Pandemic comfort food has taken many different forms these past few months, as all of Southern California sits in some stage of stay at home order to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. People are snacking on freshly-baked sourdough, hitting drive-thrus in record numbers, grabbing make-at-home taco kits for the whole family to enjoy — and ordering lots of pizza.
Lately, a slew of new pan-style pizza purveyors have risen up to keep Los Angeles fed. Far from the thin slices and neo-neapolitan whole pies (think Mozza, Ronan, Pizzana, Jon & Vinny’s), these are thicker, square behemoths that often ride with sauce above the toppings and offer an ultra-crispy, well-oiled edge littered with frico cheese bites. Apollonia’s has been making just such a Detroit-ish style pan pizza for years now, and is known for that lattice of crackling cheese that extends vertically above the dough itself. Prime Pizza, too, has long traded in thicker grandma slices across its various citywide locations, and more recently Bootleg Pizza’s Jersey-style pan pies have been selling out from its food truck parked across LA.
Among the newest pan contenders is Dough Daddy, an underground Downtown LA operation that has been picking up steam in recent weeks. Fans queue up virtually by locking into one of only a few pickup times available weekly via Slotted, similar to what underground breakfast sandwich hit Calabama has done (though they drop meals from an apartment using, incredibly, a bucket). The order placed and paid, all that’s left is a contactless pickup at the assigned time.
“My job, before this all happened, was in travel,“ says Dough Daddy’s owner, who wishes to remain anonymous because of the delicate nature of his Instagram operation. “And like most of the rest of America, just like that it was all gone in a flash.” He turned on a dime, flipping an evening pizza-making hobby into a money-making venture in less than a week. Growth has been slow but steady, starting with friends and jumping from there. Already there are questions about where to take things next.
As it stands now, a slot can be hard to come by for Dough Daddy, which only operates a couple of nights a week — to say nothing of sourcing true Wisconsin brick cheese for the pies. “I’m trying to balance growth and exposure and quality,” the owner says, as he contemplates possibly moving out from the shadows and into a more identifiable commercial operation, complete with rented kitchen space and delivery apps to help distribution. For now, diners eager to try what may be the best new pizza in town will have to wait in line, just like everyone else.
Schell’s Pizza Hole, a just-barely-started pan pizza specialist located in Downtown’s South Park neighborhood, is even more underground. Namesake operator Schell (Eater is not divulging their first name) is doing deeper, more focaccia-like pizzas, complete with crisp, wide pepperoni cups and blistered dough edges. Though there is a nascent Yelp page for Schell’s Pizza Hole, it was started by friends of Schell without their knowledge. Basically, up until now the only way to get a pie was to figure out the phone number and call — no preorders, no DMs, no Instagram account.
Now, Schell’s Pizza Hole is starting to allow others in via a different Instagram account they do run, called Cyber Happy Hour. It’s all very mysterious, but the chase is part of the fun (especially during these seemingly endless days of otherwise sheltering in place).
Back above ground is LA Style Pan Pizza, a new outfit run by Fred 62 chef/owner Fred Eric out of the restaurant’s Los Feliz kitchen. Eric had been tinkering with pan-style pizzas for a while, including the use of sprouted grains and long dough ferment times, and with the COVID-19 lockdown across the city he took the opportunity to start selling pies in the neighborhood. “Fred 62 is born out of underground car culture,” says Eric, “and I felt like the way Detroit makes stock cars and Los Angeles makes them custom cars like lowriders, we could take a Detroit-style dough and give it some LA culture.” The pizzas, available now via Fred 62’s website, carry classic car names, and the stock dough that underpins each pie is referred to as a chassis on the menu.
Eventually, Eric wants to expand his pizza offerings, potentially even spinning LA Style Pan Pizza off into its own thing somewhere else in the city. He’d also like to collaborate with other chefs around Los Angeles to do signature pizzas that represent a variety of flavors and communities, from Koreatown to the San Gabriel Valley. “All the cultures that Jonathan Gold’s reviews touched,” says Eric. “I mean, how cool would it be if Sapp Coffee Shop had their pork belly in a pizza?”
The scene is growing, thanks both to more well-known names like Eric and the underground guys. Dtown Pizzeria, run by noted chef Ryan Ososky, kicked off just before the pandemic began in Southern California in earnest, as did Venice Way Pizza inside of Venice’s Hotel Erwin. And then there’s the focaccia pizza from Chad Colby’s more fine-dining Italian option Antico near Larchmont, which may be the most photographed pizza in Los Angeles at the moment. Everyone, it seems, loves a pan pizza during this pandemic.