Los Angeles: Village Pizzeria Resists The Winds Of Change
131 N Larchmont Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90004 (map); 323-465-5566 ; villagepizzeria.net
Pizza Style: New York
Pizza Oven: Gas Deck
The Skinny: Big floppy pizzas full of cheese and grease that are great for families and less-so for pizza geeks.
Price: 14-inch Pepperoni, $12.95; slices, $2.25
A couple years ago, when HBO's (abhorrent) TV show Entourage wanted to reference the quintessential LA pizza hangout, they went with Village Pizzeria. I can't really blame them. Back before Mozza put LA on the big board and Vito re-established his dominance of the slice game, Village was on every go-to pizza list in the city (even Nancy Silverton's). Ten years ago, I was eating there once a week. Now? I check back in every six months or so when I'm recalibrating my LA pizza baselines.
So what changed?
Well, it definitely wasn't Village. It hasn't been modified since 1997 when Steve Cohen, a Brooklynite running a pizzeria in San Francisco, moved his operation down to Larchmont Village, a quaint shopping district that happens to be the nexus of all the dogs, strollers, and yoga pants in Los Angeles. Village still has the same framed photos coating the walls and the same sass from the waitstaff...all the accoutrements that make folks (mistakenly) recognize it as a "real New Yawk sorta place." And while LA's "pizza renaissance" continues to reshape the city, these folks are sending out the same pies as ever.
Village still stands a slice above a slew of LA shops, thanks to their somewhat laborious dough process. They use fresh compressed yeast, ferment their dough balls in individual steel containers, and then push the air out three separate times over the course of a day. I imagine the process is more about "this is how it's always been done" than "this is the best and most efficient way to make good dough," but the results are mostly favorable.
A yeasty undercurrent of flavor can sometimes overwhelm and the crumb is too packed in for my tastes, but the actual texture is fairly light and airy after you bite through the initial band of crunch. As is usually customary, the more color on a pizza crust, the better the taste, but as you can see I was out of practice and forgot to ask for mine well done. This is a mistake you should not make. The ends at Village can get a little doughy when the cooks are too quick on the draw.
So what about the other two basic elements in the holy pizza trinity? Like any good mom & pop shop they're dropping a thick sheet of aged mozzarella (Grande in this case). And though the slightly herby, uncooked sauce is surprisingly delicate and flavorful on its own, the tomato goes AWOL when there's a preponderance of cheese in the vicinity.
I have a documented weakness for pepperoni that curls, but I don't think anyone who likes a little pork on their pie is going to have an issue with the spicy stuff Village serves up. Even in the good old days their plain pizza was always hit or miss, but the pepperoni pie is still one of the better ones in the city. Just know that you're getting into a grease fight, and that the grease will always win. Other toppings, like the housemade sausage and meatballs are a little less reliable; I've had really delicious crumbles of perfectly seasoned sausage and I've had the bland, rubbery stuff. It's your gamble, but I'd say stick with the pep.
The big controversy among Village fans has always been their slices. There's no deli case displaying wares because because the slices come from par-baked pies. Not 80-90 percent cooked pizzas as in most slice joints—closer to 50 percent.
While the wedges aren't sitting out any longer than their siblings behind the glass at places like Vito's and Joe's, the abbreviated double-cook makes a Village slice taste vastly different than one from a full pie. They're obviously crunchier (sometimes too crunchy), but the big change is that heavier toppings like the sausage don't get to commingle with the cheese and sauce. The alchemy gets screwed up in the oven and you just end up tasting different layers that don't gel. Steve will tell you himself, you're safer just taking home a small pie.
So Village hasn't changed, but the pizza landscape got better. Does that mean I need to renounce a place that I used to cherish? Of course not, but when I enjoy a Village pizza these days, I'm aware that the bulk of the pleasure comes from nostalgia. It's the kind of shop you'd take a Little Leaguer to after a tough loss, and there's not many of those places left out here. I'll probably never stop eating at Village...but I quit going for the food a while back.
About the author: Lance Roberts is a writer in Los Angeles.