East End — The Be All And End All
There are many pizza places where you go for pizza and nothing but pizza. Oh sure, there might be appetizers on the menu, and a few salads to consider. But really, the main attraction that overshadows everything else is the pizza. Anything beyond is just filler to bide your time while you wait for your pie to emerge.
East End in Alameda is as far from that as it gets. In many ways, it reminds me of fabled Roberta’s in Brooklyn. You brave the lines there because you’ve heard the pizza is all that and more. But then you discover every single other thing on the menu is worth shouting about, too.
Such is the case at East End, where everything from the cocktails to desserts stands as tall and proud as the incredible pizzas.
East End was founded by co-owners and co-chefs Jacob Alioto and Paul Manousos. (You can find out more about them in my new cookbook, “East Bay Cooks” (Figure 1), which will publish in September and include two recipes from East End.)
Paul’s wife, Michelle, designed the laid-back, light-filled spot that’s full of reclaimed wood and interesting touches like old player-piano music rolls repurposed as wallpaper.
Even on an early Sunday evening, the place is filled with couples and families, as I found out when I dined with my husband, with the two of us paying our own tab at the end.
Michelle Manousos also designs some of the cocktails, many of which rotate in seasonally. The Porch Swing ($12) is a creative blend of Medley Bros. Overproof bourbon, Earl Grey tea syrup, orange-sherry bitters, and lemon served over ice. Bourbon gives it body and structure, while the tea syrup lends a haunting bergamot-vanilla note that goes so well with it. Finally, the orange-sherry bitters gives that irresistible floral orange rind note. It’s a well balanced cocktail that’s a pleasure to kick back with.
Chef Jacob sent out a plate of his house-made coppa for us to try. Bright red with little ribbons of fat, the thin slices of cured pork were oh-so buttery tasting with a natural sweetness.
While other restaurants do squid battered and fried on rote, East End upends that with squid that’s sauteed until tender, then tossed with sharp pickled Goat horn peppers, crunchy sea beans, and frilly frisee — all piled on grilled bread that soaks up all the brothy juices like crostini atop French onion soup. You eat it with a knife and fork, gathering up a little bit of everything in each bite. The soaked bread is pure rustic comfort, with the peppers giving it all a good hit of spice and tang.
House-made pastas are available in either in half or full orders. We chose a half order of the ribbon pasta ($12), tender wide noodles coated with a lusty thick pork and lamb ragu.
There is pizza that you eat mindlessly because it’s just an easy option on a night you feel rushed and don’t want to cook. It’s pizza that feeds only your hunger. East End’s pizza, on the other hand, feeds your soul. The crust is thin, yet sturdy, with great crispness plus deep fermented flavor. It’s the kind of crust that you think about long after you annihilate every last bit.
The pizzas are all 14-inches in diameter. The Wild Picnic ($20) is mushroom pizza the way you wish you could get it everywhere — strewn not with boring buttons but earthy, nutty tasting hen of the woods mushrooms, along with spinach, melty Famosa cheese and a drizzle of good olive oil.
If the Margherita ($18) is your touchstone, this one — on that crust — does not disappoint one iota. We asked for the addition of prosciutto ($4) to be draped over after the pie emerged from the oven. With a fruity-spritely tomato sauce, puddles of hand-pulled fresh mozzarella and torn fresh basil leaves, it was a classic done with aplomb.
For dessert, the strawberry shortcake ($10) with macerated spring berries showed just how East End operates. The biscuit was crunchy on top and fluffy within. Moreover, it was warm. Not so warm that it deflated and melted the mound of vanilla-scented whipped cream it sandwiched. But just ever so heated to crisp up the biscuit nicely enough to be noticed and appreciated. That’s the level of thoughtfulness East End exhibits.
More in Alameda: St. George Spirits