If you've ever wanted to walk straight into a Restoration Hardware catalog, Real Food & Spirits is the place for you. There's a postcard-from-Europe vibe to it that works in the tony Solana Beach shopping center where it's located (124 S. Solana Hills Drive). Although you'll find mostly pizza on the menu, this is a grownup place for dining, drinking and lingering. And beyond the pizza, there's eclectic bistro fare like hearty salads, mussels, shoestring fries and risotto.
I love meat and wacky cheeses on my pizza, but sometimes the simplicity of a Margherita is all that's needed—not to mention that itís a good test of the quality of a restaurant's pizza; you can't hide mistakes or lack of skill with three ingredients and a crust. The crew at Real Food have their version nailed. The tomatoes and basil are the stars—they shine with the intense freshness that makes them one of the superstar couplings of the food world. A light sprinkling of sea salt over the pie is the perfect accessory to turn up the volume on the pizza, adding an occasional savory crunch.
The dough on the Margherita—a pizza Napolitano—is simple, as well, a thin crust fired in a 900-degree wood-fired oven that creates a crispy crust with a chewy interior and lightly charred bits on the exterior. Even non-crust connoisseurs will appreciate the dough on its own merits.
After the humble delights of the Margherita, we moved on to the artisan pizza (cooked in a gas-fired oven) and its larger, heftier hand-tossed crust. Real Food manages to make a crust that's delicate and thin but still able to hold a lot of toppings without turning into a soggy, wet mess. The Zucchini Squash pizza is a veggie delight, with corn, red onion, peppery arugula, cilantro and three kinds of cheese, including feta. All that freshness gets a bright squeeze of lemon juice thatís simply perfect. The acidity of lemons acts as a flavor enhancer in surprising ways—I love it on the right kind of pizza.
The slightly Euro feel of Real Food & Spirits extends to the small but impressive gelato case near the front entrance. Don't miss out on a cup of cold, locally made tastiness. After our server raved about the coconut, we were disappointed when she sheepishly returned to tell us it was currently out of stock. I suppose that speaks to its legitimate popularity. Instead, we indulged in a trio of tastes: Panna Cotta, Sea Salt Caramel and Mascarpone Lemon Zest. I dug the simple, white sweetness of the Panna Cotta. It was creamy and subtle—there was no eye-rolling and happy-dancing, but a cup of this was a nice little capper to a meal of salty crusts.
Even if you only occasionally act like a grownup, give Real Food & Spirits a visit. And let me know if you get to taste the coconut gelato.