It’s called Build because you will build your own pizzas there. It was nearly called A90 because that’s the name of the freeway that encircles Italy’s capital, and Roman pizza is what’s on the menu. The ambitious new restaurant that will open next weekend on Shattuck Avenue on the corner of Bancroft Way, is, like Gather and Comal before it, taking a chance that downtown Berkeley has an appetite for a buzzy, big-city eatery.
And the restaurant is just the start. Later this year, Build’s owners, Lisa Holt and David Shapiro, whose background is in hotel development, are planning to transform the property’s 8,000 sq ft basement — formerly Shattuck Down Low – into a happening underground culture club serving up drinks and food along with the comedy and music acts.
Meanwhile the countdown is on for Build, which the pair said will open on the weekend of April 12-13-14. (“We are hoping for Friday 12th, but don’t want to make any promises in case there are last-minute hitches,” said Shapiro.) [Update, 4.8.13: Owner David Shapiro said the opening has been postponed to Tuesday evening April 16.]
The 6,000 sq ft space — in the 1906 Morse Block building designed by Dickey and Reed, whose firm also designed the Claremont Hotel — was most recently occupied by Indian restaurant Pasand Madras. It has been gutted, opened up, and completely redone. Original steel support beams and newer moment frames have been exposed, giving the place a touch of industrial chic. The design was overseen by Holt in collaboration with Keith Morris of Berkeley’s Abueg Morris Architects.
In keeping with the owners’ wish for the restaurant to be as sustainable as possible, both in terms of décor and what’s on the plate, the floor is made of reclaimed boards from a grain barn in Washington State. Blown-up monochromatic photos — one by photographer Robert Altman depicts a 1960s moment of ecstasy in People’s Park — and a chalkboard piece by local artist Dennis Owens, complete the airy, stylish look.
The “Building Department” is the restaurant’s centerpiece — where chefs will prepare tailor-made pizzas for customers once they have snagged a table or barstool. Master pizzaiolo Brian Langevin is at the helm — formerly of Toni Gemignani’s Pizza Rock in Sacramento — and ingredients will be sourced locally as much as possible.
Customers start with a choice of one of three bases — white cheese, pesto-green or tomato marinara. They move on to toppings, which are likely to be priced at $1 a piece, and include a host of familiar ingredients, as well as imported prosciutto from Parma and truffle cheese made by Italian monks (those cost a little more). A gluten-free dough will be available, as will a selection of salads.
“It’s ‘as you like it’ or ‘come piace a te’ in Italian,” said Holt, who lived in Rome and wants to emulate the thin, crispy-crust pizzas that are the norm there – cooked in two or three minutes in the wood-fired oven. “Simply done with the best ingredients,” she said. “Sometimes I think we overcomplicate pizzas here.”
Well-known local mixologist Scott Beattie, author of Artisanal Cocktails, has been recruited to design the drinks menu. The bar will be run day-to-day by Jay Crabb. Unpacking several boxes of fresh citrus this week as the restaurant prepared for D-Day, Beattie said the drinks will focus on his signature seasonally driven cocktails, using lots of locally grown fruits and flowers.
“We’ll also be doing whiskey drinks with hand-cut ice cubes,” he said. “Nobody seems to be doing them here. The big clear cubes look cool and keep the drinks colder for much longer.”
There will be 12 Californian wines on tap — possibly the largest selection of tap wines in the Bay Area — including Iron Horse, Au Bon Climat, Qupe and Coppola, as well as several bottled Italians. Beer aficionados will be well served. Brandon Borgel, a veteran of the craft beer movement, curated the restaurant’s beer selection which includes 16 brews on tap, including Berkeley’s own Trumer Pils.
Holt and Shapiro, whose projects include Milliken Creek Inn & Spa and Hotel Yountville, plan to replicate the Build concept in other locations, around the country and globally, but Berkeley is the flagship. Shapiro said they have employed around 70 staff for the restaurant.
“We chose Berkeley because of its rich history — it’s the home of slow food in America — and because it’s a culinary flashpoint,” said Holt. “We also wanted to be part of downtown right now with so much happening here, and be close to the university.”
Build will open initially for dinner, then add a lunch service after a couple of weeks. The bar, which has a big-screen TV for games and more subdued lighting, will serve pizzas as well a small selection of bar-food items like portobello burgers and Arancini (fried risotto balls).
Thin-crust pizza restaurant to open in Rockridge [01.10.13]
Benchmark: Wood-fired pizza comes to Kensington [12.11.12]
New Roman-style pizzeria to open in downtown Berkeley [11.16.12]
The best pizza in Berkeley? Our readers have decided [06.10.11]