For many people living in Berkeley — or elsewhere in the Bay Area — there’s no better pizza than the one served at The Cheeseboard. For 20 years, the Berkeley cooperative has been spinning out pies. There’s never tomato sauce, but there is always some interesting topping, like roasted cauliflower, pesto, butternut squash, feta cheese, pasilla peppers, and more.

The Cheeseboard has a killer music scene, too. There’s always a band playing at lunch and a different band playing at dinner.

On Friday, the jazz singer Pamela Rose performed with Wayne de la Cruz and Kent Bryson (Rose was substituting for Nancy Wright). Crowds lined up out the door, but got a jazz serenade as they waited.

Fridays and Saturdays are the Cheeseboard’s busiest days, said Arthur Dembling, who has been a member of the collective for 19 years. The Cheeseboard sells about 500 to 600 pizzas at lunch and again with dinner. That’s $10,000 to $12,000 worth of pizza.

The performers get the same hourly rate as those in the collective, he said.

With the sun shining, the odor of pizza wafting, and the sounds of jazz filling the air, it’s a great place to lunch.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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13 Comments

  1. correction

    When I moved to Berkeley last year I was initially excited to be living a quarter mile from an area with such an intriguing name as “The Gourmet Ghetto”. However I became very disappointed in the reality of the bleak streetscape of the whole area.

    Does North Berkeley really need a 4 lanes street cutting through it? Shattuck could be cut down to 2 lanes and that would open up the neighborhood to street side plazas, more trees, public artwork, etc.

  2. When I moved to Berkeley last year I was initially excited to be living a quarter mile from an area with such an intriguing name “The Gourmet Ghetto”. However I was became very disappointed in the reality that is the beak streetscape of the whole area.

    Does North Berkeley really need 4 lanes of traffic cutting through it? Shattuck could become a two lane street and that would open up the neighborhood to street side plazas, more trees, public artwork, etc.

  3. Re: eating pizza on the median. It’s a somewhat sad statement about the North Shattuck commercial district that the only public “plaza” within many blocks of the Cheeseboard is the median of Shattuck Avenue. The nearest park or public plaza that I can think of is Live Oak Park, a few blocks to the north and well out of view (i.e., you can’t see it from the Cheeseboard, so it might not cross one’s mind).

    There was a plan to make a plaza between Rose and Vine, but that went nowhere. A S.F. Chronicle story on the plan from October 2007 includes this ironic quotation from Bob Brown, co-owner of Black Oak Books: “My business would probably not survive prolonged, disruptive construction on the street. That and parking were the issues for me.” (Link to Chron story: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/10/20/BA3IST5TQ.DTL )

    Back to pizza: It would be exciting if Cheeseboard would can some local tomatoes during the summer to use in sauce in the non-tomato seasons. I generally like their topping, but sometimes it’s great to have a basic tomato sauce as the base of a pizza’s flavor.

  4. James, perhaps part of the “problem” with the pizza scene is that in the past couple of years it has gotten a heck of a lot of exposure. What was once a quiet neighborhood gem is, for now, kind of a “destination” with all of the negatives that implies for the experience. So with that in mind:

    When I want a quick and inexpensive yet delicious light lunch on North Side I generally skip the pizza. Here are some other options:

    Go right up the street to the cheese and bread part of Cheeseboard Collective and get some savory bread – a cheese or olive bread. If splurging, get a little cheese and stop next door for a tomato or such. Or go around the corner and hit up the Juice Bar Collective.

    Of course there are tons of *other* options all in those same couple of blocks.

    Does the pizza place sell T-shirts? They look to be at about that stage. Or bumper stickers – probably a few bucks on the table in bumper stickes. It’ll pass… eventually.

    And if Cheeseboard Collective has the supreme wisdom to accept my unsolicited and ill-informed advice, they’ll figure out how to start making a nice soft-crusted, decently textured, east-coast italian-style sandwich bread and sub-rolls – and spin off a “Sandwich Collective”. I’d be happy to teach them how to make a decent toasted hoagie in their pizza ovens – for a hefty consulting fee, of course.

  5. Wow. A bit surprised by the range of comments on here but oh well. I love the cheeseboard and try to make it on Wednesdays because I like listening to the California Honey Drops a great east bay band. Yes the pizza can be oily but the price is right and I have never found any of the owners unhelpful or rude, actually quite the opposite. They often give out their extra slices to the homeless if they have made more than necessary for that day. I think it’s one of the best businesses in town.

  6. My favorite place in the East Bay–I love sitting on the median (tragedy waiting to happen, or not) and watching the world go by.

  7. I’ll eat their pizza if it’s the only thing offered at a party but really, it sucks. Overworked passed the point of toughness, not enough salt and overall not good at all.
    People buy into the “collective” vibe of the place but I find the help rude and unhelpful. Every time I go there I feel that they treat me like their doing me a favor by waiting on me. My opinion: not so much.

  8. I find their pizza to be over-rated. Way too oily and often too cripsy, almost burnt crust.

  9. I find the music much too loud, such that I often have to plug my ears while I wait for my pizza. It’s such a small place, why use amplifiers? Most people must like it — the place continues to thrive. I loved the pizza until I got quite ill after eating one a couple of months ago. I telephoned and told them, and they offered me a free pizza. Equitable, perhaps, but hey, I was up sick all night after eating that last one, so ….no thanks. Friendly vibe there, mostly.

  10. not to be mean, but I hate the music there. I always assumed that they played it just to keep customers moving along, to stop them from occupying the seats for very long. I love the pizza, though.