A vegan margherita pinsa
Eating more take-out this year has meant eating more pizza, and I have, frankly, been amazed how many good pizzas are available around town. Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about a new pizza counter in Hillcrest, Massachusetts Mike’s, that proved pleasing to my whole household.
2550 Fifth Avenue STE 120, San Diego
However, “good pizza” means different things to different people. For example, to the kids, a pizza place that doesn’t offer pepperoni as a topping doesn’t even warrant consideration.
Which is why I went for pizza at Civico by the Park without children. It’s not an American-style pizza joint, after all. Like its sister restaurant — Little Italy’s Civico 1845 — it’s an authentically Italian restaurant, all the way up to its Italian ownership.
An ocean of shellfish over house-made linguini
As such, it offers plenty of non-pizza dishes, from antipasti (appetizers) to insalate (salads), and pasta. The latter includes slow-cooked meats in tomato sauces, lobster ravioli, and the linguini ala pescatora ($22) ordered, and happily devoured, by my shellfish-loving wife. Along with cherry tomatoes, the toothsome house-made linguini is covered in clams, mussels, calamari, prawns. It’s as if they were determined to include the entire ocean in this dish.
I picked it up as take-out from the restaurant, which is in Bankers Hill, the namesake park being Balboa Park, two blocks away. I was already familiar with the location, which originally opened in spring 2019 as Il Dandy. The Civico restaurateurs were part owners of Il Dandy, which aimed for Michelin-star quality cuisine, which included an even higher-end, six-course, backroom tasting menu.
Civico by the Park, formerly known as Il Dandy
High ambitions under normal circumstances, darn near impossible under the shifting duress of a pandemic. The restaurant was apparently rebranded with the Civico name to signify a more casual shift.
Which isn’t to say that Civico by the Park is all that casual — it’s still fairly elevated dining, as evidenced by the presence of imported meats and 20-dollar entrees. But fair to say its menu is more approachable to the casual diner, with a few small plates and pastas in the $10-15 range.
Calabrian style pizza, topped with pistachios and pistachio emulsion
And, as with Il Dandy, there are pizza options under $20 to provide a budget-friendly, sharable dinner option. Of course, as I said, these aren’t your typical pepperoni pies. As evidenced by the mortazza pie: topped by mortadella and pistachios, sauced with pistachio emulsion ($16). Turns out, pistachio pizza is exactly what Americans have been missing out on our whole lives.
The brothers behind Civico are from Calabria, and this Calabrian-style pizza sticks to the style served at Il Dandy, with a slow rise wet dough that yields fantastically airy crust. But, it turns out this restaurant has returned with a second pizza option: pinsa. The oblong, Roman answer to pizza is sort of en vogue in San Diego right now, as several restaurants now serve it. But I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed a crust as much as the one I got from Civico. Which is all the more astounding because I ordered it off the restaurant’s vegan menu.
Like Civico 1845, this location offers a complete vegan menu, including house-made pastas. While some of these feature meat substitutes, I stuck with the vegan margherita pinsa ($14), featuring a simply delicious San Marzano tomato sauce, basil, and vegan mozzarella. The vegan cheese stuck to my teeth a bit, but otherwise I couldn’t believe this pie was vegan. It’s the best vegan pizza I’ve tried and doubles as the best vegan bread.
Credit the mix of flours behind it: wheat, soy, and rice flours allowed to rise for 72 hours give the thick crust pie an amazing chew. All of Civico’s pizzas are available either as the Calabrian pie, or in pinsa version, and if you have to start somewhere, I’d recommend the pinsa, but only barely. I might even need to bring the kids with me next time I try it.