Once again, I found myself perplexed when I saw a pizza sign go up in the heart of Leucadia a few months ago at the location formerly occupied by Umi. I thought, maybe we do need a pizza joint and coffee shop every several blocks along the coastal Encinitas corridor.
My skepticism soon gave way to anticipation when I found out this was another Mario Guerra and Leucadia Co. project, the folks behind Valentina and Moto Deli, which you’ve heard me gush about several times in this column as they really are two of my favorite restaurants in the area.
Both are unique in their own ways with styles all their own, so given all that, my anticipation turned more to excitement. Mario put it simply when I asked him what the motivation was for another pizza option in the area when he said: “I always wanted to open a pizza place.
And although all the other options in Encinitas are great, we wanted to have a different experience by adding some fun appetizers including oysters and a great wine list.” Good answer, Mario and more about the oysters and wine later.
And then, to top all that off, I found out that one of my favorite local restaurant people, Brian Earls, was opening the aptly named Corner Pizza as General Manager. If you have been to Fish 101 in Leucadia or Cardiff over the past several years, there is a good chance you’ve seen Brian running the show at either location.
I got to know Brian from several Lick the Plate Fish 101 stories and he could pretty much quote my order every time I stopped in, especially my fondness for Albarino wine with oysters. That and he has been part of my socially distanced sunset crew at Beacon’s throughout the pandemic. I knew that if Brian was going to make a move it would be for something special and, well, as it turns out, Corner Pizza is all that and then some.
First off, it has that simple, beachy elegance that both Valentina and Moto Deli possess, with a neighborhood feel put together by someone with an appreciation for quality, great food, and a sexy wine list. For now, seating is limited to a whole bunch of picnic tables outside with heaters so we can all go and enjoy pizza and wine or Mexican Coke on premise and be in compliance. The fact that pizza carries out so well made opening during these crazy times less risky than most restaurant ventures and their wine is available to go by the bottle as well.
So, about the pizza…and the soon to be available oysters. Mario described it as “a familiar pizza style that everyone is familiar with, good for kids and date night, nothing overly exotic, just good pizza.” He took that a step further by sourcing a Bakers Pride Y-602 gas deck oven that is the classic workhorse of pizza ovens and perfect for what he is striving for.
I went straight for the classic pepperoni that reminded me more of a New York pizza that I’m a big fan of. It worked for me hot and cold the next morning and it’s big enough for two normal appetites, though I will confess to over-indulging one evening and devouring the entire pie. And although Mario said “nothing exotic” I guess that word is relative as both he and Brian kept suggesting the Killer Bee with tomato sauce, mozzarella, gorgonzola, soppressata, pepperoni, rosemary and to top it off, chili honey. Wow. The Killer Bee is now in my permanent pizza rotation.
There are 11 pizzas to choose from and some actually do lean toward the exotic side, but also plenty of the classic options that Mario mentioned. Love the name of the Sausage Fest, which includes fennel sausage and sweet Spanish piquillo peppers. Then there is the Forbidden Pizza, with pineapple, pork carnitas, pickled red onion and jalapeno, which will have to be explored. There is also a vegan option and plenty of other fun choices.
A classic Caesar salad and a Padrino Salad with radicchio, chickpeas, red onions, mozzarella, salami, pepperoncini and cherry tomatoes offer something on the lighter side.
And about those oysters! Yes, they will be available along with littleneck clams by the end of February or early March so stay tuned to their website for more details. If you’ve had oysters at Valentina, you know those will be done right, and I love the thought of an oyster and pizza night sitting outside on Coast Highway 101 in the coolest neighborhood ever. That’s just my opinion though.
I had to leave room to shout out the wine list as it’s curated by Ricardo Zarate the sommelier who does such a fabulous job on the selection at Valentina.
Corner Pizza is located at 1246 N. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas. More at www.corner-pizza.com or 760-331-3565.