Whether you’re from the East Coast, West Coast or beyond, you’ll be at home in Jersey, the restaurant. Located in SoMa, the hip South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco near AT&T Park, Jersey scores as a new-kid-on-the-block place to eat and drink.
The owners, brothers Mitch and Steven Rosenthal, hail from New Jersey and return to their roots with the recipe for casual dining out. Like their three other SoMa restaurants, Jersey is located in the transformed store front in an older building. The bar shelves are attached to the original brick; the colorful, abstract Jersey mural on the opposite wall evokes the beach and bridges connecting to the Big Apple. With people chatting as they reach for more pizza or lift their beers, the renovated space feels lively, comfortable and energetic.
Sure, Jersey touts its pizza, and we’ll get to those ample pies shortly. But Mediterranean-California shines at the Rosenthal’s other restaurants, and here you can order roasted garlic burrata crostini, Apulia-style orechhiette with sun dried tomato cream or duck liver mousse—not exactly Atlantic City specialties. Even my friend who is a confirmed liver-hater, took multiple bites and admitted the mousse was better than most. But when he dug into the Trenton Pie with mozzarella, provolone and parmesan and sauce slathered on top, he declared, “They nailed it.”
The Jersey chopped salad instantly transported me to my youth in Delaware across the river from the Garden State. We also mixed our chopped salami with pepperoncini and hunks of provolone. Jersey’s combo featured the familiar, simple dressing of red wine vinegar and EVOO. Well, they add California radicchio whereas my Mom always tossed in iceberg, but the slightly bitter radicchio adds a nice bite.
Although Jersey opened in 2016, it feels like a longtime neighborhood restaurant. The servers seem as happy and excited about the food and drink as the guests. Mitch Rosenthal likes to take in the scene and eat, too. “I love the smell and size of the space at Jersey. When you walk in, you get hit with smells of parmesan and dough cooking. The size of the restaurant makes it easy to interact with guests.”
Mitch reports that his go-to dishes at Jersey are, of course, the Trenton Pie, and the New Yorker with provolone, mozzarella, pork sausage, pepperoni, pancetta. His favorite Jersey pizza spot is Ferraro’s Pizza Parlor in Edison. My friend’s eyes lit up when he heard this because he grew up about a half hour from there and understood why the Rosenthals’ pizza tasted so Northern N.J. “In California, no one pays enough attention to the sauce,” he added. No canned products here—the cooks pile raw, crushed tomatoes on the pizza before it roasts in the hot oven.
The California-style pizzas are also garnering fans. Most of the half-dozen West Coast pizzas feature more spice, more vegetables and crisper, more charred crust. The chorizo, piquillo pepper, red onion, cilantro and Manchego, and the fig and gorgonzola with fried prosciutto are popular.
We both sampled and approved of the generous appetizer of meatballs on sourdough crostini with a cheese-jalapeño béchamel sauce. There are several entrées including chicken parmesan and the well-executed orecchiette, Bolognese lasagna, and of course, spaghetti and meatballs. But the winner among the entrées were the mussels in a fragrant saffron sauce with grilled sourdough to lap up the leftover juices.
During all this sampling, we were delighted with the beverage options. The dozen craft beers brought Bay Area options such as Altamont Beerworks from our neighborhoods in the Livermore Valley, SF brewing Co., and Golden State Cider. The two-dozen, well-curated wines are notable for all listed by the glass or bottle—and all bottles are under $60. I was pleased to see a favorite pizza pairing entry, a sparkling Lambrusco, from Medici Ermete. Selections range from a Villa Sandi prosecco to a Ravens dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes and a fine nebbiolo from Michele Chiarlo.
We found room for tiramisu and both agreed the ratio of mascarpone to cake was ideal. Made with both ricotta and mascarpone, the cannoli were not overpoweringly sweet and rich to top off the meal.
The restaurant pleased our current California sensibilities and our nostalgia for East Coast pizza pie. Mitch Rosenthal shared his perspective: “Jersey works because it’s so personal. Though Steven and I have been out here for almost 20 years, there’s a lot of jersey still in us. It’s not just a concept, but a memory from growing up.”