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Three spectacular pizzerias I hope will stick around

The Patate from La Morra Pizzeria in Beverly Grove.
The Patate — topped with potatoes, raclette and other cheeses and rosemary — from La Morra Pizzeria in Beverly Grove.
(Bill Addison/Los Angeles Times)

“Numbers 22, 26, 24,” calls out one of the staff members at Elio’s Wood Fire Pizza. She stands at the front of a tent set up in the parking lot of Circle H Markets & Liquor; it’s on the stretch of Sunset Boulevard where Echo Park meets Silver Lake. Boxes filled with pizzas line a table. Two dozen or so masked-up customers stand around the setup. We shift to keep our distance as our numbers are called and we collect our pies.

Eleodoro “Elio” Lopez mans the twin domed wood-burning ovens. He tosses in a log and transfers pizzas from one blazing inferno to the other even hotter one to finish cooking. Once they’re speckled and charred, he reaches in with the peel and delivers them straight to the waiting box, a smoky comet’s tail streaking behind him.

Lopez slides out a pie topped with sausage and peppers, and his crew member adds some finishing blobs of burrata. Number 30. That’s mine.

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Alone in my car, I sanitize my hands and tear right in. The fringe of the crust smells of campfire; the burrata has cooled the nicely set center of the pizza enough that I don’t burn my mouth. Meat is strewn generously, slivers of peppers still have a bit of crunch and the sauce is concentrated and savory: Spectacular pizza tastes like a fresh miracle every time.

The meet-the-moment ingenuity of pop-ups and street vendors — chefs unanchored by permanent spaces, cooking mind-opening and often deeply personal food — continue to feed Los Angeles even in the direst days of the pandemic. The social media algorithms that hold sway over my diet have led me to one superb pizza after another lately. In last week’s newsletter I mentioned Dough Daddy, probably the finest Detroit-style square (including its canonical veneer of cheddary Wisconsin brick cheese) I’ve had outside Detroit. I just kept following the pizza trails this week.

Lopez has built his following over the last couple of years; people would stand in huddled lines stretching down the breadth of the parking lot and beyond. Likewise, I once crowded into Tabula Rasa Bar on Wednesdays for La Morra Pizzeria, the mobile operation run by Zach Swemle and Marlee Blodgett. Swemle had built the oven he hauled on a trailer himself.

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The couple powered through evolving pandemic strategies for their business. They delivered frozen pizzas. Coffee shops and restaurants hosted them for one-off events all over the metro area. Last month, they at last settled themselves into a slim space with a takeout window at 8022 West 3rd Street in Beverly Grove. You can walk up or order ahead.

La Morra’s Margherita is the splendor I remember from the Great Before: crust salty along its freckled lip, sauce brightly sweet, the heart of the pizza barely soupy in the Neapolitan style.

Other ingredient groupings are always in flux: The Patate is wonderful, a pie tiled with soft-crisp potatoes; a combination of raclette, panna and Parmigiano-Reggiano for mitigated funk; and rosemary as an exclamation point. Pies come with potent garlic oil, but there’s also a riff on chile crisp that adds a complex liquid fire.

Ignore the Google hours that need updating: The window is open Wednesday through Saturday, 6 to 9 p.m.

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Slices of the Red Top and the Golden Fleece pizzas from Quarter Sheets Pizza Club based in Glendale.
(Bill Addison/Los Angeles Times)

Food writer friend Stephanie Breijo pointed me to Quarter Sheets Pizza Club, run by Aaron Lindell and Hannah Ziskin out of their home in Glendale. Lindell, a Michigan native, labels his rectangular pan pies as “Glendale’s #1 least authentic Detroit style pizza.” Its lightness resembles sfincione, the Sicilian variation on focaccia that Motor City’s pizza tradition is sometimes theorized to have derived from. Red Top brings the baseline goodness; the cheese that is bordering the pie has caramelized into the crust but isn’t cooked to carbon. Lindell rests a garland of basil in one corner of the pizza, for scattering leaves over as you wish.

The special this week: the Golden Fleece, on which black olives, feta, oregano and onion join tomato sauce and mozzarella. An homage to Detroit’s Greektown, maybe? Regardless, it’s very satisfying.

I lit up when I saw Ziskin’s name. I reviewed the restaurant where she was pastry chef, M. Georgina in Row DTLA, a year ago before the pandemic; I had thought about her unflinchingly tart lime posset and her custardy chocolate tart decorated with preserved lemon, pistachio and a tiny peak of tarragon meringue.

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There are echoes of those jewels in the desserts she makes for Quarter Sheets. She makes a beautiful three-tiered slice of cake layered with olive oil chiffon, passion fruit curd and vanilla-bay leaf cream and an individual-sized chocolate cream pie with brown sugar whipped cream. Be sure to let the cake come to room temperature before you devour it: The textures and flavors all seem to lean into one another, sighing.

Ziskin also operates an Instagram-based bakery called House of Gluten. I’m eyeing a cake with this description: “Blood orange chiffon cake soaked in mixed citrus with Meyer lemon curd, candied citrus and vanilla bean-olive oil buttercream.”

If you have more recommendations for pizza or bakery pop-ups, email me at bill.addison@latimes.com.

Lunch with Costa Mesa’s Knife Pleat on Jan. 31

This is a benefit for meal delivery nonprofitProject Angel Food. Tickets are $95 per person, with a minimum of two tickets per household.

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The next installment in the Times’ Dinner Series moves the action to daytime: Chef Tony Esnault and restaurateur Yassmin Sarmadi of Costa Mesa’s Knife Pleat will host a four-course lunch to be picked up and reheated at home. “Ivory soup” (a purée of sunchokes, celery and leeks with winter truffle), sea bream with fennel and olives and a citrus pavlova for dessert are on the menu. The event, on Jan. 31 at 1:30 p.m., includes a virtual live conversation with actors Eric McCormack and Dan Bucatinsky.

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— Jenn also shows love for Konbi’s egg salad sandwich in our latest “What We’re Into” video.

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Buddha's hand tart, made with Buddha's hand citrus.
Buddha’s hand tart, made with Buddha’s hand citrus.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)


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