There's A Salad Atop My Slice: A Westside Pizza Story
As an NYC to LA transplant, I was prepared to be disappointed in my new city’s pizza, but I was not prepared for what sits before me: a salad atop my slice.
I’m at Abbot’s Pizza on the prime Abbot Kinney strip in Venice. This hole-in-the-wall is not some recent induction in the Westside pizza lexicon. Abbot’s has been around since 1995, and its cramped interior has the worn look of a well-loved neighborhood favorite. Its swinging door opens and shuts at such a fast pace during lunch hour that you wonder why they bother with a door at all.
But back to the giant mound of salad atop my slice, affixed by a generous layer of sour cream. If you ignore the pizza beneath it (easy to do as it’s almost impossible to see), it looks like a very nice salad with generous toppings of tomatoes, feta and a lemon olive oil dressing drizzled on top. Would it surprise you to know that the coup de grace is a line of California avocado slices running from crust to tip?
It is delicious. It is not pizza. (And don’t even get me started on the bagel crust.)
Abbot’s is not alone in its quest to combine appetizer and entree. Grey Block Pizza has salad pizza. Pitfire has salad pizza. California Pizza Kitchen has several pies that are topped with salad-like offerings. Now, I have been known to get excited about some overzealous basil sprinkling atop a wood- or coal-fired pie, but shouldn’t there be some line between appetizer and entree?
If salad-topped pizza seems harmless if a bit silly to an L.A. transplant, the pizza at GTA just down the street is worlds away. With its wood fire-singed crust and often fancy toppings (lamb sausage, truffle goat cheese, and treviso all make appearances), it might rightly be called “adult” pizza. Yet, on a day I visited with my 6-year-old, he gobbled up a 12-inch Pomodoro, simply made with a light and tangy red sauce, creamy burrata, plus a sprinkling of basil and sea salt and a dash of olive oil, like he’d never tasted pizza before.
I managed to sneak a few crackly bites while perched outside on an uncomfortable milk crate in the shop’s side alley. Speaking of, that’s one thing NYC and LA have in common: foodie hipster haunts seem to thrive on being difficult to find--who needs to have an actual sign on their restaurant?--and awkward or nonexistent seating--who needs a chair? (Yes, I realize it’s technically a takeaway, but it’s also totally not because everyone is sitting down and eating!)
But back to the pizza. The super-thin crust, especially around the middle, doesn’t always hold up to the toppings, even when the topping is just tomato sauce, cheese, and a stray basil leaf. Next door at the sit-down Gjelina, you can simply embrace the high-brow pizza for what it is and use a knife and fork, but out here in the open-air, balancing a metal plate on one knee, you’re likely to drip on your shirt, and I find it a little sad when you drip fancy, delicious pizza on your shirt. Even if I’m technically not a New Yorker anymore, I want to be able to eat my pizza while crouched in an alley or walking down the street without soiling my clothes, dammit.
And so we come to Joe’s Pizza in Santa Monica, which is as close to a pizza home as I’ve found on L.A.’s Westside. Versatility is the beauty of Joe’s, as its pizza is as delectable when eaten by the slice at one of its high-top tables a block from the beach or when ferried in a car via pickup or delivery. Can you walk with a slice towards the pier whilst jostling tourists, exotic bird pushers, and the underemployed without spilling a drop? Yes, yes you can.
But for your first time, at least, you should be sitting down. All the elements come together at Joe’s, from the subtly sweet sauce and cheese, both housemade, to the quality meat and veg toppings (a combo of sausage and mushrooms can’t be beat). It’s the crust, however, that’s the real standout and unlike anything I’ve tried in the vicinity. The crust is thin, but not paperthin, with a beautiful char underneath and just enough flavor to bring all the other ingredients together in crunch after harmonious crunch. As a recovering former New Yorker, I’m proud to call Joe’s my local pizza joint, even if I have to get into a car to drive there. See, I’m adapting just fine, thank you.