You could make the argument that A4 does not belong in a Cheap Eats column. We know a little family of three who went for pizza and beer and spent $70. They watched in a combination of delight and horror as their 2½-year-old devoured the better part of an entire pizza, a portion of the decidedly grown-up watermelon-feta salad, and an old-school Hoodsie ice cream cup.
That said, you could also argue that the price is a fair reflection of the deliciousness and qualtity of the food. Just about everything, from handmade mozzarella and smoked bluefish to a sourdough crust that the chef has been nursing for 12 years, is painstakingly crafted. This eases the sticker shock of $10-$16.50 pizzas that satisfy one hungry person.
The kitchen is run by chef Jeff Pond, an enthusiastic and unpretentious 37-year-old with a wicked sense of humor. He has the pizza-cred of hailing from both Bridgeport, Conn., and the kitchens of chef Michael Leviton of Area Four and Lumiere. Pond was chef de cuisine at Area Four, where he ran the pizza program, and when he was ready to open his own place, Leviton and restaurateur Michael Krupp partnered with him.
The 36-seat space, designed by Joe Stromer, is long and narrow with a super-raw style that melds dive bar and construction site. Two-by-fours are stacked unfinished, caged lights hang from extension cords, old-timey posters adorn walls. Twentysomethings play “Super Mario Bros.” and “Blades of Steel” on old Nintendo systems hooked up to big-screen TVs; young families huddle around small tables. All the way in the back, tucked into the open kitchen, which blends into the bar, is the heart of the restaurant: an enormous wood-fired oven.
After searching for the perfect oven (Pond traveled from Brooklyn to San Francisco with no luck) he commissioned a cavernous custom Le Panyol oven from Maine Wood Heat Co. At 720 degrees, the vessel gives the crust a remarkably crisp and lightly charred exterior. And the day-long fermentation of the dough adds a wonderfully complex flavor. The menu is centered around the oven, the only cooking source, save for a small smoker.
We start with green lentil and bluefish salad ($7), a generous portion of humble little legumes that absorb the delightfully full-flavored fish. Every time I set down my fork, to pace myself in anticipation of pizza, I go back for just one more bite until I am scraping the adorable cast iron pan. Heirloom-tomato Greek salad ($10) is juicy and delicious, though the portion is a bit precious for the cost, even with top-notch tomatoes and feta.
As for pies, order one of two classics done right: marinara ($10), with a perfectly simple sauce, or Margherita ($12.50) with fresh tomatoes. Pecorino and mozzarella are sprinkled on judiciously, to let the crust really shine. I would happily eat corn and basil pizza ($14.50) daily until the end of corn season. The sweet kernels and roasted onion blend with bright basil to make an addictive topping. Who knew a pie could be so light and refreshing?
The one dish we’re divided on is Wellfleet cherrystone clam and bacon pie ($16.50). The super-hot oven works against the shellfish, rendering the clams a bit shriveled and tongue-bitingly salty, in combination with the bacon. Some at our table think it is still pretty darn good. Shiitakes with fontina, gremolata, and farm eggs ($16.50) is earthy, meaty, and savory — and just happens to be vegetarian.
So what about these prices? Pond says the ingredients (without labor) to make his own mozzarella costs four times what he would pay for pre-shredded stuff, all produce is local, eggs farm fresh. You’ll love the pies, the friendly service, and the tightly curated list of beer, wine, and six whiskeys.
Considering, we think A4 is a pretty good deal. And we’ll grin and bear paying $2.50 for a Hoodsie cup. After all, we didn’t have to run after the ice cream truck to get it.