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11.05.08

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First Bite

Small Shed Flatbreads

By Gretchen Giles

Mill Valley is a pizza town. Whether solar-fired or wood-burning, helmed by such celebrity chefs as Gordon Drysdale or even of the lowly chain variety, there's pipin' hot pie seemingly on every corner of this small village. One of the coziest and least assuming of the bunch is Small Shed Flatbreads, a Slow Food–informed hole-in-the-wall that opened some two years ago and has the comfortable, live-and-let-live community feel of a joint that's been there for decades.

There's nothing lofty about Small Shed Flatbreads. Up the street from bustling Throckmorton, its windows are currently adorned with Halloween themes, a bright pink Etch-a-Sketch sits out to entertain hungry children, the art is decidedly local and a community bulletin board is crammed with business cards and posters for a nearby theater. A member of Marin Organic, Small Shed offers pizza dough to go for just $2.50 and will partially bake flatbreads for customers to finish at home in their own ovens.

The staff extends the vibe. When he set our two pints of Lagunitas IPA ($4.50) on the table, our friendly male server approvingly said, "Real women drink beer." The object of all approval, my gorgeous twenty-something sister accordingly toasted a rainy Mill Valley afternoon to me as real women. The only thing not down-home and familiar about Small Shed is the food, which is made of glistening-fresh, locally sourced ingredients thoughtfully presented at reasonable prices with a Mediterranean emphasis.

Small Shed assures that its flatbreads are "generally enough for one," so we ordered two, generally having enough for the next day's lunch. The chard flatbread ($12.50) is set upon the stone-ground "hard red" crust that Small Shed features, a crackly cracker slathered with house-made red sauce and topped with fresh chard, shallots, aged provolone and pancetta. The "Mad River VT" ($13), is loaded with sweet maple fennel sausage, oven-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, loads of crimini mushrooms and mozzarella and grana cheeses. They're irregularly cut, not the usual geometry lesson, and served on a two-tier stand so that pulling a piece is a reward both large and small.

Real women need their greens, so we began with the Bolinas Beat ($8.50), a compilation of Star Route Farms' mixed greens with roasted organic baby beets, a generous slice of Humboldt Fog cheese in a honey balsamic reduction dressing with a chop of fresh pistachios. From the specials board, we treated ourselves to the day's salad, an arugula tangle in a fresh Pt. Reyes bleu cheese dressing with spiced candied pecan pieces and slices of fuyu persimmon ($8.50).

As it turns out, real women have dessert, particularly if one of them had spent the morning running 12 miles in preparation for an upcoming marathon, and so my sister chose the apple and cherry crisp ($7) with a sweet crunch crust slightly caramelized from heating in the pizza oven, topped with a scoop of Three Twins organic vanilla ice cream. Those of us who labored mightily over the New York Times that very morning had a bite or two, the third spoonful landing a cherry so plop-perfect onto the tongue that I ate no more; I'd had the perfect bite.

There's no fuss at Small Shed, no lisping sense of foodie superiority; rather, it's good food from the good ground served with good intentions. In fact, it's how food used to be and, if such as Small Shed becomes a more familiar sight—no pretensions, no astronomical cost-gouging, no back-slapping self congratulations on pulling a mere carrot from the ground—it's how we'll all start eating again. Bring on the pizza!

Small Shed Flatbreads, 17 Madrona Ave., Mill Valley. Open for lunch and dinner daily. 415.383.4200.


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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.