A starch, stuffed with desirable ingredients, then baked, griddled, deep- or pan-fried until crispy, is a delightful thing. They straddle nearly every culture with seemingly infinite options: pupusas, samosas, gyoza, empanadas. Then there are Hot Pockets. Let us never speak of them again.
In today's food fight, we take on the U.S. version of an Italian stuffed starch: the calzone. There's a simple, crude beauty to calzones. Crackling pizza-dough turnovers, their insides packed with gluttonous amounts of Italian-American comfort, and served with a side of tomato sauce. An ideal meal for college students on the brink of alcohol poisoning, in the right hands a calzone is an alluring combination of craftsmanship and indulgence.
We hear that on their busier nights when oven space is at a premium, Vito's Pizza on La Cienega, won't even make calzones. We tried, one rainy Friday night, to order a Mio Fratello filled with meatballs, garlic, spinach, ricotta, mozzarella and tomatoes. They were busy, and we were thwarted. We were finally rewarded, on our second visit, with a charred loaf the size of a large baby. A small window of its crust had collapsed, revealing a cheesy, spinach-laden underworld. Lust at first sight.
Cutting through the crisp but pliable crust, we found ricotta that was rich, fluffy and plentiful, confidently taking its place as the dominant ingredient. The small meatballs, the tomatoes and the spinach added a nice accent to the whole. It was, to be sure, an extremely good calzone. We asked for extra sauce. We wondered why don't eat more calzones.
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We were fairly certain that our second contender wouldn't win -- before we even figured out who it would be. We decided on Damiano Mr. Pizza, the grungy, dark Fairfax Ave. pizzeria with an oddly huge beer selection.
Their calzone came stuffed with spinach, ricotta, mozzarella and tomatoes. It had a golden crust and a stretchy cheese interior thanks to the high ratio of mozzarella. The dough was fine but nowhere near transcendent, and the sauce was enjoyably acidic. Ultimately, it only reminded us of the calzone from Vito's -- the one we initially craved, the one we crave now and the one we'll probably crave tomorrow.