attract small children evidence that the city's baby belt now extends well beyond Noe Valley. Despite the abundance of little ones, the restaurant doesn't offer a kiddie menu; the tone throughout, in fact, seems pitched for young adults, from the jokey sign (courtesy of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer) just inside the front door "I only eat pizza on days that end in 'Y'" to the huge cardboard profile of a Chevy Caprice mounted on the rear wall, with spinning tires that happen to be pepperoni pizzas.
Pabst is available on tap, which isn't something you see too often out here, as opposed to in Milwaukee. And while the menu doesn't offer pepperoni pizza per se, such a pie can be created from the list of DIY toppings. Pepperoni does turn up as a member of the ensemble in several of the house specialty pies, among them the Dimitri (with sausage, garlic, and mushrooms) and the Meathead (with sausage, salami, ham, and red onion).
We, however, could not resist the Spicoli ($15.99 for a 14-incher), topped with sausage and double cheese and named for no, not an obscure pasta shape or a type of cured pork, but Jeff Spicoli, king of the surfer dudes and high priest of stoned slackerdom, as brilliantly depicted by Sean Penn in the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The Spicoli is the simple declarative sentence of pizzadom: a nicely crisp crust that's a bit thicker than vogue, plenty of fennel-scented sausage chunks, and a lava flow of melted cheese. I love cheese as a birthright and hesitate to say that there can be such a thing as too much of it. But, post-Spicoli, I wonder.
The kitchen also turns out some interesting side dishes, including cauliflower florets ($5) roasted with black olives, orange zest, chili flakes, and parsley for a real Mediterranean, even Sicilian, flair. Then there are the sweet potato steak fries ($7), their faint sweetness resembling the fried yucca root you sometimes find in Brazilian restaurants. To broaden their appeal, PPoN presents the fries with little cups of blue cheese dressing and buffalo sauce (tomato-based and sweet-hot, though more hot than sweet), along with piles of baby carrots and celery stalks. A family of dunkables.
And since even pizzas less cheesy than the mighty Spicoli can be overwhelming, the midday snacker can find an attractive array of sandwiches to choose from. These are called grinders and are available from noon until four in the afternoon. Perhaps their best characteristic is the bread they're served on: torpedo-shaped, wonderfully soft rolls from Amoroso Bakery in Philadelphia.
The rolls are like focaccia rolls except not olive-oily. They're also discreetly absorbent, an important consideration if one's grinder is the housemade meatball version ($6.50). The meatballs themselves are veal-inflected, to judge by their subtle texture, and they're bathed in plenty of tomato sauce, which could easily get all over everything but doesn't because most of it settles into the bread. Some melted provolone provides an additional seal.
More complex is the uncomplex-sounding roast turkey grinder ($6.25). Plenty of meat here, along with mayo, mustard, and provolone but also a puckery zing provided by slivers of red onion and chunks of pepperoncini. We're a long way from sandwiches made from Thanksgiving leftovers.
As for the crowd: surfer-dudish, though a little older than Jeff Spicoli, and no sign of Sean Penn, but plenty of the aforementioned kids, dangling like chimps from chairs and the edges of tables. The surfer-dude community has discovered family values, apparently.
The pizzeria is just about a year old: a whippersnapper with sharp new wood flooring and, over the roof, a tell-tale curvy exhaust flue, in a faded part of town. It's not yet the equal of the Richmond's Pizzetta 211 and maybe it doesn't mean to be. But friends and acquaintances of mine who live in the western Sunset (some surfer dudes, some regular dudes) are certainly eager for renewal in the restaurant scene if not fast times, at least ambulatory ones.
PIZZA PLACE ON NORIEGA
Wed.Thurs., Sun.Mon., noon10 p.m.
Fri.Sat., noon10:30 p.m.
3901 Noriega, SF
(415) 759-5752, www.pizzaplacesf.com 
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