Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pizza, Pizza in Echo Park


We’ve been on the hunt for a decent Chicago-style, deep, dish pizza for a while now and this past weekend, we finally found one that sated my fancy.

Growing up, my family’s tradition was to go to a place in the desert called Paoli’s on Friday nights. The family run joint was next door to a famous gay bar and my sister and I would spend the half hour or so it took to cook our deep dish sausage pizza by sneaking outside and over the fence along the gay bar’s perimeter to try and peer into whatever holes in the wood we could find to spy on what we thought was surely a hedonistic paradise. Of course, what we typically saw were cowboy booted and vest-wearing men with funny beards and girlie drinks. By the time the pizza would arrive hot and piping, the back of my tongue would start to tweak with the tang of anticipation I knew only a Paoli deep dish could bring. The slices were the size of a plate and thick with salty, dense crust that was perfectly buttery, toast-like on the bottom and wet on the inside. The tomato sauce was spare and more like a few whole crushed tomatoes sprawled along the yeasty hills and valleys. The cheese was stringy, pure mozzarella hanging down from the teeth, lips and tongue between bites and out of control. I could never eat more than one slice but breakfasts all weekend consisted of leftovers cold.

I had real Chicago deep dish over a decade ago and couldn’t even get through one half of the slice and I also learned then and there that Paoli’s was a half-breed; not quite authentic Chicago deep dish but far removed from any other version of pizza that I had ever known.

This same bastardized deep dish is what we found in a place with a Japanese name (that actually does mean “dough”) in the beautifully artsy and blue collared neighborhood of Echo Park at Masa Bakeryand Cafe. We entered the restaurant's bowels and found a dark, low-lit, nicely padded womb that resembled my grandparents' old Southern California Brady Bunch-style home. A bar stood front and center surrounded by tables covered in both red checkered tablecloths and mint green Asian florals further punctuated into the surreal with kitschy silken flower arrangements and black and white films without sound flickering in the corners on television screens. The wait staff of pony-tailed and beard-gruffed hipsters was aplenty as they rushed around delivering bowls of steaming meatballs and liters of cheap Chianti to tables where everyone seemed to be waiting for a deep dish.

We only ordered other items from the extensive menu because we were hungry and anticipating our Italian sausage pie that would take 45 minutes, or so we were warned. This consisted of a large, bulky deconstructed Caesar bowl of loosely dressed romaine, a garlic-studded sliver of toast and bacon slices. The bread was a large, hot globe with a knife sticking out of it – homemade.

When the pizza finally came it actually tasted a lot like Paoli’s to my delight plus had a lovely disk of thin and flavorful sausage to chew apart. Sated, we carried our leftovers down the street to the car past a lovely sunset coming down over the high rise apartment buildings with everyone hanging their bits and dinnertime cooking clamor out the windows into the end of summer’s humid and pregnant, moistened air studded with juicy, dewy clouds.

It ended up being my kind of Sunday supper and I even got leftovers for breakfast the next morning.

P.S. We didn’t anticipate Masa having a liquor license or anything beyond cheap Italian wines to soak up the robust red foods so we stopped for a happy hour glass at City Sip down the block beforehand. The slate consisted of some nice bold reds and I had the Rioja. The Cute Gardener got to a try a Testarossa pinot that had been on his list. But the star was our happy hour five-dollar caprese slider dish which came with two small versions on the traditional Italian starter only slid between two grilled, crunchy baguette slices.

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