Barone's Famous Italian Restaurant
13726 Oxnard Street Valley Glen, CA 91401 (map); 818-782-6004; baronesfamousitalian.com
Pizza Style: Pizza Parlor(?)
Pizza Oven: Gas
The Skinny: Old time Italian joint serving sloppy square pies suitable for grease aficionados only.
Price: 12x16-inch cheese pie, $14.99; single toppings, $1.00
I doubt I'm telling you anything you don't know, but if you order pizza from a place that serves lobster, veal, and tournedos of filet mignon...odds are you're in trouble. That's certainly true at Barone's, but depending on your appreciation for a somewhat maligned piece of seasoned pork, it might be the kind of trouble you actively search for. Nestled up in Van Nuys (sorry Valley Glen, you're still Van Nuys) and serving vaguely Italian food since 1946, Barone's is the kind of relic that serious pizzaioli scoff at, yet still manages to get four stars on Yelp thanks to a cult of followers who grew up having it force fed to them.
I'd only been to Barone's twice in the last 12 years and in my memory it was thick crust, so when I glanced at the menu they were serving "southern California's first rectangular Neopolitan style pizza," I was worried I was in the wrong place. Even more disconcerting? Neopolitan...not a word. But then I laid eyes on the pepperoni and my cares floated away on a sea of grease.
Great pizza is about quality ingredients coming together to form a sum more than its parts, right? Well, Barone's doesn't give a shit about your pathetic need for balanced pizza (or mine, apparently). They're much more interested in setting off gut bombs in the form of thick-cut pepperonis that curl up to form containment vessels for additional mounds of cheese. Did I mention they're already sitting on a king size mattress of mozzarella? It's definitely an over the top move, but it's the best decision the Barone family ever made because, unfortunately, not much else on the pie works.
For reasons I'll make clear in a moment, I'm going to quickly race through the bad. The crust is bland and crackery in taste, but in texture it's the same flaccid, pastry-like consistency I lambasted Casa Bianca for (though the burnt cheese in the corners takes home an honorable mention). There isn't much sauce to be found under the
blanket sleeping bag of cheese, but whatever red I could scrape out tasted like stewed tomatoes mixed with chunks of herbs that made zero impression. Here's the thing though: None of this criticism really matters because literally the only thing you can taste is a wall of cheese, salt, and the aforementioned steroid-enhanced pepperoni. And as boring as that combination can be, when it hits you with the force of a sledgehammer, you can't help but sit up straight, dutifully devour, and pray that the next twelve hours do not end with a heart catheterization.
To me, Barone's is the pizza equivalent of chicken strips from a greasy spoon. It's something you're not so sure about when you're eating it, or even when you're crushing any and all leftovers later in the evening, but nonetheless it's something a deplorable part of you craves days later. I wouldn't label Barone's "quality pizza", but it definitely has a direct line to my most unhealthy impulses. And while pizza that sinister isn't an oddity in the Midwest, it most certainly is in Southern California.
To be clear, this semi-endorsement applies exclusively to the pepperoni. If you did a rigorous, side-by-side molecular deconstruction of a Barone's sausage and onion pie, and a random cheeseburger, they would be completely indistinguishable. There is no discernible difference in taste between them, and considering we're talking about two radically different foods (and species of animals)...not a good sign. But rather than dwell on an unappetizing pie, I'll just go back to the other pie as I did at the restaurant. Did I mention that the pepperoni turns into cheese buckets?
Along with possibly illegal levels of saturated fat, Barone's also has the other important factor of "good" bad food. It's indestructible. You could hide a piece in Matt Damon's pocket, let it sit it there through all three of the Bourne movies, and it'll come out looking the same. It might even be warm still. To some, this might be the just another warning sign, but being able to warm up pizza two or three days later with no sign of decay is a big plus in my book.
Vegetarians, people unable to check their refined palette at the door, and anyone who refuses to order pepperoni on principle shouldn't bother, but if you're going on a pizza safari in Los Angeles, Barone's is an exotic locale that might merit a stop. Don't miss the Rat Pack impersonators Friday nights. Oh, and did I mention what they do with their pepperoni?