January 21, 2008
Pizza Plaza, Oakland--a Vegan Pizza Joint
I've mentioned before that I've found vegetarian restaurants in some pretty obscure locations, such as the five-star restaurant in Murphys and the raw restaurant in a Las Vegas mini-mall miles from the Strip. This weekend, using my typical technique of investigating vegetarian restaurant lists, we discovered another surprising find.
Pizza Plaza (6211 Shattuck Ave Oakland, CA) is an all-vegetarian pizza joint--and winner of a Best of Veg 2007 award in the vegan pizza category--in a most unlikely neighborhood in North Oakland. Perhaps its location isn't too unexpected as it's near the border of Berkeley, home to numerous excellent vegetarian options. However, like many parts of Oakland, this particular stretch of Shattuck is hardly confidence-inspiring. As we pulled up amidst the boarded-up shops and modest residential and commercial buildings, we looked at each other and wondered if this was a wise choice.
Our confidence didn't improve when we walked into the restaurant and saw 4 plastic tables, a large pizza counter, some wood beads "separating" the eating area from a storage area, and a leftover "Happy New Year" sign over the counter. Even worse, we were the only customers to be found on a Sunday afternoon at noon. What in the world had we gotten ourselves into?
My confidence turned around when our friend started chatting with the proprietors, a lovely couple from Sudan who fled the strife in Sudan looking for a better life. The husband is a microbiologist but when he arrived in the US, he started working in pizza joints to pay the bills. Eventually, as a vegetarian, he decided to start up a vegetarian pizza joint.
The menu offers a host of attractive options. They divide the menu into vegetarian and vegan, offering the most extensive list of vegan pizzas I can recall seeing. They offer other interesting items, including a vegan spaghetti with "meat" sauce and a vegan ceasar's salad with grilled vegan chicken. They even carry Maggie Mudd ice cream among other vegan desserts.
We ordered four "slices" of different vegan pizzas listed on the menu (each $6). Each "slice" was about 4x6 inches and cut diagonally into two. It was enough to satisfy most lunchtime appetites. The pizza crust was a sturdy whole wheat crust that I thought was tasty, the "cheese" was lightly sprinkled over each slice and pretty realistic, and the various mock meats were well integrated. However, the tomato sauce wasn't especially flavorful, and in the end I thought all four menu items tasted about the same. Taste-wise, I'd grade the pizzas as a "B"--competent but not spectacular.
If you're in Oakland and looking for something different, or if you're a vegan with a hankering for an old-fashioned pizza joint, definitely check this place out for a take-out lunch. (I would not go here after dark, and it's not well set up for eating in). As for us, I'd go back in the right situation; but if I'm coming from the Peninsula, chances are I'm going to drive a little further to some of our Berkeley favorites.
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