March 06, 2014

Why I'm Obsessed with Pizza In Every Way

Pizza Week is coming up for Eater, which means I'll be downing plenty of carbs, cheese, and toppings in the next few weeks to gear up. I think this might be my favorite theme week because it gives me every reason in the world to overconsume what might be my favorite food. I've gone on solo pizza pilgrimages across the country, paying top dollar and waiting for hours to get the best stuff. I still consider my top three (well four) picks to be San Francisco's Una Pizza Napoletana, Phoenix's Pizzeria Bianco, Sally's Apizza and Frank Pepe's in New Haven. Yes, there are plenty of great pies in L.A. as well, and spots like Pizzeria Mozza, Sotto, and Bestia are probably my favorites.

But what I'm really liking is the casualification of pizza, starting with 800 Degrees. Yes, the burgeoning chain got its idea from Fullerton's Pie-O-Logy and maybe even a nod from Chipotle. But Chipotle might not even be the perfect model for this customize your own pizza. The difference with this is the real quality you see on the selection table, as well as the execution at the end. What you get is a pizza that's almost as good as something you'd pay more than twice as much for at a full restaurant. A restaurant like Sotto has great Neopolitan pizza, but you could get something for $7 bucks that would probably convince 45 out of a 100 people to like it better than the more specialized example. That makes right now the best time to eat pizza than ever, because great pizza has never been cheaper, or better executed.

The styles aren't particularly rigid, which is a good thing. Too often foodies get stuck up on perfecting a certain style. Yesterday I engorged upon 14 different pizzas at Pizza of Venice, a decidedly iconoclastic pizzeria tucked away in the San Gabriel Mountains in the sleepy town of Altadena. The pizzas are wacky, yet still mostly well conceived. Snobby foodists would scoff at the notion of putting chicken curry or romesco sauce on a pie, but chef Sean St. Jean sees no limit as to what pizza can be.

That casualness of pizza makes it a readymade meal that's mostly under fifteen bucks, which I think we can all get behind. Shoot, 800 Degrees fills you up with a mere $7-8, including tax and tip (if you really want to think about it that way), which would have made me roll over when I was working in Beverly Hills starving for a cheap but delicious meal. And it's also not artificially low like a fast food joint, subsidized by minimum wages and industrial produce.

I still remember the first time I had the old-school pie at Casa Bianca. This place is a dream for me. I usually went late at night, right when the fog from the nearby hills would roll in. The neon sign glowed strong on Colorado, with the warmth of the sixty year old pizzeria as the ideal escape from nippy weather. Inside, red checkered tables put so close together it'd make the gangster of Goodfellas either join in the congeniality, or avoid it for fear of getting shanked so easily. And the pies, thin crust, almost (just almost!) cardboardy, but balanced by a hefty load of toppings to prevent it from going dry. Critics often like to point out the easy problems with the place: cash only, sometimes rough service, and long waits in a musty room. Meh, I say. I just won't order the canned mushrooms onto my pie. Get the fried eggplant slivers and housemade sausage, and call it a day.

800 Degrees.
Pizza of Venice.
Casa Bianca.

1 comment:

Food GPS said...

Interesting read. I'll admit to being more of a traditionalist with pizza toppings, and get turned off to certain places after seeing wacky ingredients on the menu. I'll try to keep a more open pizza mind. Ultimately, the crust makes or breaks a pizza even more than the toppings.