Although I moved to New York over a year ago, and have had ample opportunity to sample some of the best pizza in the city, I still secretly yearn for Cheese Board in Berkeley from time to time. It doesn't attempt to be New York-style, Chicago-style, Italian-style, or any other style, for that matter — and that's why it's so good. Cheeseboard Pizza has forged its own path and has a unique identity both in terms of its pizza and its business model. Worker-owned and operated since 1967, this neighborhood joint draws an eclectic crowd — everyone from students willing to brave a 45-minute bus ride to post-grind commuters from the other side of the bay.
There's only one type of pie each day, and it changes every day. For a cooperative, it's not a very democratic menu. The lines can be trying, so it's best to check their website before you go, so you know what you're getting into. Admittedly, there are days that some might favor over others — for me, corn is not a personal favorite on any pie, no matter what the other toppings are. But, personal biases aside, there are truly sublime combinations — asparagus and shiitake mushrooms with fresh mozzarella and lemon zest, for instance, or the heirloom tomato with garlic olive oil, Asiago, and fresh herbs. No matter what the toppings are though, the crust is the best part because the dough is based on a sourdough starter, and it's brushed with olive oil just after it pops out of the oven.
Cheese Board is a tiny space, with only a few tables and chairs (the expectation is that most people will take their pizza home), hence the option to get a par-baked pizza. So there's often a line out the door on busy weeknights, and it can move very slowly. The piano is open to anyone, and somehow, there's usually someone who knows how to play a thing or two. The best thing to do if you don't want to wait in line is to simply call ahead. And no, they don't deliver.
Some people might balk at the idea of paying $20 for a pizza that doesn't have any meat. I know I did. But one bite made me a believer. Like many things in Berkeley, this place has a cult following.