Santa Monica, CA: Milo and Olive
Milo and Olive
2723 Wilshire Blvd Santa Monica, CA 90403 (map)
Pizza style: Artisan bakery
Oven type: Wood Fire
The skinny: A hardy baker's crust of mixed flour, baked at 600-700°F for 10 minutes. Incredibly bold toppings. Open for two months, but already a landmark pizzeria in Los Angeles.
Price: Pizzas range from $14-$20; the single garlic knot is $6.50 (totally worth it)
The official Slice Regional Pizza Styles list has a glaring hole. Everyone in Los Angeles knows what I'm talking about. Until this point, it has never seemed right to give a single restaurant (ahem, Mozza) its own classification. But when the brilliant baker Zoe Nathan and husband Josh Lobe, of Huckelberry fame, fired up a Mugnaini oven and began serving pizza at Milo and Olive, the artisan bakery style proved it is here to stay.
The Butternut Squash pizza with fresh mozzarella, thick hunks of roasted squash, and knots of deeply caramelized onion ($18) is the crowd favorite. It's finished with sage, brown butter, and an egg, those these elements are difficult to discern through the mega bold presence of the squash and onions. Personally, I found this pizza's oily sweetness overbearing, but I've yet to find a single person who agrees with me. Interestingly, all Milo and Olive egg-topped pizzas are "party cut" to avoid breaking the yolk. This leaves an egg laden, crustless square in the middle of the plate to fight over—a good or bad thing depending on the taste of the company you keep.
The artisan bakery style, notable for the complex flavors of its rustic crust, was born from the baker's tradition, where the focus is the dough. At Milo and Olive, it's a blend of whole wheat, rye, wheat germ, and bread flour with a dried yeast starter and 48 hour ferment that distinguishes their pizzas. Baked at 600-700°F for 10 minutes, the outer ridge—which accounts for about a third of this pie—blooms into a tall open hole structure. Washed in good olive oil, the crackly crust is filled with a delicate white web of bread; a perfect model of what every baker strives for in their fresh boules. At times the olive oil is overwhelming—making the crust overly greasy—and the underside of the pizzas tend to be underdone, but the stout nutty flavors of the curst remain spot-on.
Milo and Olive's small dining room and inevitably long wait makes takeout a good option. I found the texture of the crust improved with a reheat in my oven. With the excess oil absorbed by the pizza box and the crisping-up of the underside from baking directly on the oven rack, the few quarrels I have with the crust while dining in the restaurant were alleviated.
I resisted the Mixed Mushroom pizza ($20) at first. Both for it's price tag and because mushrooms are not a favorite of mine. But now this is my go-to pie. Not because the mushrooms are just-plucked-from-the-earth fresh (and they are), or because the grassy funk of the buttery Fontina entices (and it does), or because the scattering of aromatic thyme leaves accents each bite (and they do)—but because all these elements collaborate to create a refined boldness. No single element overpowers the other, yet each stands out distinctly. Balanced on the underlying nuttiness of the crust, beneath a dusting of tissue paper thin shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano, this pizza will win over any skeptical eater. Like me.
But the glory of this pizza oven is the unassuming Wood Fired Garlic Knot ($6.50). It kicks every other garlic knot to the curb. A round of pizza dough is stuffed with whole, roasted garlic cloves and literally tied up into a softball sized purse. Basted in extra virgin olive oil and cooked for 15 minutes, the interior remains tender while the outside hardens to a chewy shell. It's hard to believe it's not deep fried. The intact, still slightly crisp, nuggets of garlic carry none of the sharp please-don't-kiss-me flavor. Instead they are transformed into a savory essence of warmth that will keep me coming back for more and more.
About the author: After nearly a decade in Brooklyn, Kelly Bone landed back in Los Angeles where she writes The Vegetarian Foodie. She spends the rest of her time designing office cubicles... you might be sitting in one right now! Follow her on Twitter at @TheVegFoodie