Pizza and beer. It’s a match made in heaven, just like chips and salsa, Muni and odoriferous travels, and Chris Daly and discord. I visited two evening happy hours–one hopping with a local and trendy yet low-key bar scene, while the other still finding its post-work groove–to see who does comes out on top in pizza and beer.
Uva Enoteca, visited by my predecessor Ramona Emerson two years ago, is nestled in a tiny space along Haight Street. Walk past some tables, the long, smooth bar (featuring hidden purse hooks), and windows overlooking a raised “garden” (the quotes are there because the garden is mainly for looks, featuring a raised platform with some pretty plants), and you come to a warm dining area featuring a lovely exposed brick wall. It’s comfy without being your living room yet inspired by the best that Crate & Barrel has to offer.
What: Happy Hour at Uva Enoteca
568 Haight Street @ Steiner
When: Sunday-Thursday, 5-6:30PM
Happy Hour: $1.50 beer, $4 house wine, $4-$8 appetizers/small bites
Public transit: 6, 22, 71L, N-Judah (with a little walk)
Uva Enoteca’s happy hour strikes five times a week, Sunday (yes, SUNDAY!) through Thursday from 5-6:30PM. Sitting at the bar on a Tuesday, I watched as a server plated honey, nuts, and currants into three small bowls, all to accompany a cheese plate.
But cheese was not on the happy hour menu–oh boo. The bartender quickly approached us, friendly but not overbearing, and my date and I each chose a small bite and a drink. The gentleman next to me appeared to be a regular. Comfortably slouching in his bar chair while casually flipping through the most recent San Francisco magazine, he moved through his meal at a leisurely pace, chatting with the bartender as if he eats there daily. And after tasting the pizza, well, who could blame him.
The happy hour menu changes fairly regularly and always features an appetizer-sized pizza. The pizza ($4) is an irregular shape, part ellipsis, part undefined quadrilateral. But what it lacks in traditional geometry it makes up for with a rich, hearty blend of mozzarella cheese, a light yet tangy sauce, and lemon oil.
The crust does what Pizza Hut can never attain: it has just the right mix of yeasty, lightly doughy bubbles, and isn’t overcooked or too chewy. Atop the pizza is a light bed of arugula, and the fresh peppery lift hooks everything together in a lovely mix of round flavors.
For $4, the pizza’s a steal. But would I order a regular sized version for $13.50? I’m not sure. Would a “maybe” suffice for now?
Along with our pizza, we tried the kale, nectarine, and almond salad ($4). Tasting cleansing and all-good-for-you, I expected a balsamic dressing or something to accompany the earthiness, but if there was a dressing, I couldn’t find it. But still, I enjoyed the mix of hearty, leafy greens, fresh fruit, and nuts.
Our beer ($1.50) and wine ($4) may have made us happy, but to be honest, we sat down and said, “I’ll have a beer.” and “I’ll have the happy hour red wine.” Tuckered out from a long day, there was no time spent perusing what our options might have been, and on this particular day, my alcohol-focused research skills eluded me. But suffice it to say, had we not had someplace to be in an hour, we may have ordered another round of wine (the beer was described as “fine” and “eh”). For two of us, two happy hour appetizers, a beer, and a mini-carafe of red wine cost us $14.65 before tip.
In comparison, Pizza Inferno is an odd contrast. Happy hour lasts from 3-7PM and 9:30PM until closing Monday through Thursday. The restaurant feels more like a low-key sports bar (on this night, featuring Tim Lincecum working toward the win against the Phillies) and less like its trendy Fillmore Street neighbors to the north.
When you walk in, there’s a bar to the right and some basic tables and chairs to the left. Perched on the far side is a pass-through to the kitchen, and atop that hangs the giant beer menu, updated as needed.
What: Happy Hour at Pizza Inferno
1800 Fillmore St @ Sutter
When: Monday-Thursday, 3-7PM, 9:30PM-closing
Happy Hour: 50% off select beer and $5 wine with food purchase
Public transit: 1, 2, 3, 22, 38, 38L
As one of only two tables at 6:10PM, the space felt empty and cold. But our friendly, almost-huggable Latino server made us feel warm and welcome. Bueno.
With two girlfriends in tow, we chicas were on a quest (sans chainmail) for beer, wine, and pizzas, but were a little bummed to find out that happy hour prices only extended to select beer (50% off starred items on a hard-to-read chalkboard menu) and wine ($5 for a glass of that night’s red or white special).
Oh, and you must purchase food to be eligible for the happy hour prices. Yikes! My lady friends ordered glasses of the pilsner (“Sooooo delicious,” commented one of them as she sat back and grinned), and I had a glass of the Malbec.
As this was our dinner, pre-movie at the Kabuki, we ordered two pizzas: the Margherita, which features a heavenly sweet-yet-earthy sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes, and the Mimosa, a corn, ricotta, mozzarella, and basil pizza. I love a place that features a corn pizza, but this pie was lacking sauce or an acid to balance the smooth corn and cheese. Pizzas range from $11-19.
Simply put, hands down, the Margherita won. While a no-brainer in toppings, the deep contrast of the sauce, cheese, and crust couldn’t be beat. Even Timmy would acknowledge this win.
By this point, happy hour was over, and a few more tables filled up with families and a few couples. The kitchen staff sent us out a little surprise at the end of our meal: a dessert pizza, dough filled with a milk chocolate sauce and topped with powdered sugar. Giving a girl anything draped in powdered sugar, especially when she’s had wine, may be a mistake, and I’m fairly certain I left white fingerprints all over the place. But this little pizza helped transcend my brain from savory fare to warm, relaxing, sweet moment of heaven. The total dent to our wallet was $46.40 (pre-tip).
Being a long-time fan of Pizza Inferno, I remember going here for happy hour specials eight years ago; I feel like a
old seasoned patron. As a neighborhood joint that doesn’t try to pander to any micro-class of San Franciscans, the joint radiates its own raw character. On the most basic level, I have high hopes for Pizza Inferno and feel that it’s off the mark by just a tad, at least happy hour wise. And if Pizza Inferno could boost the happy hour atmosphere and increase business just a bit, it would take the experience from good to great.
Situated at the southern end of the Fillmore/Pac Heights neighborhood, Pizza Inferno has huge potential. But Pizza Inferno’s only internet presence is a Facebook page, and it’s not very informative. A fuzzy picture of the menu doesn’t count as outreach, nor does a photo album containing 94 pictures of eight menu items.
Also, if a place hyping its happy hour doesn’t offer food discounts–especially when you need to purchase food to qualify for the happy hour beers specials–this is a big deterrent.
Affordable beer is good, but easy-on-the-wallet beer and pizza is even better. And if you can eat more, then you can probably drink more. Food specials would also incentivize happy hour for those that don’t drink. Include designated drivers, pregnant women (every other woman in Pac Heights is pregnant; I swear), and straight edgers in the party.
Overall, I enjoyed Uva Enoteca’s happy hour more, if anything just for the price, ambiance, and options as an actual destination for happy hour. But I won’t knock Pizza Inferno for doing what it does well. It offers a huge selection of beers and some stellar pizzas.