The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
Bonello's New York Pizza
832 South Gaffey Street, San Pedro CA 90731 (map); 310-832-7544
Pizza style: New York–style
Oven type: Gas
The skinny: Looking for great New York–style pizza in San Pedro, California? Look no further. Ask for a half-and-half pie, and you'll see they've got a novel way of dividing the pizza. Bonello's is not a destination pizzeria, but if you're in San Pedro, you can count on a solid slice at a great price. Can't ask for much more than that.
Price: Medium sausage, $13; large, $15; extra-large, $17; sausage slices, $2.50
Pardon me while I slap myself and make sure I'm awake and not floating around in a pizza heaven fantasy. My doubts stem from the fact that I'm simply not accustomed to acknowledging positive slice experiences out here in the Greater Los Angeles area. Nevertheless, acknowledge I must.
Now, don't get me wrong. I don't mean to suggest that recent slices I've eaten will make me forget a Patsy's or Di Fara slice, but I am beginning to view the LA slice scene with considerably less contempt than before.
A while back I was cruisin' the local Chowhound board when I noticed some folks chattin' up the quality of pizza in San Pedro (that's San Pee-dro, and don't ever pronounce it with the accurate Spanish accent). Well, one Saturday afternoon I was down in San Pee-dro with a few hours to kill before a performance by jazz great Azar Lawrence, so I headed over to Bonello's New York Pizza. Located just a few blocks from the end of the 110 freeway on Gaffey Street, Bonello's rekindled misty pizza memories from my "yoot" in da Bronx. The space was limited, just three booths and a few stools lookin' out on the street, but it was comfortable and inviting like any neighborhood pizza joint should be.
Well, I stepped up to the counter and ordered a plain slice from Mr. Bonello, who came out here to Southern California from Brooklyn more than 25 years ago and who has been making pizza here since. He took a slice from a pie on the corner and laid it in the gas oven. When it was ready, I took it to the counter and looked out on the street just like I've done so often at Joe's on Bleecker in New York City (which is no longer on Bleecker, but I digress). The slice was thoroughly satisfying. The crust, thin, slightly crisp but chewy, and lightly charred, folded with a slight cracking down the middle. The mozzarella, surely a low-moisture common commercial brand, and the sauce, spicy and oregano-flavored, were tasty and nicely distributed. It was so good that I ordered another slice. Then it was time to head out for some hot jazz.
So satisfying were the slices that I just had to return soon to check out Bonello's pies. This time, Mr. Bonello's sons, Marco and John, were in charge, giving their dad some well-deserved time off. I ordered a half-sausage, half-plain pie and held my breath. I watched as Marco applied the sauce in the traditional concentric rings. After sprinkling on the pieces of mozzarella and sausage, Marco did something I'd never seen before. He formed a thin length of dough and laid it on the pie, dividing it into two halves. The moment of truth arrived in about 15 minutes. The younger generation of Bonello pizza men did their father proud, producing a solid, tasty, and completely satisfying workmanlike pie.
No artisanal toppings adorned the pie. Nor were Caputo flour or San Marzano tomatoes used. And the sausage, which consisted of somewhat odd pellet-shaped pieces, was neither fennel nor house-made. Yet somehow, the pie came together. I did forget to ask for it well-done, a routine request these days, and the pie came out paler than I prefer. Still, I left with a smile. My Bonello's experience clearly illustrated how a whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.
A perfect comparison might be the Knicks championship teams of the '70s. Reed, Frazier, Bradley, DeBusschere, and Barnett were not the greatest athletes of their day, but with the sure hand of coach Red Holzman guiding them, the team developed a winning chemistry that transcended individual talents. Similarly, the care and love the Bonello family puts into their pies results in a winning pizza combination. Bonello's is not a destination pizzeria, but if you're in San Pedro, you can count on a solid slice at a great price. Can't ask for much more than that.
Prices are extremely reasonable, especially considering the exorbitant prices charged by so many establishments without the commensurate high quality level. The pies, with sausage: medium, $13; large, $15, extra-large, $17. Slices with sausage are $2.50.