Downtown pizza joint does it simple and good
Oh restaurant gods, thank you for Basic Urban Kitchen & Bar. The downtown pizza place and bar is inexpensive, the pizza's good, they have Blue Moon on tap and the converted warehouse will appeal to your need to go to the real part of downtown (just ignore the ballpark across the street).
Basic's got one thing on the menu: pizza. Hold on a sec: there's a salad for those of us who need to balance cheese with greens. It's called the Basic Salad, and it's not bad. Mixed greens, pears, candied walnuts and crumbled gorgonzola cheese seasoned with a vinaigrette dressing costs $8. One salad feeds four, at least, and could probably cover six. The toppings were a little sparse on the one visit when I ordered the salad, but you're not there for the salad; you're there for the pizza.
You have a choice of four foundations for your pizza: red (sauce) pie, red with mozzarella cheese, white pie (garlic and parmesan) and white pie with mozzarella. Small pizzas (10 slices) are $7 or $8, depending on whether you opt for the mozzarella; large pizzas (lots of slices-they're huge) are $12 to $14 and will feed four hungry people.
There are 22 toppings to choose from, ranging from the expected (pepperoni, green peppers, mushrooms, olives) to the less expected: artichoke hearts (quite good), eggplant (really good), broccoli (try it on a white pizza), little neck clams and mashed potatoes. Don't "ew" the mashed potatoes. They're seasoned, mashed smooth and quite tasty on a white pizza; add on some spinach and your mom will be proud.
A New York Times review of Basic described the pizza as "New Haven style" which, thanks to Wikipedia, West Coasters will know is pizza with "a thin crust that varies between chewy and tender, depending on the particular establishment. It is baked in a coal- or wood-fired brick oven." Who knew? Indeed, it's the crust that makes the pizza, and Basic's found the balance between crispy and a pleasant chewy. The crust is nice and light, and I, who usually eats no more than two pieces of pizza elsewhere, can put away four (maybe five) slices at Basic.
Toppings-wise, the eggplant's highly recommended. It's lightly breaded and fried, kind of like you'd find in an eggplant parmesan. It pairs nicely with the sausage. If you want something simple and savory, go for a white pizza with basil. The plain old red pie with mozzarella's a sure bet, too.
Almost as important as the food, service at Basic has always been nothing short of outstanding. The mostly tattooed and pierced wait staff might lead you to expect otherwise (shame on your for stereotyping), but I'd love to send management from a handful of more pricey spots over to Basic to learn a little about customer-service 101.
If you're not looking for a sit-down meal, there's an expansive bar attached to the restaurant with lots of seating and a good selection of liquor, wine and beer (like the aforementioned Blue Moon, a nice Belgain-style white beer). In the summer, two huge windows on garage rails open up. There's a purple pool table and a DJ on weekends, though the brick-and-concrete interior isn't too friendly to the sound system and everything comes out rather bass heavy (though, from the first time I went there to the most recent, they seem to have gotten a better grip on the low-end). I do kinda wish the music in the restaurant wasn't the same as what's playing in the bar-a little jazz would be nice-but that's a minor complaint.
The one thing about Basic that's odd is it's way too close to empty way too often. I've been there on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and have never seen more than four occupied tables in the restaurant section (the place is half bar, half restaurant). Is it too far from the safety of the Gaslamp? Do folks want more than pizza? Will eating and drinking establishments too near the ballpark have to rely on baseball season patronage to carry them through off-season downtime? At what point will downtown's residential development reach a critical mass to sustain a variety of restaurants and retail? For Basic's sake, soon, I hope. Till then, suburbanites should head to the urban kitchen.
Basic is open seven days a week from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Basic Urban Kitchen & Bar
410 10th Ave.