L.A.’s next pastry sensation marries French onion soup and pizza
Some foods warrant a loud burst of expletives. The first bite of fried chicken at Willie Mae’s. Nancy Silverton’s focaccia di recco at Chi Spacca. Genet Agonafer’s doro wat pinched between injera. It’s unavoidable.
We all have those dishes that prompt a “holy s—, that’s good.” And sometimes, the very best stuff gets an extra “WTF!”
Cipollina Catanese and Sfincione Palermitano from Funke
“It was so satisfying and simple and one of the most amazing things in Italy,” he said during a recent call. “I ate it and was like, what the f— is this?”
It was a buttery, flaky pastry stuffed with mozzarella, tomato and ham. And it was something he knew he had to make for his new restaurant.
The Funke version is served as a golden square of dough folded into a loose envelope. When it hits the table, the smell of butter is all encompassing. It’s the kind of pastry that gets everywhere, with an extra crisp, puffy croissant-like dough that explodes on contact.
“I worked really heavily with Shannon [Swindle] to get it to the right flakiness,” he said, referencing the restaurant’s pastry chef. “I love croissant like nobody’s business and I like the ones that when you eat them, there is shrapnel that comes off.”
As designed, there’s plenty of shrapnel to collect with your fingers.
Inside is a molten tomato sauce buttressed with a sun-dried tomato paste Funke imports from Sicily, wild oregano and sweet onion. It melds with a blend of cheeses that includes Ragusano, a piquant Italian cow’s milk cheese and a smoked Scamortza that tastes like a super concentrated, smokey mozzarella.
Imagine your favorite flaky croissant, served hot, filled with French onion soup pizza.
But when Funke first opened the restaurant in early May, no one ordered it.
“I just started sending it out compliments to people,” he said. “Same story when I first started making cacio e pepe in ’08. Now we sell out every night. It’s wild. So simple and familiar but you don’t know what the f— this thing is.”
Order one and decide for yourself. Then insert your favorite expletive here.
Cacio e pepe is everywhere. How this simple Italian dish with four ingredients became the dish of the moment.
Like the cipollina Catanese and the various pastas on his menu, the sfincione Palermitano was inspired by something Funke fell in love with in Italy and wanted to preserve.
This sfincione, which means sponge, is the closest I’ve come to the best pizza I’ve ever tasted. It was made by a Caserta chef named Francesco Martucci at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas earlier this year. Steamed, fried and baked, Martucci’s dough was at first crisp, then disappeared like cotton candy. He topped it simply with roasted cherry tomato, capers, olives, oregano, garlic and anchovy.
Funke’s sfincione has a similar texture, with a dough that starts crisp then fades into an airy pillow. Inspired by a sfincione rosso he had in Sicily, Funke serves his bread with a tomato and onion sauce, shaved Ragusano and Sicilian provolone, wild oregano and breadcrumbs.
He paints the unbaked dough with a thin layer of the sauce, then again with more sauce before the bread is finished for service, fusing the now jammy tomato to the dough. The cheeses are salty and racy. The entire surface is covered in breadcrumbs intended as an “exclamation point” for the dish.
“I wanted the breadcrumbs to be rowdy,” he said.
To make them, he pulverizes day-old pizza dough and fries the crumbs in olive oil with a smashed clove of garlic.
Funke calls this sfincione a labor of love. A dish so special it deserves a fitting presentation.
“We serve it on a pedestal,” he said.
Really, it comes on a pedestal. As it should.
The Special pizza from Schellz Pizza Co.
Schellz Pizza Co. is another COVID lockdown pan pizza side-hustle success story that resulted in a brand new style of pizza called Hokkaidough.
During the first weeks of March 2020, Michael Schell and his wife, Bohan Li, started making sourdough pizzas out of their downtown loft for themselves and friends. Without their knowledge, a friend created a fake Yelp profile for Schell’s pizzas under the name Schellz Pizza Hole. The profile managed to attract the attention of Eater L.A. editor Farley Elliott.
“I didn’t know who he was, but he got in touch with me and I made him a pizza,” Schell said. “He wrote about us and he told me to keep doing it if I felt like I had a passion for it. That really had an impact on me.”
After the encouragement and media coverage, Schell decided to turn his pandemic hobby into a business. He set up a Toast account and started selling pizzas on weekends.
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“We would run down the stairs and drop them off in the alleyway,” he said. “People would just have us put pizza in the trunk of their car. That’s about as formal as it got.”
When Schell’s full-time job in enterprise sales for a cybersecurity business picked up in 2021, he shut down the weekend pizza business, but continued to work on his dough and make pizza for friends. Inspired by a pre-pandemic trip to Japan and some harsh words from his wife’s uncle about his sourdough, Schell created Hokkaidough.
“Her uncle was like, this pizza is not very good,” he said with a laugh “My sourdough may have been a little too sour.”
Schell took some bread-making classes and settled on a poolish method that involves adding a pre-ferment to his dough. The result was something close to the texture of the shokupan he’d eaten in Hokkaido.
“I accidentally put too much sugar in one day and here we are,” he said. “I might have been drinking, making the dough. That one really stood out and that’s the version that we have today.”
After a few pop-ups last summer, Schell and Li started selling their Hokkaidough pizzas and loaves of bread out of a rented kitchen space in Hyde Park in December.
Despite the appearance of browned edges around the pizza, the bottom remains a pale golden. It has the familiar milky, buttery, rich quality of shokupan, but it’s more squishy than soft. The texture made me think of a children’s plush toy or cartoon pizza. A hunk of Flintstonian dough.
The Special pizza features the same toppings as Schell’s first pandemic pizza, but with the Hokkaidough crust in place of the sourdough. It’s crowded with smoky bacon, chopped pepperoni, roasted pineapple, jalapeño, serrano, sliced red onion and fresh garlic. Schell uses a small torch to add some extra color to the pizza before he closes the box and hands it over.
If you prefer a crispier pie, you can nudge the pizza toward its full potential with a couple of minutes in the air fryer or oven. But if you want to go full squish, Li suggests putting the pizza in the microwave when you get home. That’s how she likes it.
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