I’ve never understood the statement that all pizza is good pizza. All pizza is not good pizza. In fact, I might go so far to say that most pizza is bad pizza – exhibit A being my first two attempts at making it from scratch, and exhibit B being anything that emerges from a Domino’s or Pizza Hut oven. I also don’t consider cold pizza with its congealed layer of cheese and chunks of hardened grease to be particularly compelling either.
Regardless of my state of sobriety.
But pizza in its best form – the kind that has a slightly salty, crisp, yet still somewhat chewy crust – is my favorite thing in the world to eat. It’s the dish I want served, buffet-style, at my wedding, and the food item that I am always in the mood for, no matter how tight my jeans are fitting.
It’s always a bit of a gamble for me to go to a new pizza place. While I have previously professed my affection for the scandalous thick-crusted BBQ chicken variety and have no qualms about consuming flatbread styles, I take “serious” pizza rather, well, seriously. I want it to be worth every indulgent bite. And I want it to move me – to strike that chord that makes me close my eyes and exhale slowly, unable to contain my delight.
This past Saturday evening, I experienced a similar moment with West Third Street newcomer Olio Pizzeria and Cafe’s Margherita Plus with crushed tomatoes, Gioia burrata, Grana Padano and basil infused olive oil ($13.99). While the thin crust is a touch flimsy in the center of the simply dressed pie, the slightly charred, smoky flavor from the natural wood-burning oven is apparent in each bite. The chewy, breadstick-like edges are particularly noteworthy – this is not the kind of crust that one leaves in a heap on the side of the plate.
The toppings are no less enthralling. The sweetness of the tomatoes, subtle pronouncement of basil and sultry puddles of fresh mozzarella flooded my mouth with memories of Lombardi’s margherita pie in New York City. It’s not the same – Olio’s pie is made Neapolitan-style and Lombardi’s is made New York-style – but the classic flavor profile is decidedly similar (and decidedly well-executed).
While my dining companion and I also ordered (and enjoyed) the Tartufo Bianco white pizza with fresh spinach, seasoned ricotta, heirloom tomatoes and truffled cheese ($13.99), the more decadent toppings do seem to diminish the integrity of the crust. I also found myself wishing that a lighter hand was used to dress the Arugula and Fennel Salad with toasted almonds, shaved fennel, French feta, and spiced yogurt “ranch” ($11.29), as well. It’s a nice salad, but the creamy yogurt overwhelms the delicacy of the other components.
My return visits to the casual eatery on the corner of Crescent Heights and Third Street will no doubt be inspired by a craving for that classic margherita plus pie. I’ll sit at the pizza bar, eyes fastened to the wood-burning oven that the entire space is fashioned around, and I’ll wait in rapt anticipation until it emerges, charred and bubbling for my immediate consumption. I’ll snatch a slice before it has time to cool, fold it in the center, and then take a bite, letting the cheese ooze across my tongue. I’ll close my eyes, exhale, and take a moment to appreciate the pure delight of a really good slice of serious pizza.
Olio Pizzeria and Cafe
8075 West 3rd St., Ste. 100
Los Angeles, CA 90048