Friday, October 07, 2005
Pizza Bella -- Outstandee!
1900 N. Highland Ave.
(inside Whitley Heights Liquor Market)
Hollywood CA 90028
Open 7 days, 11am - 11pm
M, V, AMEX
You know the strip mall on the northeast corner of Franklin & Highland? It's always been a kind of forlorn place. There's a Starbucks, a Subway, a Japanese restaurant, the requisite cleaners and florists... and what's now called Whitley Heights market.
Whitley Heights market was once a Hughes supermarket. When that went out of business in the early '80s, it became the "Huge" market for awhile. (I love it when new owners save a buck by knocking down letters of an existing sign with a sledgehammer. Have you ever noticed the "Exaco" gas station on Sunset Blvd?). Though "Huge Market" features prominently and glitzily in the Ren & Stimpy cartoon where Stimpy goes to Hollywood, it was always scary as hell going in there... rows of half-empty supermarket shelves, dusty bottles of wine, and a grim cashier who always seemed badly in need of a fix. Over the past couple of years it's spruced up nicely. You can actually kind of shop there now, though the decor is a mondo bizarro blend of movie standees, stuffed animals, and giant plastic beer bottles. But the strangest thing in a strange place is that tucked in the back corner is what just might be the best NY style pizza joint for miles around.
Here's the dish...
You step up to the counter and place your slice order. $2.55 for cheese, 55c for each extra ingredient. You pick up a drink or whatever else you want from the supermarket area, pay the supermarket cashier, and hang out at one of the three mismatched tables set around the pizza booth (one has an umbrella, in case you're seeking... um, shade in the supermarket). After a few minutes, your slice is ready.
It's huge. Nearly a cubit long, it covers two standard-sized paper plates. It's thin crust, so it undulates over the plates like a snake on a Spanish tile roof. Picking it up with two hands, you fold the thing in half out of sheer instinct, just to to manage it. Although it's floppy, the underside has a slightly blackened outer crust to it, so that the slice manages to be crisp and toothsome at the same time. The sausage, as my friend and photographer Hughes says, isn't that gravelly stuff you often see on pizzas, but a tasty sliced sweet Italian. The basil is fresh. My pepperoni and red onion is a great blend of spicy and sweet. My personal taste in pizza is for generous sauce and ingredients and moderate cheese, and this one is balanced just right, though the sauce runs out a little toward the outer rim of the pie. I'm tempted to order the pie with extra sauce, but I fear it would destabilize the fragile balance that keeps the thin crust from being at all soggy. As it is, the whole thing is a satisfying, surprising, and just-greasy-enough experience.
There are so many exciting things about this. Hollywood has always seemed a surprisingly difficult place to grab a quick bite of something tasty while on the road. Pizza Bella is conveniently located at the busiest intersection in town. Plus you can grab some cereal, razors, a bottle of Ketel One or other necessary sundries while you're waiting for your pizza. Of course they do whole pies too, and not only do they deliver, but you can also add groceries to your pizza order.
And where else can you have a pepperoni slice under the watchful eyes of highly collectible standees of Michael Jackson, R2D2, James Dean, and George W. Bush? Where else, I ask?
Hughes Hall joins me on this post as special food photographer. Check out his photo blog at seeingeyeblog.com