Benjamin Franklin may have believed wine (yes, turns out he meant wine, not beer) was proof God loves us and wants us to be happy, but a pretty strong case could also be made for pizza.
And Pizzanista! is proof LA has amazing pizza. Inventive recipes, fresh, quality ingredients, and a passion for food are just a few reasons people make pizza pilgrimages to Pizzanista! from all over the world. One of the three owners, Price Latimer, a formally-trained artist, world traveller, and true pizzanista, gives us slices of wisdom about making the best homemade pie.
Pizzanista! blessed LA with two locations, one in a gorgeous circa 1912 building downtown and the other in a (one year older) 1911 Craftsman bungalow in Long Beach. It’s the brainchild of three wildly interesting people, none of whom came from the culinary world. You’ve got Salman Agah, a pro skateboarder, and the Latimer siblings, Price, an art consultant, and her brother, Robert W. “Roby,” an investor. Through months of trial and error, baking pizza after pizza, adjusting the sauce a little here, baking the crust a little less there, finding the perfect mix of mozzarella, Pizzanista! was born. It is one of the few places in Los Angeles where you can order by the slice. Big, perfectly triangular, slices. Or buy the whole pizza.
“I’ve been obsessed with cooking and eating my entire life, but I’m not a baker,” Price explains, “so we hired our friend who is this very well known Italian chef in town [Chef Steve Samson] and he’s incredibly knowledgeable about crust and Italian food in general. He also taught us how to make dough.” It wasn’t that simple: he didn’t just hand them a recipe. “We did probably three or four months of taste testing and R&D. Three, four times a week we’d have our friends come by and ask ‘Do you like this crust, this has more yeast, this has more water, this is fermented for 12 hours this one is fermented for 24 hours.’ Because all of those things make a huge difference in baking. We finally whittled it down and got to this recipe.” They’ve created a thin crust with substance, perfectly crispy, and with a subtle flavor of its own. Complimenting, but not overpowering the sauce, cheese, and toppings.
They use a 200-year-old culture of sourdough from Italy, making the dough fresh every day. This homemade thing is a consistent theme with Pizzanista! Latimer wants “…everything to be made with love and homemade. Everyday we make the dough. Our dough guy comes in at six in the morning. He takes out all the dough that’s been sitting overnight and balls it out. We make all of our sauce specially everyday. We love to make homemade meatballs, we ball out our sausage. We even make all of our salad dressings. So everything is made in house.”
Intense trial and error went into developing their signature sauce, too. Unlike most pizza makers, they opted to use California tomatoes instead of the more traditional San Marzano. Their supplier is a family-owned cannery in Modesto. Once they had their crust and sauce, these pizzanistas didn’t just slap some mozzarella on there and call it a day–again, they experimented, settling on a blend of two cheeses, mozzarella and grana padano.
The menu has staples: Cheese (tomato sauce, mozzarella and grana padano), the Rise & Shine (tomato sauce, mozzarella, grana padano, bacon, cage-free eggs over easy, and black pepper) The Meat Jesus, so delicious that you will be thanking him personally (bacon, sausage, and pepperoni), the North Shore (sauce, the two cheeses, La Quercia Speck Americano (applewood-smoked, dry-cure ham!) and pineapple, Max Chow’s Meaty Balls (daily housemade meatballs), even one Sicilian offering, which is gloriously thick, square, and topped with the housemade sauce, the two cheeses, Sicilian oregano and olive oil. “Our whole ethos here is something for everyone. We’ve got the piles of meat, we’ve got the vegan, we’ve got the classics, thick crust, salads if you want to have a healthy moment…”
Any day that includes pizza is a happy day, but Pizzanista! gives you a reason to look forward to two of the most mundane days of the week. $2 Tuesdays see a line form before the restaurant even opens: $2 slices of cheese or pepperoni (or the vegan equivalent if that’s your style) and $2 glasses of PBR on draft of Miller High Life. Wednesdays from 3-7 is half-price bottles of wine and pitchers of beer.
But, Sunday is a very special day at Pizzanista! “Probably one of the things we’re most well known for is the Mac n’ Cheese [pizza]. So we just do that on Sunday.” Latimer says. “That’s my recipe that I came up with. I was just obsessed with mac n’ cheese as a kid… I had had a pasta pizza in NY… it’s more like baked zitti on a pizza. And I was like, what if you do macaroni and cheese. It was so over the top we had to do it…” It’s an 18” pizza piled high with homemade four-cheese mac n’ cheese layered over a thin layer of tomato sauce. It’s a heaven from an oven, available in regular and vegan versions.
Each week they have specials, often determined by the season and what’s freshly available. The Long Beach location is currently serving a pumpkin pizza. “Instead of a red sauce we use a pumpkin sauce with sage and garlic. And I’ve done one before up here with ricotta and either basil or fried sage leaves and other vegetables.”
Did we mention the breakfast pizzas? “We have brunch in Long Beach and we’re launching brunch up here soon.” You may not immediately think pizza when you hear brunch, but Pizzanista! will change all that. “We do a sweet pie: we do a berry pie with ricotta and an orange honey marmalade. Then we have breakfast pies, we do a bacon and egg one, we do an Italian sausage and fontina, a spinach and potato one. We do a vegan scramble which is really yummy and we have a our version of bagel and lox, which is smoked salmon, ricotta and feta cream cheese, fresh dill, capers, red onion… we have a lot of fun making stuff.” It shows.
Even the first time you go, you’ll feel like a regular– a definite intention. “We’re so lucky to have such an incredible staff. We are a mom n’ pop business, but we always like to say these people are like our family and we like to treat them as such.” Customers are also treated like family and while the folks behind Pizzanista! might be perfectionists, painstakingly developing some of the most delicious pizza in town, they listen to the tweaks customers want. “We have a little button [on the register] that says crispy, well cooked, extra crispy,… or some people want [their slice] not too hot. We have this one famous skateboarder who comes in, I don’t know like three times a week, we actually named it after him. Like his last name such and such style ‘Not too hot,’ just pop it in there just for a second.”
Pizzanista! isn’t just nourishing stomachs, they also nourish their community and the arts; these are also serious music people after all– Pizzanista! is a play on The Clash’s “Sandanista!” album. That and “…the suffix -nista is latin for like a devotee or follower of, so it was like perfect.” Latimer says. Pizzanista! is actively involved with Inner City Arts, Path (People Assisting The Homeless), Friends of the Los Angeles River, Sexy Beast for Planned Parenthood, Trax for Jax, Poseiden Foundation, and many more.
Price Latimer has plans to expand Pizzanista! both nationally and internationally, so don’t despair too much if you don’t live in Los Angeles. To tide you over until there’s one near you, Pizzanista! is now selling its sauce. Price offers us some of her hard-won pizza wisdom on how to make the best pizza at home and we highly suggest you use the Pizzanista! sauce.
[Making pizza is] “…all about the dough. Make sure that you either buy really good pre-prepared dough or prepare a good dough. That’s everything.” Latimer tells us you can work the dough either with your hands or a roller.
If you’re using a pizza peel, you have to work quickly she says. “You can’t leave it on the peel too long or it’ll get stuck. You have to be expedient when you add your ingredients.” Or you can build your pizza directly on a pizza stone. “They work great. They get seasoned.”
You can put virtually anything on a pizza. Latimer often loads up her pizza with salad, but Pizzanista! has done everything from Mexican-inspired pizzas (carne asada, burritos) to beef kebab pizzas with a yogurt dill sauce. “We’ve done macaroni and hotdogs, we’ve done a Flamin’ Hot Cheeto pizza. We’ve done bbq, tri-tip, pulled pork pizza… You can really figure out a way to put almost anything on pizza.” So get creative with your toppings, but Latimer says, “simplicity is the best. And buy really good produce, meats, and cheeses, Quality ingredients.”
We could keep waxing poetic about Pizzanista!, the pizza, and the people, but we know you’ve got stuff to do today. Point is, this is a place that has honed the simple ingredients of pizza into perfection with passion and a commitment to only fresh, quality ingredients. They nurture their neighborhoods, and create possibly the coolest, most welcoming spot in LA.