Before each home game this season, ClipperBlog will run “ClipperBlog Eats,” a restaurant recommendation from its resident restaurant reviewer, Ben Mesirow. Below is today’s suggestion:
Transplants to LA complain about two things: traffic and pizza. About the traffic, it’s either part of your commute and there’s nothing to be done, or you stop driving on the 405. Pizza is another story – one’s opinion of good pizza is almost always grounded in sentimentality, the curlicue pepperoni that turned into little reservoirs of grease at the checkered-tablecloth Italian restaurant around the corner from your childhood home, the particular way the sand beneath your fingernails added just a bit of grit to the extra thin slices from that pizzeria by the beach where your dad still boogie boards every weekend, the oceans of cheese piled onto the pizzas from the only shop willing to deliver to your dorm at 3 AM on Tuesday, and the fact that that same pizza was even better at room temperature at noon on Wednesday.
In short, complaining about pizza is a special kind of nostalgia, and there is little that LA pizzerias can do to soothe your homesickness. It is almost better, then, for a local pizza place to do something that doesn’t even pretend to gesture at the 36-inch party pizzas from your neighbor’s 8th birthday.
800 Degrees is wise to that game. Instead, they’ve fast-casualized the pizza experience, lined ingredients up in troughs for you to customize your toppings and personalize your evening. At the end of the assembly line is a giant wood-burning oven, an insatiable beast that eats raw dough and spits out Neopolitan-style discs with a diameter just larger than your already oversize dinner plate but thin as tracing paper, slices that sag just so when you pick them up despite their slightly chewy, char-flecked crusts. Thanks to the power of that mammoth oven the pizzas come out astonishingly fast, such that by the time you’ve finished paying and grabbed your beer you have exactly enough time to find a table and have a first sip before your pizza is upon you. Yes, they’ve timed this thing out pretty well.
It would be easy to be cynical about this miracle of restaurant engineering – the rapidly growing chain of pizzerias that so accurately replicate expensive designer pies at half the cost in half the time – if the pizzas weren’t so damn good. They back up their braggadocio about the quality of their ingredients with ingredients that are in fact high quality – delicious cured meats, fresh vegetables, rich cheeses, and well-seasoned sauce – and the crust is just right. The portions are substantial enough that a whole pizza will fill up a hungry diner, and if you lean minimalist with your toppings (which is how this style of pizza works best anyway) it’s easy to walk in a skeptic with a ten dollar bill, and walk out a fully sated evangelist with change. Forget the pizza of your youth, this is the pizza of the future. 800 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90017; http://www.800degreespizza.com/