Dining review: A buyer's market for pizza lovers

Now that Thanksgiving is over and Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are upon us, evenings are likely to be filled with gift wrapping, project making, holiday concerts and school pageants. It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's also the busiest and the most bank-account-emptying.

What to do for dinner on these hectic nights? Pizza is easy. Let me suggest a pizza option you may not have heard of. Gardenia Market in La Crescenta has the best $5.99 large, one-topping pie around.

You do have to pick up the pizza, but Gardenia Market is freeway close (at the 210 Freeway's Pennsylvania offramp) and it's a fun place to visit. Besides the requisite convenience store beverages and snacks, this little mini-mall spot has an eclectic collection of international foods and hard-to-find spirits, like soju and cachaca. But the best thing about Gardenia Market is its owner, Raymond Cherfane, and his girlfriend, Adrina. Always in a good mood, they'll happily assist or maybe tease you, brightening your frazzled holiday nerves.

The pizzas are just a little bit different from the big-brand kind. The crust is thin, similar to a Lebanese manaish, which is no surprise since they also serve small lahme baajin and zaatar pies ($1.39 to $2.28). The pizza is definitely Italian-style, though, with a tangy tomato sauce and lots of mozzarella.

The pepperoni is good and spicy and crisps up when baked. They have all the standard toppings (sausage, peppers, onions, etc.) with each extra topping costing $1.50. If you're feeling extravagant, try one of their specialty pizzas. The Buffalo Chicken ($13.99, large) with chicken, buffalo sauce, onion and parsley is a winner.

One other item worth mentioning is the Gardenia Sub. Marinated mushrooms, artichokes and tomatoes commingle with gooey cheeses, pepperoncinis and house dressing on a toasted foot-long French bun that's crispy on the outside, warm and soft on the inside ($5.99). There are meat subs, too, but you may want to go to an Italian deli for those. The garden salad ($5.99, large) is nothing more than pizza toppings (mushrooms, tomatoes, olives) on iceberg lettuce, but it is generous.

They have a few homemade specialties for sale at the market: olives, hummus, garlic sauce and addictive pita chips with seasonings like wild thyme, barbecue and lemon herb. Their lunch specials are hard to beat as well — $3.99 for two slices of pizza and a fountain drink. My teenage son is planning to come here with a couple of friends. For $2 each they can split an entire large pizza.

So consider putting Gardenia's phone number in your contact list, and the next time you're buzzing around town call in a couple of pizzas to go. Your family and your wallet will thank you.

LISA DUPUY has reviewed more than 100 area restaurants. She welcomes comments at LDupuy@aol.com.

What: Gardenia Market Deli & Pizzeria

Where: 4121 Pennsylvania Ave., La Crescenta

When: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed Sunday

Cost: Pizzas, $5.99 to $17.99; Lebanese manaish, $1.39 to $2.28; subs, $5.99 to $6.99

Contact: (818) 957-7803; www.gardeniamarket.com

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