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Pizza party: hand-picked slices of O.C.’s pizza scene

Truly Pizza in Dana Point offers hearth-baked pizza and square pies sometimes known as a "grandma slice."
(Courtesy of Truly Pizza)
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Wood-fired, hand-tossed or deep dish, Orange County has never been short on pizza options. Folks Pizzeria at the Camp in Costa Mesa slings some of the most craveable pizza, and its Caesar salad is a favorite of mine, too. There are hidden gems, like the Parlor in Tustin, tucked behind a corporate office building and open for takeout from 11.a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and mysteriously closed on weekends, or the pizza at Vacation Bar in Santa Ana, which serves a Neapolitan-style pizza with deeply dialed-in dough. That’s not to mention countless pizza pop-ups, like Lunitas Pizza and Focaccia Boi.

But a slew of new pizzaiolas have come on the scene in the last year or two. Here are four of my favorite parlors to join the pizza party in Orange County, serving distinctly different styles of pizza, either by the pie or one slice at a time.

Loosies Pizza

300 E. 4th St. Ste 103, Santa Ana, (714) 760-4444

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Loosies in Santa Ana sells whole pies and "loose" slices.
Loosies in Santa Ana sells whole pies and “loose” slices.
(Courtesy of Loosies)

A trip to New York City inspired friends and Santa Ana natives Miguel Navarro Edgar Garcia, and Daniel Anguiano to bring the pizza of the Big Apple to Orange County.

“Loosies is a group effort for sure,” said Navarro.

Located in downtown Santa Ana’s east end next to the Yost Theater, Loosies Pizza offers 18-inch whole pies and single slices or “loosies” in the style of New York City’s best. That means a not-too-thick but not-too-thin crust that is crispy enough not to buckle under toppings but still pliable enough to fold for easy eating. The trio keeps it simple with red sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni cups, the kind that curl and crisp with a tiny pool of meat juice in the center when baked, dotting the pepperoni slice. Red sauce, mozzarella, mushroom, bell pepper, red onion, black olives and Italian sausage crowd my top pick, the supreme pizza.

Loosies are all under $5, and the tight menu offers Caesar and Caprese salads as the only alternatives to pie along with classic New York black and white cookies.

There are soft drinks and beer, and the shop has a few stools, patio seating and walls decorated with skateboard decks and framed pictures of celebrities. It’s a mix of what the three friends are all into, Navarro said, and the exact type of relaxed atmosphere they were going for when they opened in 2022.

“It’s such an awesome experience to be able to pull up and grab a loosie or pie with the homies,” said Navarro, “We just wanted to provide a spot where you can hangout and enjoy some pizza.”

Loosies is open for dine-in, take out and late night too, closing at midnight on Friday and Saturday. Pizza bonus: Derek Bracho’s pop-up concept, Focaccia Boi, takes over the kitchen every Wednesday, serving heavenly focaccia bread pizza from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Sugo

675 Paularino Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 852-3580

Roman-style pizza at Sugo in Costa Mesa.
(Courtesy of Wales Communications)

Italian chef Sandro Nardone began making pizza in Orange County in 2012 and continues at Bello by Sandro Nardone in Newport Beach in 2019. Now he has turned his attention to pizza al taglio, or “pizza by the cut,” a style he grew up with in Atina, Italy, located between Rome and Naples.

“In Rome, it’s a very famous concept, and I wanted to bring this Pizza Romana to Costa Mesa,” said Nardone.

Sugo, Italian slang for sauce, has been open for just a few months and only serves Roman-style pizza, made from a dough Nardone developed based on a recipe from Corrado Dimarco.

“Due to the high hydration, the quality and mix of flours make the dough airy, light and crispy,” said Nardone. “It’s cooked at a lower temperature than our Napoletana-style pizza that I make at our sister restaurant, Bello.”

When you walk into the fast-casual concept, the rectangular pizzas wait behind glass to be selected and then sent into the oven on the small sheet pan they are served on. Some slices are traditional, like Margherita with tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil. Others are more creative, like the ono, piled with roasted pineapple, smoked mozzarella, Spam and pickled Fresnos or a Japanese pie, topped with sauteed mushrooms, mozzarella, bonito flakes, sliced porchetta and miso kewpie sauce. All are delicious, with a crunchy base and complex flavor combinations. There is even a sweet slice, slathered with Nutella and assorted fruit.

While the spot is casual with a few tables outside, Nardone said you can expect quality.

“Even though Sugo is a fast-casual establishment, I’m introducing high-end ingredients like fresh truffles, uni, bottarga (dry mullet roe) and more, giving it a step up in terms of experience.”

You can order online for pick-up at Sugo until 11p.m. during the week and 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Gibroni’s

555 N. El Camino Real Ste. E, San Clemente, (949) 312-2042

Gibroni’s serves pizza baked in traditional Detroit-style pans.
Gibroni’s serves pizza baked in traditional Detroit-style pans.
(Courtesy of Gibroni’s)

Gibroni’s began as a pop-up in San Clemente, where Tony and Lindsey Gioutsos’ Detroit-style pizza developed quite a following. The grand opening of their brick-and-mortar shop on May 17 resulted in a long line wrapped around the building that started cuing up for dinner as early as 3 p.m.

“It’s the community,” said Lindsey. “We definitely wanted to open here, both my children were born in this town, the fact that we can walk here, we really wanted to stay in town.”

Tony was born and raised in Detroit and taught himself how to make the pizza of his youth, baked in authentic blue-steel pans from the automotive industry for crispy corners just like Detroit pizza icon Gus Guerra made. During the pandemic the couple sold pizza out of their home, two nights a week. Once things opened up again, Tony traveled to Detroit to train with professional Detroit-style pizza-makers who helped him refine his recipe. After a stint doing a kitchen take over at JD’s Kitchen & Bar in San Clemente, the Gioutsos finally have a space of their own with a full bar, arcade, live music and even some hard-to-source items from the Motor City, like Faygo soda. Salads, pastas and wings are on the menu too, but the pizza is the headliner.

Gibroni’s 8-inch by 10-inch pizzas are sliced in four and made with a thick Sicilian dough, with cheese all the way to the edge and sauce on top.

“We call it a butter crust,” said Tony. “The corner slice is the best.”

The corners are where the cheese and toppings caramelize to create satisfying crunch while the middle remains soft and chewy. “From the D” is the original Detroit pizza topped with double pepperoni, Parmesan cheese and complex marinara sauce. There are more sophisticated pies too, like the “Fun Guys!” topped with crimini mushroom, sausage and a porcini cream sauce finished with white truffle oil, or the Greektown, which showcases Tony’s Greek heritage with gyro meat, red onions, feta cheese, grape tomatoes, fresh dill and a drizzle of tzatziki.

Seating is available at the bar, on the patio and at high top tables around the dance floor. A small stage features local bands and even karaoke on some nights. The bar and lounge is for ages 21 and over after 8:30 p.m., but you can order Gibroni’s online for pick-up or delivery Thursday through Monday.

Truly Pizza

24402 Del Prado Ave., Dana Point, (949) 218-8220

The Truly White topped with creamy onion and garlic sauce and guindilla peppers.
(Courtesy of Truly Pizza)

World Pizza Champion teammates John Arena and Chris Decker opened Truly Pizza in Dana Point last summer, using their award-winning pizza-making skills to create a two distinct styles of pizza.

“We have a round and a square pizza. The round is a more traditional, thinner New York style with our own Truly twist; a beautiful cornicione with the micro-blistered crust gives it a crispy exterior with a chewy interior,” said Decker, who is also head pizzaiolo.

The square pizza, sometimes referred to as a “grandma slice” is deceptively light and airy with a great crumb structure.

“We took the properties we love about the Sicilian, Detroit and Grandma-style pizza and combined them to make our square,” said Decker.

Earlier this year, Truly kitchen manager Sergio Balderas took home the grand prize in the traditional pizza category at the 2024 International Pizza Expo, and the team is always coming up with something new. A favorite 12-inch round is the Truly White with creamy onion and garlic sauce with melty caciocavallo and mozzarella plus indulgent stracciatella, all cut with the brine and spice of guindilla peppers. For the squares, I am partial to the Smoky Vodka, with house-made vodka sauce, semi-dried marinated tomatoes, mozzarella, stracciatella and a drizzle of pistachio lemon pesto to brighten the whole pie.

The restaurant feels like a piazza, bustling with activity in every area from the glassed-in kitchen and dining room to the ground level patio and upstairs terrace, all blanketed in lush lemon trees.

“Growing up in New York, I was surrounded by mom-and-pop pizzerias, and I saw what an important role those restaurants played in the community,” said Decker. “It was more than just a place to eat, it was a gathering spot to see your friends and neighbors.”

The well-rounded menu also has composed salads, wings, French fries and sandwiches served on house-baked focaccia. Save room to sample one the rotating flavors of soft serve for dessert.

As Truly comes up on its first anniversary next month, Decker said they are truly grateful.

“This first year has been a year of firsts, and we’re so appreciative of all the love and can’t wait to continue to serve all of you for years to come,” Decker said.

Truly has switched over to summer hours and is now open Wednesday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Square pizzas at Truly Pizza use a unique fermentation process for "light as feather" dough.
Square pizzas at Truly Pizza use a unique fermentation process for “light as feather” dough.
(Courtesy of Truly)
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