Dining Outside at Bookie’s Pizza
When a fine-dining chef who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and worked at Michelin three-starred Manresa pivots to making pizza, you know those pies are going to be damn fine.
And at Bookie’s Pizza in Santa Cruz, they absolutely slay.
Tucked inside Sante Adairius Rustic Ales tasting room at 1315 Water St. in Santa Cruz, Chef Todd Parker has set up shop, turning out Detroit-style pizzas with California farm-to-table panache.
Parker was the chef at Manresa Bread’s Campbell location when it first opened, which is where I first met him. The plan was for him to become the head chef at sister business, Mentone, when it was to open in Aptos.
But the pandemic had different ideas, delaying the debut of the pizza-centric Mentone, and leaving Parker to contemplate what the near future held.
Turned out to be pizza — but of a different sort. Not the traditional thin-crust pizza that Mentone would go on to spotlight, but thick, pan-baked, Detroit-style pizza, the kind he fell for during a 2018 trip to Austin for a Manresa Bread pop-up.
Back then, Detroit-style wasn’t as prevalent in the Bay Area as it is now. But Parker loved it for its distinct texture, and because it held up far better in transit than Neapolitan-style, staying remarkably crisp even if you got it to-go and brought it home a good half hour or so later.
On a recent trek to Santa Cruz, I finally had a chance to try Bookie’s. Since it’s located inside Sante Adairius’ soaring, barn-like tasting room, you’ll obviously have no trouble finding the perfect sip to go along with all that pizza.
The menu is displayed on a board above a window that looks into the kitchen, where you’ll often find Parker sitting front and center. Order at the bar, take your buzzer with you, and it will vibrate when your food is ready to be picked up.
It’s open seven days a week with weekends packed. On a midweek lunch-hour, though, it’s easy to find a seat, either outside on the small patio with wine-barrel tables or inside at artsy, live-edged wood tables. On a nice day, they keep the doors to the patio wide open, so you can easily snag a seat at a table inside that practically feels like outside with the feel of the coastal breezes.
We started with the Buffalo wings ($16) that arrive tender and juicy with crispy edges, and blanketed in a velvety orange sauce heavy on Frank’s RedHot. When you place your order, you’re asked if you’d like the wings “mild” or “hot.” We opted for “mild,” which had plenty enough heat to warm the throat but not incinerate it. The wings come with the requisite celery and carrot steaks, and blue cheese dressing.
You might think you don’t want to waste valuable stomach room on a salad. That would be a mistake because the kale & chicory salad ($12) is sensational. The greens are shredded like slaw, hide itty-bitty bits of the crispiest croutons, and get finished with a fluff of grated Parmesan. It’s all served in a fish-shaped dish for bonus fun. This salad is so savory, so cheesy, and so briny. Because everything is so finely cut, it all gets completely integrated, so that each bite has absolutely everything in it.
On any given day, there are about 10 pizzas to choose from. Each has a foundation of 48-hour fermented dough, giving it a slight tang like sourdough. Each pizza gets a load of cheese at its edges, guaranteeing not only corners as crunchy as can be, but also super crisp bottoms. That contrasts with the interior, which is soft and fluffy along the lines of focaccia.
We tried three: The Italian sausage pizza ($25) has meaty crumbles all over the white sauce-covered pizza. Aged brick cheese adds a nice sharpness, and scallions a lilt of sweetness. It’s a sausage pizza with finesse.
The chanterelle-guanciale one ($31) is loaded with the cured pork jowl, cut into small, thin pieces and crisped up like the best bacon. With their natural apricot-like taste, the chanterelles add the merest sweetness that plays off the salty meatiness of the guanciale. There’s also a bit of peppery spiciness that gives this pie a good tickle of heat.
One of the most unusual pies on the menu is the ‘nduja, pineapple & anchovy one ($25), a daring combo I doubt you’ll find anywhere else. It may initially boggle the mind. But if you like ham and pineapple pizza, this isn’t that far of a stretch. It subs out the standard ham for spicy, spreadable salami instead and adds in anchovies for extra umami and brininess. There’s also plenty of mozzarella and brick cheese on this one. The tomato sauce adds a fruity sweetness that brings it all together. It’s smoky, salty, sweet, spicy and hits every high note.
These pizzas are also quite deceptive. They each arrive in a modest-sized rectangular pan, cut into six small squares. At first you wonder if you’ve ordered enough. You will be surprised to find just how filling two small squares can be. I know I was. But remember, these pizzas are thick and loaded with cheese, making them very rich.
The good news, of course, is these pizzas travel well. And they reheat beautifully the next day in a regular or toaster oven.
Even if you’re stuffed to the gills, do order a tiramisu ($12), which you can take to-go, as it comes already conveniently packed in its own lidded plastic tub.
While classic tiramisu gets a dusting of cocoa powder overtop, this version gets a layer of thick chocolate sauce instead. The tiramisu is dreamy-creamy, ultra chocolatey, and boasts a strong note of coffee, too. Italian for “pick me up,” it really does perk you up after all that sublime pizza.