Charlie Morgenstern 11 a.m., May 24
Vegan Pizza at Stephanie's Bakery
This little, Voltaire Street bakery and cafe in Ocean Beach definitely has a bohemian vibe that's in keeping with its vegan-organic menu. It's a small store along a quieter block of the sometimes rowdy beach community. The focus seems to be on vegan cakes and cupcakes, but Stephanie's also does vegan pizza and sandwiches. The pastries can also be gotten, according to a sign in the window, at the Lazy Hummingbird coffee shop in the same neighborhood.
Inside the sleepy, little shop the staff doesn't seem to be in any kind of insane hurry. There's no yelling, swearing, or high-energy shenanigans, which is somehow fitting inasmuch as this little, hippie enclave should be sending out a mellow vibe that differs from the machismo and noise of the conventional pizza place.
Because of this, it take a solid 20 minutes to get a pizza, even when Stephanie's is otherwise empty of customers.
Seriously, though, relax and enjoy a little fresh air, this is the beach! It's really only five more minutes of waiting as compared to most other pizza shops.
Vegan pizza is definitely different than other 'za. Fake cheese and meats don't really taste or cook like their animal counterparts, and it takes an appreciation of them for what they are to enjoy soy-cheese and the like.
Someone at Stephanie's knows her way around bread dough, however, and the crust has great flavor. Pizza dough often benefits from sitting around for a long time at refrigerator temperature before it's baked, and the best pizza makers take advantage of this. Stephanie's dough has the suppleness and complex taste that seems to come from a generous fermentation period. This alone might be reason enough to win over non-vegans, at least some of the time.
The other thing about vegan pie is that it's simply less greasy than the conventional stuff. True, this saps some of the indulgence out of tucking into a pizza, but the benefits of less fatty slices outweigh the downfall of a reduced capacity for sinful behaviors (delightful though those sins may be).
Priced between $17 and $23, Stephanie's pizzas aren't cheap, but the organic ingredients command a premium price and people for whom that matters won't quibble.
The most expensive Supreme Pizza, which is topped with spinach, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, red onions, and vegan pepperoni is generously assembled and a large is sufficient to stuff two people for lunch.
Probably the biggest disappointment for non-vegans will be the cheese. Soy cheese just doesn't melt the same way and the gooey, stringy, chewy texture that's so beloved to a lot of pizza eaters isn't going to be there.
Still, The combination of flavorful crust, good sauce, and fresh veggies is a winner for Stephanie's and a lot of people may appreciate the consolation of a healthier meal as a break from the greasy, cheesy mess that pizza so frequently is.
4879 Voltaire Street