2018 Westwood Blvd. | Los Angeles, CA 90035 | (310) 418-9860 | www.pitfirepizza.com | Prices: $$
Artisan mustard, artisanal ramen… “Artisan” is a word we’ve been hearing a lot lately, whether or not the term actually applies. Not the case with Pitfire Artisan Pizza. Paul Hibler (East Borough, Superba Snack Bar, Superba Food + Bread) and David Sanfield have been carefully crafting their brand for over 15 years. With an eighth location about to open, it is safe to say they’re pretty good at it.
When they began in 1997, artisan was not a buzzword and artisan pizzas hardly existed in LA.
Not only are their pizzas crafted by hand and made to order, each über-cool space is designed distinctly and uniquely from the others, taking into account the neighborhood and surrounding community.
The Culver City location was the first to be designed from the ground up. The partners prefer to tackle existing locations by providing designers and architects a “kit of parts” to create a visual language.
Each location houses the signature red wood-fired pizza kiln. The Westwood outpost where this review takes place was formerly home to a wholesale produce vendor.
Hibler describes his brand as “the anti-chain.” Maintaining authenticity is paramount to Pitfire’s growth. Unlike most “chains” they have seasonal specials, farmer’s market produce and surprisingly moderate prices thanks to the soft-casual concept they embraced when they launched in Culver City.
The soft-casual concept entails placing an order at the counter and then taking your assigned number to your table. There’s no need to move from the table once the gorge-fest begins as everything is conveniently brought to you. Shortly after we chose a table on a platform near the window, a pitcher of Stone Fruit Sangria was delivered. We toasted our girls’ night out with the seasonally sweet elixir.
Nothing is better with pizza than a delicious, crisp salad. In this case it was the buttery Little Gem Salad on the Summer Specials portion of the menu. The tender leaves, cherry tomatoes, torn breadcrumbs and shaved red onion were tossed in classic Green Goddess dressing.
The Summer Farmer’s Market Vegetable Plate came out right around the same time. We were impressed by the attention to detail, layering of flavors and general freshness of the platter. Between the preserved radish on the roasted Blue Lake Green Beans, the orange oregano vinaigrette on the grilled corn salad and tomato mint relish on the roasted summer squash, it was hard to believe we were at a neighborhood pizza joint.
We were quickly reminded of our dining destination the moment the pies hit the table. The hefty Sausage Party had an overall smoky bacon flavor to it, which paired nicely with the saba (sweet grape syrup). Also at the party – fennel sausage, salumi, fresh Mozzarella and tomato sauce – making it the ideal platform to showcase Zoe’s fine charcuterie and meats from Santa Rosa.
The Pitfire crust, although thin, is not Neapolitana style. It is hearty enough to withstand all the toppings in a hefty pizza like the Sausage Party. This is essential to many pizza purists who believe pizza should be devoured with hands instead of fork and knife. I am not among them but I totally get it.
Next we dove into the White Pie. The charred, blistered crust was topped with creamy ricotta, goat cheese and mozzarella, red onion, basil and pickled peppers. Despite the heat, the flavors managed to come through. It’s the kind of pizza you find yourself craving in the middle of the night.
The Summer Special Heirloom Tomato Pizza was similar to a caprese salad on a pizza crust. It was bright and flavorful, taking advantage of tomatoes at their peak. It may have benefitted from a drizzle of olive oil. The whipped cream/ricotta combo lining the crust was the perfect mild flavor to anchor the tomatoes.
Although pizza accounts for about 60 percent of the sales, there are quite a few offerings beyond salads and panini. There are also pastas, soups and sides.
I’m pretty convinced the Baked Mac & Cheese is the best I’ve had outside of my sister’s kitchen. You have to break through the crispy crust in order to access the moist creaminess beneath. This is extreme cheesiness, thanks to the five cheeses that envelop the orechiette. There isn’t a hint of dryness, but at the same time it’s not soupy. In my humble opinion, it’s the perfect mac & cheese.
Speaking of perfection, the Pitfire Smothered Cookie was just the way to cap off our pizza extravaganza. Imagine a warm jumbo-sized chocolate chunk cookie buried under a mound of organic Straus Family soft-serve vanilla ice cream topped with hot fudge and hazelnuts. Hibler and team really know how to put the art in artisanal.
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