Los Angeles: Urbano Pizza Bar Carves Out a Niche in the Middle
Urbano Pizza Bar
630 West 6th Street Los Angeles, CA 90017 (map); 213-614-1900 ; urbanopizzabar.com
Pizza Style: Artisinal
Pizza Oven: Wood
The Skinny: Nice middle ground between fancy and filling, with good toppings and a light baker's crust
Price: Margherita, $13; Sausage, $15; Brussel Sprouts & Potatoes, $14
Pizza in Los Angeles has become kind of a high art/low art scene, and the rest of the country doesn't seem that different. It's like you're either a down and dirty slice joint or a gourmet shop pushing premium toppings at primo prices. Enter Urbano Pizza Bar, a downtown LA establishment that attempts to skirt the line between the two poles with trendy toppings and "artisan" crust, but in a more accessible package (read: slightly larger portions).
Urbano's gone through significant growing pains since they opened up under La Brea Bakery alum and Nancy Silverton accolyte Brad Winnaman. Sixteen months later, they're already on their third chef. With that said, I've enjoyed the pizza a little more with each subsequent visit. The one thing that hasn't changed since the beginning is Winnaman's dough. Though it's labeled on the site as Neapolitan-inspired, it's in shape only. The crisp exterior and airy, bready center is straight from the Pizzeria Mozza playbook—and that's not a bad thing. It doesn't have nearly as much flavor as Silverton's dough, but the thin, rigid center of the pie has enough heft to stay upright under a mound of ingredients. For those still concerned whether Mozza is "pizza" or "toppings on bread," let me assure you that Urbano is clearly the former.
First off, for all that is good and holy, if you want something simple, please go for the slightly cheaper yet much tastier NY-style (aged mozzarella) pizza over old faithful, the Margherita. There's nothing inherently wrong with the fresh mozzarella, but the aged stuff here is particularly flavorful and it works much better with the tangy tomato and the softer flavor of the dough. Urbano makes a good pie, but I'm not certain they're ready to go out "Margherita naked" into the world.
The rather bland sausage pie I had a year ago was rebooted by chef number two, Bruce Kalman, into quite the bruiser: spicy house-made spicy pork sausage, aged mozz, Calabrian chiles, (3!) eggs, and fennel pollen. I imagine the goal is to poach the eggs and not soft-boil them as they were on my pizza, but it honestly didn't affect the flavor so much. Rarely does a pizza with so many big, mallet-like flavors manage to work in concert, but on this pie everything mingled. The next time I'm hungover, this is the bad boy I'm going to be craving.
One of the newest pies, the generically-named Potato, is a variation on Motorino's famous Brussels Sprout pie. Along with the addition of fingerlings to the sprouts, they throw on thick cuts of bacon and roasted garlic over a Parmesan cream sauce. To be completely fair, I can still recall the exact taste of the real deal from a NYC trip earlier this year, so I'm a little biased, but without any fresh mozzarella the pie seemed a little dry. Much of the cream seemed to have evaporated in the cook. Things actually perk up when you catch a stray slice of potato, but there's a surprising lack of spuds considering it's supposed to be the main draw. Don't get me wrong, I like the pizza. The assorted pieces are solid, but they don't come together in every bite like you'd hope.
The one glaring issue moving forward for Urbano is something I saw SkyHighGluten mention in a Daily Slice comments section last year; the bake and texture of the three pizzas I had were all quiet different. The Margherita came out well, but the sausage pie was the victim of an overlong, uneven cook, and the Potato pie didn't have any char to infuse flavor. No doubt the difference in toppings had an effect, but after fifteen months you'd figure that the problem would be resolved. The saving grace might is the newer focus on heartier, topping-centric pies. For better or worse, Urbano is simply less about the crust now.
Going back to high and low pizza, as the Neapolitan craze fades and gourmet prices soar, I think there will be a nice sweet spot between "regular pizza" and gourmet stuff, and places like Urbano and Stella Rossa are going to become more of the norm. Pizzas at Urbano are $12-15 (it's still Los Angeles, after all), but with an extra inch or two and a couple extra slices on upper crust places like Milo and Olive and Olio, you aren't going to leave hungry. And that's a future I can get behind.
About the author: Lance Roberts is a writer in Los Angeles.