I am eating one of the best pizzas in Boston, charred on the bottom and along its chewy edges, cooked through so there’s no mushy underlayer, with topping proportions exactly right. You wouldn’t think it was so hard to get pizza this good, but great pies in this town are rare. Chef Jeff Pond, an Area Four partner, bakes his in a wood-burning oven, and you see how outstanding they are with the first taste of margherita ($13), the mozzarella-tomato-basil classic. Shiitake, fontina, and gremolata ($17) is also magnificent.
The restaurant is Area Four’s new South End location. The pizza is also made in Kendall Square (and was made at A4, a Somerville spot that closed after an electrical fire in 2015). But it tastes better than ever in the new digs in the Troy Building near the Ink Block.
Pond explains that his base is essentially bread dough made with a 15-year-old starter that gets a 36-hour rise. He starts pies close to a mound of glowing embers to get a “spring” — airiness in the dough — before moving them to the periphery to continue to toast. The chef began with the Area Four team, which included restaurateur Michael Leviton, at their first place, Persephone. Opened by co-owner Michael Krupp a decade ago in the back of a retail clothing shop in Fort Point, Persephone hit before the neighborhood became chic; it had a brief run. Leviton is no longer with the group.
The new restaurant has old vinyl on turntables with a volume that can be turned so loud conversation at a small table is difficult. A large screen shows video art, old films, Japanese classics, and sports. The dark bar area is black and coral. Red Knoll chairs, which lean back so far you’ll think you may fall over (so far no one has), surround blond wood tables. In the open kitchen, you can see the copper hood over the burners and around the wood-burning oven, already a beautiful verdigris.
The menu is more daring than at the Kendall Square spot. Shaved Brussels sprouts salad ($12) with shredded kale is tossed with candied hazelnuts, pecorino, and a lemon dressing, crisp and delightfully crunchy. Cauliflower soup ($10), which begins with wood-charred florets and leeks, is garnished with mushrooms and a brown-butter vinaigrette. The popular Middle Eastern herb blend za’atar is mixed with yogurt to make a sauce for bright charred greens ($10).
Two pieces of rich, braised pork belly ($14), slightly smoky, sit on a bed of farro and barley with a soft egg and bok choy, wonderful tastes and textures nestled together. Golden, charred brasa chicken ($24 for half, which serves two; $42 whole) is garnished with crusty, creamy small potatoes. A plate of tempura-battered “Trash Fish & Chips” ($19), typically prepared with snapper haddock or hake, has an incredibly airy and delicate crust, and the potatoes, which begin as steamed whole russets, are cooked again in simmering oil, and finally in deep fat. A delicious remoulade is mixed with homemade mayo.
One weekend night in a packed dining room, an enthusiastic, efficient server is right there the minute we seem to be searching for something. Yet, on a weeknight in a nearly empty room, the waiter takes our order and disappears. The kitchen is in slo-mo. A runner brings some food, then nothing. This crazy situation of seeing service collapse on a dead night — something that has happened to us a dozen times — is perplexing. What’s going on?
Just as we’re mulling this over, little jars of chocolate pudding appear, courtesy of the house. Instead of a dessert menu here, diners receive these custard beauties. Pond says they weren’t ready to have a pastry chef on board, but customers like something sweet. We dip demitasse spoons into dark chocolate, sea salt, and creme fraiche and service snafus are the furthest things from our minds.
264 East Berkeley St., Troy Building, South End, Boston, 857-317-4805, www.areafour.com.All major credit cards. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Vegetables $9-$13. Entrees and pizza $13-$42.
Hours Daily 5-11 p.m. Bar open until 2 a.m.
Liquor Full bar
What to order Margherita pizza, shiitake and fontina pizza, cauliflower-leek soup, charred greens, Brussels sprouts and kale, pork belly, brasa chicken, fish and chips.