Mother Dough: Is "Good" Good Enough in Los Angeles?
4648 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90027 (map); 323-644-2885; motherdoughpizza.com
Pizza Style: Neapolitan
Pizza Oven: Stefano Ferrara wood
The Skinny: Great toppings on a so-so pie in a nostalgic setting.
Price: Margherita, $15; Wood-Roasted Vine Tomatoes, $17; Prosciutto and Arugula, $19
Mother Dough opened a year and a half ago in Los Feliz, around the same time as their biggest competition in the L.A. Neapolitan scene, Sotto. But while Sotto's chefs, Zach and Steve, are taking a well-deserved victory lap, Bez Compani's pizzeria is still flying under the radar—even while collecting raves. Westside bias definitely plays a role in that, but I think the larger reason for the lower profile is Compani's unwavering vision. At Mother Dough you're going to pay handsomely for an exacting pizza, so the question becomes whether his version of a great pizza matches up with yours.
I get the sense that many Slice'rs have cooled to the notion of a "pizza nazi," but I still have a very soft place in my heart for the uncompromising pizzaiolo, a trait Bez embodies (while still being exceedingly charming and accessible). Compani makes every ounce of dough himself, six days a week, and that's before stretching, topping, and cooking every single pie sent out singlehandedly. I don't think the staff even gets to touch the dough balls. He's so particular about his crust that that he once closed the shop for the better portion of a week when the sourdough "mother dough" starter he spent years cultivating needed first aid. And if your guess is that he splurged for the Stefano Ferrara oven, or that he doesn't allow substitutions, or that he sends your pizza out uncut as they do in Naples...well, you'd be right.
With all that build-up, you're probably wondering what it tastes like. Drum roll...it tastes like Neapolitan. Good Neapolitan. The crust is a smidge different each time, as you'd expect from naturally leavened dough, but the default version is delicate yet supple with a nice balanced ratio of tang-to-char. I like a hint more puff and moisture in my cornicione, but I suppose crust preference is an issue between you and your maker. I've also had the occasional drier pie with a slightly flaky texture that collapsed like a soufflé from a simple squeeze, but even at its supposed worst, Mother Dough has more flavor and panache than most shops in LA.
Compani has purposely made his crust the centerpiece by selecting six simple, classic combinations that highlight his dough, but toppings aren't exactly an afterthought. The only mozzarella he'll grace a pizza with is the pricier bufala, and he opts to import San Marazanos instead of jumping on the West coast trend of sourcing California tomatoes. Even the prosciutto gets traced back to San Daniele, Italy. However, two seems to be the maximum number of toppings allowed (beyond the sauce/cheese/basil/sea salt/oil basics), and most often that number is one, or none in the case of the Marinara.
The Margherita is very good, which isn't a surprise given the quality ingredients. It's balanced with precision and I wouldn't hesitate to order it again or even recommend it, but at the same time it's not one of those special Margheritas that gets singed into your taste buds for all of eternity. More memorable is the Oven-Roasted Vine Tomatoes pie. The seasoned tomatoes literally burst when when you poke a knife through them, and—big surprise—they pair exceedingly well with the bufala. But like on all of the pizzas, the flavors never overwhelm the crust. You're tasting the rich flavor of the dough throughout the pie, not just at the ends.
Even the stalwart prosciutto and arugula pie, usually a savory overload, is restrained here. There's plenty of flavor coming from the prosciutto, but it's cut so thin that it starts to melt in your mouth before it weighs down the rest of the pie. Please be clear, this is not a bad thing. And though I'm the sucker who'll drop a Jackson for a great Margherita, $18 for a sausage pie could be pushing it, even if it's the fairly distinctive whisky fennel variant that Mother Dough serves.
The purist philosophy put forth by Anthony Mangieri hooked me when I first dove into pizza (and continues to whenever I make it back to San Francisco), but Neapolitan seems to be evolving towards more experimentation with toppings. Mother Dough serves a zucchini pizza that Kelly Bone digs, but beyond that, all the pizzas are greatest hits. There's no signature pies like a Rosa, an Amore oi Mari or...what seems like half of the pies on Paulie Gee's extensive menu. Is it unfair to ding Compani for sticking with his authentic expression of pizza? I think it is. And yet I always leave Mother Dough wanting a little more "something." The pies are way too good to be boring, but sometimes I feel like you can get lost in the subtleties.
Still, there are worse things than letting a maniacal doughhead who spends most of their life in the kitchen cook your pie, and Compani, a Londoner who fell in love with pizza in Italy and decided to share that feeling with Los Angeles, clearly fits that bill. He's a great torchbearer for the Neapolitan ideal, but I think he's got the potential to be even more, and in time I think he'll make the leap. Until then I guess we're going to have to put up with some of the best pizza in Los Angeles.
About the author: Lance Roberts is a writer in Los Angeles. He recommends the new Grizzly Bear album, Shields.