North Hollywood, California: Pitfire Artisan Pizza
Editor's Note: Meet Lara Bowman, previously known around these parts as leebo. Lara's joining us with pizza dispatches from the Los Angeles area. Give her a warm welcome!
Pitfire Artisan Pizza
Inspired by the rustic pizzas they found in Northern California, Pitfire Pizza co-owners Paul Hibler and David Sanfield opened their first branch in North Hollywood in 1997. They have since expanded to three additional locations in West Los Angeles, downtown, and Culver City. With the motto "Slow food, fast", they strive for simplicity, focus on quality, and specialize in wood-fired pizzas, pastas, salads, and paninis. After hearing several friends rave about their pizzas, I was eager to check them out.
On my first visit to their original location in the NOHO Arts District, I was drawn to the large outdoor seating area, which features a communal fire pit and ping-pong table. The restaurant is a friendly neighborhood spot, with seasonal specials, casual order-at-the-counter service, and speedy table delivery. Their drink selection includes vintage cane-sugar sodas, homemade seasonal lemonades and sangria, as well as artisanal beer and wine. The open kitchen boasts an impressive Mugnaini oven that burns a combination of red oak and fruit woods such as apple and cherry.
High quality ingredients are a focus of the Pitfire menu. The pizza sauce is made from tomatoes grown in Modesto, and all of the produce is organic and sourced from local growers whenever possible. They use a semi-dry mozzarella from Wisconsin, as well as locally-made fresh mozzarella and burrata. The sausage is made daily at The Original Farmers Market and the pepperoni and salumi are handmade by Zoe's Meats in San Francisco.
I started with the Margherita, which had a deep but very pleasant smoky flavor from the wood-fired oven. The thin crust (somewhere between Neapolitan and New York style) was crispy and lightly chewy, yet tender to the bite—the happy result of the dough's slow two-day rise and gentle handling. It only took one bite for me to realize that this is one of the tastiest crusts that I've ever encountered in Los Angeles. As for the sauce, it was minimally seasoned and fresh tasting. The fresh mozzarella did not disappoint, and the basil was particularly sweet. Each element was well proportioned, and as a whole, the pizza was well balanced.
Next on my list was the Burrata, Pitfire's most popular pizza. This unique pie consists of burrata cheese, tomato sauce, wild arugula, caramelized onion, hazelnut, and pesto drizzle. I admit that I was a bit worried about the salad greens, but after seeing these pies flying out of the kitchen, I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, all the disparate flavors in this pie didn't really come together for me. The greens could have used a touch more seasoning, and the cheese, while fabulously creamy, was a little bland. My pie was very light on onions, hazelnuts, and pesto, which all might have served to make this pie special.
My final and favorite pie was the Field Mushroom pizza. Beautifully constructed with Fontina cheese, crème fraiche, roasted shiitakes and flat leaf parsley, I found this pizza to be perfectly balanced and seriously craveable. The earthy mushrooms played very well with the nutty but mild Fontina, and the parsley provided a lovely note of freshness. On their website, the Pitfire folks define pizza as "a crispy, golden, circle of deliciousness with aspirations of divinity." I must say, that mushroom pie is pretty divine.
I'll definitely be returning for another mushroom pizza, as well as the chance to try some of Pitfire's fall specials. Pumpkin pizza? Roasted potato, bacon, and radicchio pizza? Merguez, spinach, and feta? Yes, please.