BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – If you love pizza and you are a person of strongly held opinions, this story is guaranteed to make you unhappy, perhaps even inspire outrage.
I’m here to tell you about some of Bakersfield’s best and most innovative pizzas, an assignment ultimately doomed to failure. There’s just too much good pizza out there to please every fan of every worthy pizzeria. But whoever said investigative journalism was easy?
We began this quest not by exploring daring or oddball recipes, but with a celebration of simplicity. It began with Thomas Benham, a Bakersfield native who came home two years ago after a stint at one of California’s most famous restaurants, Berkeley’s iconic Chez Panisse. Now he runs Tommy’s Pizza, located inside Imbibe Wine & Spirits. His secret: Keep things basic.
“Sometimes simplicity is the best thing,” Benham said. “One thing we say here is that you’re only as good as your plain cheese pizza. So every pie that we make we try to focus on the little things that make them the way that we like them. You know, the good balance between the thickness of the dough, the amount of sauce, the amount of cheese you put on and that’s where it all starts.”
Benham has developed a loyal following in his first year inside Imbibe, but then many local pizzerias have customers who swear by their pies, from institutions like Pizzaville on Oak Street, to Jerry’s Pizza on Chester Avenue.
Then there are a multitude of up-and-comers like Zepeda’s, which has catering services, runs a full menu restaurant and operates this food truck at Cal State Bakersfield, near the Music Building. It might’ve seemed hard to believe that the outstanding pie we tried Thursday was from a food truck.
But whose pizza is best? Let the arguments begin. We’re fans of Woodstone Pizza on California Avenue. But consider the opinion of Melody Jelovich, who is admittedly biased.
“No, Rusty’s has the best pizza in town,” she shouted as she pulled a pie out of the oven at Rusty’s on Oak Street.
Many will agree. Rusty’s, founded in 1969 by a guy not named Rusty, has managed its growth to nine Bakersfield-area locations without sacrificing quality.
Is there some bad pizza out there? Sure. We won’t name names, but thankfully most pizza you’ll find in this town is decent and a lot of it is exceptional. Bring some to the office like I did and monitor the enthusiasm.
The takeaway from all this challenging research: There’s a locally owned business in your neighborhood that makes pretty good pizza and it’s worthy of your attention.