That old Chinese proverb, "May you live in interesting times," certainly applies to the pizza business today.
Sure, there will always be a place for the wood-fired oven pizzas you find at Frugatti's and all the Wolfgang Puck restaurants. That smokiness, picked up by the cheese, has a unique appeal. But the major chains do such volume they're unlikely to abandon the conveyor-belt ovens they use to get those mass-produced pizzas to customers in half an hour or less. In fact, technology and the growth of restaurants like Subway and Chipotle are sending us in the direction of the quick pizza, the kind you can design to your exacting specifications (double portion of sun-dried tomato!) and get quickly enough to head back to work on time.
Hence, we now have Boss Pizza Co. downtown, right next door to On the Rocks Bar & Grill, started by local entrepreneur Tak Yasukochi, 41, who worked for Bolthouse Farms for 17 years. He got the inspiration to open a restaurant offering in-and-out thin crust pizzas while on a trip to Italy.
He just might be on to something. I've written about Chipotle's plans, now being tested in Colorado, to do for pizza what its assembly-line approach has done for burritos. Then there's Red Brick Pizza Cafe in Rosedale, which boasts of baking its pizzas in a 1,000-degree wood oven in three minutes. PizzaRev, another growing chain, is planning at least two stores for Bakersfield. California Pizza Kitchen is working on a concept for a restaurant that features customizable pizzas. The fast pizza trend certainly has momentum.
How does the product at Boss Pizza stack up? I'd make some tweaks, but it's off to a promising start.
You begin at something resembling the cafeteria line that Subway and Chipotle use, with a menu board above listing options and prices. There are 10 "Signature Pizzas," all 10 inches and all $7.95. Or you can create your own, at prices ranging from $5.95 to $10.95, based on toppings. There are four signature salads, or you can create your own.
The process is fast, no matter how you do it. The restaurant was well-staffed on our visits, and they whisk the made-on-the-premises raw crust down the line, top it and have it in the oven.
I wasn't timing it on the first visit, but I brought my companion's salad back to the table, she poured the dressing on top and before three bites were consumed, the pizza was out of the oven. In fact, on the back of the employees' T-shirts is a saying: "3 minutes for pizza? Ain't nobody got time for that!" (On a repeat visit, I timed it: six minutes exactly from ordering to delivery, probably because other customers' pizzas were ahead of mine.)
On our first visit, we ordered a Westchester ($7.95) pizza and a baby kale salad ($7.95). The pizza was well-designed, with red onion, sun-dried tomato, chicken, artichoke, shredded mozzarella, creamy garlic sauce and a pesto drizzle.
I was disappointed that whole-wheat crust was not available; Pizza Port in San Clemente has a similar pizza with a whole-wheat beer crust, and the whole wheat really ties it all together. I also couldn't find any sun-dried tomatoes on top. Training issue.
Despite its short stint in the oven, the bottom of the crust was dark brown and done perfectly. The process is possible, I think, because the toppings are not too thick. I also give Boss props for offering gluten-free dough ($2 extra) and Daiya vegan mozzarella ($1 extra) as well as 24 items on the veggies portion of the menu, including roasted jalapeno, caramelized onion and candied walnuts. Fresh mozzarella is available for those who want a real Italian touch.
Like the pizza, the salad was expertly designed but could have used a bit of help in the execution department. It came in a huge white ceramic bowl and featured a blend of kale and spinach, with white-meat chicken (the same small bits used on the pizza), sliced almonds, cherry tomatoes, fresh avocado and gorgonzola.
The problem was the freshness of the greens. My companion looked at the mix, took a few bites and said, "It's Trader Joe's." Because she's had a couple of bad experiences with salad greens purchased there, she's boycotting that section of the store, convinced that what's offered isn't as good as what she buys at other supermarkets. It's since become code for a restaurant salad that doesn't offer veggies of exceptional freshness. It's scarred her, really.
On a second visit, we sampled two more signature items: Caesar salad and a combo pizza (both $7.95). The romaine in the Caesar was, again, a bit past its optimal freshness, though I did appreciate the way the Parmesan was cut two ways (shredded and shaved into wide, flat strips that resembled pasta). I also appreciated the dressing being on the side -- pre-tossed Caesar salads often are wilted messes.
The pizza was even more impressive this time, with a red tomato sauce that had some kick and toppings that included black olive, mushroom, red onion, bell pepper, pepperoni and crumbled Italian sausage. I suspect that the fast cooking process requires small-item sizes like the chicken to help the heat penetrate during the shorter cooking times.
I'd definitely order this pizza again, and I'm curious what the calorie count would be since it's not one of those mountainous creations with an intense volume of ingredients.
The interior is pleasant, clean but drastically informal. The three flat-screen TVs were tuned to the Food Network. There is no alcohol served, just soda. The desserts, made on the premises, include chocolate chip cookies and a Boss bar ($1.25 each). The bar features shortbread topped with caramel, chocolate chips and a rather undistinctive "crumble" that needs more charm. Or maybe just more butter.
The caramel and the cookie deserve better. On another visit, I sampled the caramel apple pie bar and the chocolate chip cookie. Marvelous! The cookie is rich with buttery nuances, and the apple pie with the caramel is a memorable experience worth every calorie. No tinkering needed there.