Oct. 6 2010 10:09 AM

Blue Ribbon's innovative and accessible pizza pies take the cake

cityeat
Blue Ribbon has plans to expand its outdoor seating area
Photo by Livia Borak
I'm not a pizza snob. I'm not from New York or Chicago, and I don't wax on about where to get "the best pie," rhapsodizing about how real pizza is made with imported East Coast water and angel tears or whatever. I love a good thin and crispy crust. But I also love one that is thick and doughy and laden with cheese and pepperoni-grease runoff. Bread plus cheese is hard to screw up. Yes, it can be done, but, come on, pizza is one of man's greatest inventions, and its simple heartiness is what makes it everyone's favorite food.

But some restaurants take this concept called pizza and elevate it— not by doing anything too fancy, but by focusing on the best-quality ingredients, combinations that are both unique and traditional, and serving it all up in a hometown setting that isn't trying to be anything but San Diegan. Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria in Encinitas does all that and more, and it's doing it quite well.

Husband-and-wife team Wade and Kristi Hageman have created a warm and sophisticated neighborhood hangout whose only

weak spot seems to be not enough seating to accommodate the many enthusiastic patrons checking in at the front door. While Wade works the oven, Kristi will most likely greet you, and she does her best to seat you as quickly and kindly as possible. We didn't mind snuggling together at the "community" table next to friendly strangers (including some enthusiastic Portland foodies who couldn't rave enough about the pizza), but it'll be nice when the expanded outdoor patio they're constructing is finally open for seating.

They have a nice wine list, as well as a small but solid selection of mostly-local craft beers, including Airdale, Lightning and Green Flash. Or, if you're in an ironic-hipster kind of mood, order a tall boy of Pabst Blue Ribbon to wash down your artisan pizza. Everything they serve is local or organic or sustainable, or some combination of all three.

The dough is thin and a great combination of crispy and chewy with black, blistery bubbles from the wood-burning oven. Try the Signature, a perfectly light but flavorful combo of fresh mozzarella, ricotta, red onion, basil and lemon zest. The lemon zest is such

an unexpected yet perfect pizza topping. Mr. City Eat had to stop me from standing up and spinning around and around in circles of delight, it made me so happy. The pizza Blue Ribbon calls My Father's was a hearty contrast, with artisan pepperoni and house-made fennel sausage. The sausage alone could be its own special dish—it's tender and juicy and perfectly cooked.

The appetizers are great; there doesn't seem to be a dud among them. The bruschetta was fun and deconstructed, with large grape tomatoes, cut in half, well-seasoned and generously scooped all over thick, glistening pieces of toasty, olive oil-rubbed bread. The fig and prosciutto salad, dotted with gorgonzola, was another perfect example of quality ingredients being allowed to shine with minimal fussing. It's amazing what a fruity splash of olive oil and a sprinkling of good sea salt can do to food.

But then we ordered pudding. Oh, the pudding. I'm getting misty just thinking about it.

The homemade butterscotch pudding was transcendent. Served in a petite canning jar, the velvet, scotchy goodness is topped with a salted caramel sauce and not-too-sweet whipped cream. The salted caramel sauce is perfection, with sparkling salty crystals making little cameos in every bite. Honestly, I don't even know if they have any other desserts on their menu. Who cares?

Pizza is good. We all love pizza. But Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria nails the combination of being both familiar and innovative, gourmet yet accessible. Enjoy your meal, and thank me later—by buying me pudding.

Write to jennym@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.

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