The owner of Berkeley’s Emilia’s Pizza, now in soft-opening, brings a weird yet amazing pedigree to the already-crowded local pizza scene. According to Adam Kuban at Slice, pizzaiolo and owner Keith Freilich, a former IT pro, lists on his resume “Pizza Hut, Grimaldi’s Hoboken, Oakland’s Pizzaiolo, and the newly opened Flour + Water in San Francisco.” The gimmick at his new place seems to be sound: Forget about replicating Naples and instead make pizza that tastes like New York’s coal-fired classics created in the gas oven that came with the tiny, downmarket storefront (the old Pizza Fiesta space) at Shattuck and Ashby avenues.
Kuban, a New Yorker who knows from good pizza, pronounced Emilia’s pie the antidote to snotty New York ex-pats who won’t shut up about how much better New York pie is. Freilich himself is a Jersey ex-pat, who did a stint at Pizza Hut there in the 80s and got back into the pie-game when Brooklyn’s Grimaldi’s opened a shop in Hoboken. “My roommates and I decided we needed to go a lot to make sure they didn’t go under. So, after going a couple times a week for a while, I got to know [Grimaldi’s partner] Sean [McHugh] pretty well and offered to put up a website for him. When I decided I wanted to get back into making pizza professionally, they gave me a job.” IT brought him out to the Bay Area, but after the dot com crash, he got back into pizza-making, working at Pizzaiolo from day one. At his new place, the focus is on high quality ingredients and a traditional style, but he won’t share all his sources. “Many of my ingredients I found through working at other places or as recommendations from some big-time pizza-makers, and I don’t want to break the magicians’ code. Plus, who knows—maybe I’ll find better ones.”