Pi Bar (San Francisco, CA)

In what’s looking to be an annual tradition, several of my online friends and I descended on San Francisco, CA for a “Death March”. The idea is to plan a really long (~20 miles) hike through an urban area, hitting a wide cross section of neighborhoods, sights (tourist and unusual), and such, and most importantly, stopping along the way to check out the food (you don’t have to feel guilty about street cart food when you are hiking 20 miles). Last year was Manhattan. This year was the much more challenging San Francisco.

However, San Francisco had two reasons for me to visit aside from Death Marching. First, my college roommate Steve lives there in the Mission district with his wife Emily (another food photography person). Second, San Francisco is filled will all sorts of greatly little quirky food destinations (some of which remain obscure and quirky, and others, due to services like Yelp, you can now share with tens of thousands of your best friends). So I had a short list of places I wanted to check out while in town, and Steve and his wife Emily also had several places they wanted to introduce me to.

The first of these was Pi Bar. Pi Bar has the notable attraction of being located only a few blocks from Steve and Emily’s. Named after everyone’s favorite and transcendental number (I guess “4 times arctan(1)” doesn’t have quite the ring to it…), they play the Pi schtick quite a bit. They open daily at 3:14 PM. They have a “Pi r squared” lunch special, which, if I recall correctly, was only valid between pi and 2pi (3:14 and 6:28). But that’s about where it ends, they don’t go truly overboard with the theme, unlike some other places I’ve been (Miracle of Science Bar And Grill, I’m talkin’ about you!).

But what they do have is twofold: a nice selection of craft beers, including one of my west coast favorites, Moonlight Brewing’s “Death & Taxes”, as well as several other good craft beers (several offering from Sierra Nevada, including their “Liquid Sourdough” and their Kellerweis, as well as Iron Springs Kent Lake Kölsch). Indeed, the overall vibe of Pi Bar is definitely on the bar end of the spectrum, as more of a “bar that serves good pizza” than a “pizza joint.”

But that doesn’t mean the pizza isn’t good. Pi Bar does quite a good job. Basically serving up deck-oven roasted New York-style pizza, they’ve got the basic ingredients down. They’ve got a decent dough that’s not oily and is thin but firm, with about as good a toast on it as you can get in a typical deck over. The sauce appears to be made on-site, and focuses on the tomatoes without being too sweet, too salty, or too-heavily applied. Topping-wise, we ordered a basic pizza with sausage and peppers, and this was a good combination.

The cheese was a decent aged mozzarella. The sausage was a nice, flavorful, and fennel-ly homemade item, and the peppers were poblanos instead of the more usual red- or green-bell peppers (and one rule of mine is that there are very, very few dishes that aren’t greatly improved by the replacement of green bell peppers with poblanos). Overall, it was a nicely made pizza, one that thoroughly satisfied my admittedly curmudgeonly pizza standards.

I also have to have a special callout here to one of their appetizers: the polenta fries. Little sticks of firm polenta that were deep-fried, dusted with cheese, and served with some marinara sauce, these worked perfectly. The texture was indeed a perfect imitation of correctly-done french fries, with a nicely crusty exterior and a perfectly moist and fluffy polenta interior (I wonder if the freeze these first to get the right results). The flavor, however, was pure polenta, and quite delicious.

So, while there are definitely some places that outshine Pi Bar pizza-wise, they’ve got quite a good pizza, and match it up nicely with some good beer and good appetizers, all in a fairly affordable neighborhood bar setting. I certainly wouldn’t mind another trip there.

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