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Pizzeria Debut Draws Enthusiastic Crowd

Families flocked to the opening night Friday of the new Benchmark Pizzeria on Colusa Circle in Kensington. The new eatery, owned by Peter and Melissa Swanson of El Cerrito, is in the space formerly occupied by Post Meridian restaurant.

By 6:15 p.m. on opening night Friday, there were two dozen people on the chalkboard waiting list for seats at the in Kensington.

The smiling staff seemed unharried for a busy first night. Perhaps they had a chance to practice during the previous two nights when the restaurant began operating informally with "soft openings" before the official debut Friday night.

The patrons ranged from families with young children to the older generations, including Al Miller of El Cerrito, who offered a hearty endorsement in a comment posted on El Cerrito Patch:

"Benchmark opened today at 4:00 p.m.," wrote Miller, who's an elected member of the board of directors of the Stege Sanitary District. "My wife and I were first in line! And it was more than worth the wait.

"First, everyone should realize that this is a first rate pizza restaurant, not a 'pizza parlor.' It features several salads, about nine or ten pizzas with a wide selection of wine on tap and several beers. The Benchmark Kolsch brew was very good. I had the pepperoni and fennel pizza and it, too, was very good. The pepperoni and the fennel were shaved thin which brought out the taste of both.

"This care in preparation, plus the fact that Benchmark features fresh locally grown organic ingredients, resulted in great pizza dinner experience. Service was quick and very friendly. Barbara and I will return soon and often. You should too."

El Cerrito resident Bruce Lengacher also seemed mainly pleased with the experience as he and , the bands director at El Cerrito High School, waited for their pizza.

"It's really a nice vibe," said Lengacher, who chairs the visual and performing arts department at Acalanes High School in Lafayette. "There's a lot of families here. For a first night, they seem really relaxed."

Lengacher offered a quick review of the fare he'd tried so far, saying he found two of the salads – the Arugula and the Cherry Tomatoes and Green Beans – both tasty – but the former overpriced at $9 and the latter too small of a portion. The beer, he said, was so-so, while the Qupe red wine was excellent.

"Congrats on a great opening day!" wrote Zach Sherry on the Benchmark Facebook page. "All the food was great! Can't wait for the ice cream!"

Benchmark, at 1568 Oak View Ave. in Kensington, is open 4-9 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. The phone number is 510-647-9724.

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Mark Kay July 21, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Hmmm.....never saw pepperoni on a menu in Italy. Hope you have prosciutto!
Toni Mayer July 21, 2012 at 11:01 PM
We tried to go today for lunch, but there was no person answering and the machine's outgoing message said that they were opening on the 20th, the machine isn't checked often and to email them. I think it's time to update the message and check the machine. I gather they're not open for lunch yet, so we'll have to toddle over for dinner one of these evenings. Glad to read such good reports.
Alvin Mabuhay July 22, 2012 at 12:59 AM
About time!! El Cerrito has been so limited in its pizza offerings. The few they have are horrible. Someone should follow Kensington's lead and open one on the Ave.
Danny Chester July 22, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Toni, according to their facebook page, they are open from Wed-Sun 4-9PM to start out. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Benchmark-Pizzeria/287873437926958
Toni Mayer July 22, 2012 at 06:04 AM
Thanks, Danny! That sounds like a sensible way to start out and we'll know not to wander over Monday or Tuesday.

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