BUILD Pizzeria Roma, where everything tastes of happiness

Josh Escobar/Staff

Josh Escobar/Staff

Josh Escobar/Staff

Josh Escobar/Staff

Josh Escobar/Staff

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At the new pizzeria in Downtown Shattuck are families with young kids, waiters in black, chefs in white and girls in college with flowers in their hair.

“A flower comes with some of the drinks,” explains owner Lisa Holt, sitting beside the other owner and her husband, David Shapiro.

The cocktail menu is colorful and refreshingly original. Designed by mixologists Scott Beattie and Jay Crabb, drinks such as the “Angry Russian Mule” and the “Autumn on the Amalfi Coast” are made with fresh-squeezed citrus fruits, bitters, some spices and craft spirits from small production distilleries. The cocktails are just some of many noteworthy additions to the food scene along Shattuck.

That evening, Holt and Shapiro were so whipped from running the restaurant that the only time they could eat together was the time of the interview. Holt lived part of her life in Italy, and after working in the hospitality industry for many years, they decided to open a restaurant based on their favorite pizza place in Rome. Hence, BUILD Pizzeria Roma was born.

“We wanted to do something fun,” Holt adds. “Our friends told us that we were crazy.”

BUILD opened on April 16 and currently staffs 30 locals and another 30 students. Holt credits BUILD’s initial success to the friends and families of the staff members, who wanted to try out the new restaurant. The business grew as people spotted the restaurant on Shattuck. Word spread around town. By the time graduation came around, entire crowds showed up for dinner; large groups can easily be accommodated, and the food is both quickly made and deeply gratifying. On most nights, BUILD makes 600 to 700 custom-made pizzas. It’s no small feat, but they have the equipment and staff to make up to 1,000.

Customers return to BUILD for the fun atmosphere. Located on the southwest corner of Bancroft Way and Shattuck Avenue in Downtown Berkeley, BUILD is set up like a banquet-hall restaurant, a type that is common in Europe. Many tables are set in one wide room with high windows and ceilings. Beyond the pizza line is a full bar with 15 local beers on tap and a masterful offering of cocktails. With three flat screens at the bar and a laid-back yet classy atmosphere, BUILD is a good place to hang out on a game day, a Thursday afternoon or a Saturday night. The waitresses and waiters sport black dress shirts and jeans. The chefs at the pizza line don their traditional garb, trimmed and buttoned white coats. The staff brings the casual elegance of the restaurant together.

Customers also return to BUILD for the good Roman pizza. Since they first opened, BUILD has been committed to buying ethically raised organic foods. In Italy, each region offers its own specialty foods, so quality produce, cheese or meats of one province may gain recognition throughout the country. The quality at BUILD is measured by freshness and taste. While the menu offers Italian flavors, most of the ingredients are sourced from artisans in Northern and Central California to ensure freshness. All but one of the 16 beers on tap come from Northern California, as do their many of wines. Anything that you order at BUILD, such as the dough, sauces, cheeses, veggies and meats, was made from ethically raised and harvested ingredients. The calamari supplier was recommended by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Laughing Bird shrimp is also locally and ethically harvested. The pepperoni comes from San Francisco and Milan. BUILD lives up to the farm-to-table standard set by eateries in Berkeley, notably those along Shattuck.

The “BUILD” in BUILD Pizzeria Roma comes from the way you order pizza. A waiter or waitress gives you a ticket, which you hand to a pizza chef who rolls out your choice of dough: flour or gluten-free. You choose your sauce: “Rosso” (tomato), “Bianca” (house-made garlic butter) or “Pesto.” Then you choose your toppings. It’s as if you’re at the farmers market. Everything looks vibrant and fresh: the mellowing-ripe San Marzano tomato sauce, the basil leaves, choice cuts of chicken, sliced pepperoni, raw and caramelized onions, seasonal mushrooms oven-roasted in truffle oil… The toppings range from $1 to $3 and are selected based on local and seasonal availability. The American classics covered are also covered: jalapenos, black olives and bell peppers. In the end, the pizza you build, fired in a wood oven, is ready in less than three minutes. Such timing makes BUILD the perfect getaway for lunch and for dinner and a contender with fresh and original style.

Besides just pizza, BUILD offers homemade salads, classic Roman dishes and desserts. The butterscotch “Budino” and Strauss Family soft-serve ice cream have already won over some of the locals. The robust drink menu and flavorful ambience add a kick to the local nightlife.

We had a feast, starting off with the BUILD fries, a fast-food favorite to be dipped in a gorgonzola sauce. Then we had some calamari lightly battered with a lemon garlic aioli, which passed my friend’s taste test — and my friend is a lifelong lover of seafood. The Devil’s Canyon Root Beer on tap took me back to when my youth hockey team and I ate at the hometown pizzeria at the end of the season. Its caramel flavors were real, not corny or flat. The local beer speaks for itself, as does the Mista salad with cucumbers, walnuts, tomatoes, champagne vinaigrette and seasonal greens: It had the springiness and bite to it like all good, mean salads do.

The thin pizza crust and its smothered tomato sauce of the pizza were hearty, while each bite of the toppings was robust and fresh. For desserts, while the Strauss Family soft-serve ice cream with melted chocolate was sweet and creamy, the homemade butterscotch budino transported us to Italy.

As our interview continued, it was getting darker outside. Crowds came, left and came back in the twilight. Holt and Shapiro expressed that although their restaurant opened only a few months ago, they felt that it has settled into the community nicely. The more we talked about why the locals like BUILD, the more our conversation elevated to being not only about their restaurant but about restaurants in general.

“A sign of a good restaurant is a happy staff,” Shapiro noted.

BUILD seems to have a happy staff. Throw in amazing food, drink and ambience, and you’ll get BUILD Pizzeria Roma.

BUILD is located at 2286 Shattuck Ave. in Downtown Berkeley.

Contact Josh Escobar at [email protected]