"Spare a buck?" Scott asks. That's what starts it. I'm ambling innocently up Fifth toward University when I come across Scott, squatting against a wall, smoking. He gets me at a weak moment. So happens I've just broken one of my last two Jacksons into three Lincolns and five Washingtons. So, good karma and all that, I open the wallet.
"Hey," says Scott. "Five-spots. Gimme a five."
"Sorry, buddy. I need the rest."
I mean it. Gotta hand it over to the family banker (clue: her name begins with C). So I slip Scott the Washington and turn to cross Fifth. That's when I see it, glowing golden in the evening sun. The Alamo, I swear. How come I've never noticed this thing before? That same wavy shape at the top. The bell in the middle. The yellow stucco. No sign of Davy Crockett, but a sign: "The Guild." Oh, right. The old Hillcrest movie theater. Now it's "Above All Tattoo" on the right and "Pizza Fusion" on the left. Ho hum, yet another pizza joint, I'm thinking, when I spot the word "organic." Huh. Organic pizzas? Pizza con-Fusion! I cross over to check it out.
First thing I see is a sandwich board. "Lunch Special, 11–3. Personal pizza, side salad, and vitamin water, $10."
'Course we're way past three o'clock. On the other hand, we're still before six. Happy hour, maybe?
Worth a try. I head in. Surprisingly woody for a pizza joint. Bamboo on the floor, brown and olive-green walls, with dark red pillars, a dozen tables.
"Hi!" It's this cute gal in a black T-shirt and jeans. "Like a table?"
"Oh, you sell them too? Kidding. A table would be great."
I follow her. " Don't just hug trees, plant them," says the back of her T-shirt. She sits me down at one of the side tables with high-legged chairs and leaves a big-page menu. Uh-oh. Basic pizza costs $14. Extras like cheeses, veggies, meats ratchet the bill on up, at $2 per add. They do have "personal pizzas" for $9 ($8 for cheese only), but the menu says these are lunchtime-only deals.
"Uh, do you have a happy hour?" I ask.
"Well, yes, from three to six. Dollar off most drinks."
"We do have one happy-hour special: the personal pizza for $3, with $1 for each additional topping," she says.
All right. Three buckaroos! I check my watch. Twenty to six. Twenty more happy-hour minutes.
"I'll have the personal pizza, with sausage as an add."
"White crust or multigrain? Multigrain's a dollar more."
"A side salad?" she asks. "It's all organic."
This is where my whole resistance starts breaking down. Sigh. Four more bucks. Would be refreshing with pizza, though. "Organic?" I repeat. "Okay, I'll do it."
I see they have a bunch of health waters, juices, teas, and "natural" sodas. Even the "vitamin waters" ($2) have flavors like "energy," "revive," "focus," and "endurance." No Coke. No coffee. Instead, Guayaki teas. Flavors like "pure mood," "pure passion."
I end up going for "Sol Maté," mainly because it's a yerba maté drink that promises to give you energy, and man, I need that.
There are non-pizza choices. This family at the next table's sharing breadsticks with three different dipping sauces for $7. Or full-size salads for around $9–$10. And then a bunch of "specialty pizzas," most around the $20 mark, going up to $26 for the shrimp and pesto, or "Bill's Pizza," which includes organic NY strip.
But no regrets. Stephanie brings out the salad first, on a cute little rectangular china plate, with vinaigrette in a cuter, littler rectangular plate. Then the "personal pizza" arrives on a square platter. It's an oval-shaped pie with rough edges, cut into four. So glad I added sausages. Sweet Italian. Nice and crunchy. Thin. I triangulate happily between it and the salad and the sweet-herby Sol Maté tea.
Place is starting to fill. Stephanie stops by again. I have to ask her about all this organic business.
"It's not just organic food," she says. "Everything in this place is green. That straw you're drinking from is corn-based, biodegradable, not plastic. These tabletops are made from wood from a demolished chicken barn in Northern California. The floors and walls are bamboo, a renewable wood. The menu and wall art's printed in soy inks. The bar countertop's recycled old bottles in concrete…we deliver our pizzas in hybrid cars.…"
I'm surprised, because she says this is part of a franchise from Florida.
"See those?" She points up at light shining out from vertical, white-painted metal tubes. "Sunlight. Solar tubes. We don't need electric lights in daytime."
About now, a young-looking bearded guy stops and joins the conversation. Mike, one of the owners. Turns out he's an ex-Marine. Two tours in Iraq. "I wanted to do something I believed in," he says.
He says his is the first of this chain in California, and the only one offering wines and beers. Organic wines and beers. "We really researched that," he says. "My brother Joe and I went up and down looking at every eco-brewery and vineyard in California. It was kind of like Sideways."
An hour later, that's how I feel. Dammit, couldn't resist trying one of those beers. "Maté Veza," a draft ale that's "naturally caffeinated from yerba maté" ($7). By the time I get home those two Jacksons will have shrunk to two Lincolns. The family banker's gonna kill me. Hey. Maybe I'll just say I handed it all to Scott.
- The Place: Pizza Fusion, 3827 Fifth Avenue, Hillcrest, 619-278-0057
- Type of Food: American pizza
- Prices: Signature breadsticks with tomato marinara, $5; pear and gorgonzola salad, $10; side salad, $4; portobello grilled ciabatta (with mushrooms, peppers, pesto, mozzarella), $9; organic white-crust cheese pizza, $14. Most cheese, vegetable, meat add-ons for $2 each; personal pizzas (with cheese, vegetable, or meat), $9 ($3 during happy hour; check with restaurant); goat cheese and sun-dried–tomato specialty pie, $19; Sol Maté energy drink, $3; Maté Veza beer, $7 (draft), $10 (22 oz. bottle)
- Hours: 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. daily (till 11:00 Friday–Saturday)
- Buses: 1, 3, 10, 11, 120
- Nearest Bus Stop: Fifth and University