New York Pizza: Hold the Attitude

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Who'd have pegged Cathy Moriarty for a nurturer? As an actress she specializes in comic, seductive tough dames with hearts of brass and voices that could blister paint. But nine years ago, in conjunction with James Caan, she opened Mulberry Street Pizzeria in Beverly Hills, and a few years after that she opened another in Encino and then a second Beverly Hills place.

They turn out to be warmhearted hangouts for New York ex-pats in need of a serious thin-crust slice. The second Beverly Hills branch is relatively roomy (reached down a rather long corridor from Beverly Drive); the one in Encino is the sort of neighborhood storefront where somebody wearing sandals might stride in, an issue of Daily Variety in hand, and bark out, "Two cheese slices, not too hot, and a diet Pepsi," on his way to a table.

All the pizzerias have lots of showbiz stuff on the walls, but the original Beverly Hills branch is positively crusted with signed movie posters, head shots of Moriarty's actor friends and laudatory graffiti. Outside it, beautiful people are strolling around on Canon Drive; inside, fuhgeddaboudit: This is a down-home New York dive that just happens to be decorated with countless Hollywood autographs.

As for the food, the basic pizza has a good chewy, flavorful thin crust. The plain cheese slice is perfectly OK, but get it with pepperoni. This is terrific pepperoni: really spicy and garlicky, with the strong, insinuating, concentrated flavor of a well-aged sausage.

Of course, you can also get any of the other usual toppings (50 cents each on a slice, $2 on a whole pie): sausage, meatballs, garlic, anchovies, olives, mushrooms and so on. A case displays various pizzas you can order a slice from (with or without additional toppings), and it often shows a Hawaiian pizza, topped with ham and pineapple chunks. I don't know how traditional Hawaiian pizza is in New York, but this one's better than usual, maybe because the ham is good and sliced fairly thin. You can also get an eggplant, tomato and basil pizza or a chicken parmesan pizza (chunks of white meat with cheese and tomato sauce). The spinach white cheese model is mostly ricotta with a couple of spinach leaves on it; light, but I'm not quite convinced it's a good idea.

On the other hand, I'm totally convinced about the lasagna pizza, which looks like a giant archery target--concentric circles of ricotta and tomato sauce sprinkled with crumbled sausage. It's light and flavorful, like a lasagna with a fresh bread flavor, and you can pick up and eat without a fork. This one hits the bull's-eye.

There are a couple of basic Italian sandwiches ("wedges") with sausage and peppers or meatballs: three big, rather loose-textured meatballs with lots of tomato sauce and melted cheese or chunks of chicken with parmesan. You can get the sausage, meatballs or chicken parmesan on rigatoni or spaghetti, a big portion two people might not be able to finish, particularly not if they've already indulged in a pizza slice. If you're really hungry, though, get a slice of the Sicilian pizza, 36 square inches of thick focaccia-like crust with two layers of cheese and one of sauce (there are nine such slices to a whole Sicilian pie).

Moriarty has joked that she started her second and third Mulberry Street Pizzerias to give jobs to more of her friends' children. But maybe the homiest thing about her restaurants is dessert, which consists solely of what the menu calls Cathy's cakes.

These are the sort of good home-style vanilla and devil's food cakes you can scarcely ever get at a restaurant: light, moist and, above all, not tarted up with too much frosting or anything else. In this age of sludgy flourless chocolate cakes, they're a breath of fresh air.

There are also two salads on the menu, but fuhgeddaboudit . If you go to a pizza joint for salad, you need help.* Mulberry Street Pizzeria, 240 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 247-8100.

347 N. Canon Drive, (310) 247-8998. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. . 240 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 247-8100. Open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to midnight Saturdays.

17040 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 906-8881. Open 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. No alcohol. Street parking. MasterCard and Visa. Pizza slices and pastas $2.25 to $9.95 (whole pies $14.95 to $25.95), cake $3.50. * What to Get: New York pizza with pepperoni, lasagna pizza, Sicilian pizza, chocolate cake.

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