Full of Life Flatbread, Um, PIZZA: Worth the Drive
With plenty of serviceable options for wood-fired pizza right here in the city, why would anyone hop into their car for an hours-long ride just to try a pie? And a FLATBREAD pizza at that?! Well, because Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos is fantastic. Sure, it's tucked away at the end of a one-road town along California's Central Coast, where wine grapes outnumber humans by a factor of thousands. And yes, Full of Life seems sprung from the bones of an old general store, with a yawning front porch, wide bar and open, wood-paneled dining room. It even sources all of its organic ingredients locally, some right from its planter-box garden next door.
But the only reason you should care about driving to Full of Life Flatbread is because it's delicious.
Almost every tasty dish you'll find at Full of Life owes its warm, smoky flavors to the 20-ton stone behemoth of an oven that overtakes a sizable chunk of the square dining room. It's a heaving, roasting monster, built in 2003 by owner Clark Staub to capture the essence of fire and force it to do his bidding. In the dead of a dusty summer, when stoked with red oak logs, the tiled mouth of the beast can reach 900 degrees or higher. In temperatures like that, thin, bubbling pizzas emerge in about the time it takes you to order a beer. Which is also local, by the way, since Figueroa Mountain Brewing is just down the road and Firestone Walker maintains a taproom in Buellton.
You'd also have trouble uncorking a bottle of wine before the pizza starts hitting your table. You may not even choose a wine in time, given all the options in front of you. Los Alamos is at the heart of Central Coast wine country, after all, which means some of the region's best and brightest makers leave their bottles behind the bar. Pinots are particularly popular, most emerging from the ruddy ranches around nearby Lompoc. Still, you can find grapes from Paso Robles on down, poured heavy into your glass while your sizzling pizza emerges from the coals.
Before you know it, a 10-inch solo flatbread pizza is smoldering on a plate in front of you. The cheese-and-herb is a popular option, a sauceless pie laid thick with regional mozzarella, raw La Serena and a dusting of firm, nutty grana padano. Drizzle with some garlic oil and herb it up from the planter boxes outside, and you've got all of the warm, cheesy answers you need as to why you made the drive. The pepperoni-and-peppers is a slight twist on a more conventional pizza, puffy at the edges but lacking the soft interior hole structure of a more yeasty and robust pizza. The pepperonis are nitrate-free, of course, and come big as saucers that pool their oil in the middle. And instead of bell peppers, say, Full of Life slices and roasts poblanos for an added bite. Thinly sliced red onions, a hefty handful of mozzarella and a splash of organic tomato sauce underneath all but seals the deal: This is a drive worth making.
Full of Life Flatbread also operates a roving oven that can crank up the heat and churn out pies anywhere. Plus, it has a national line of premade frozen versions that might do the trick if your car's in the shop. But it'd really be better for everyone if you just hopped in the car today and pointed it toward Los Alamos. The restaurant is open only Thursday through Sunday, and for no more than five hours at a time. They don't take reservations, but the ample bar seating and impressive drinks list mean you won't even miss the minutes as they whiz by. This is Los Alamos, where things don't change much and time is measured in seasons, not hours. And at Full of Life Flatbread, things only really start to heat up when someone throws another log into the stone oven.
Full of Life Flatbread: 225 W. Bell St., Los Alamos, 93440; 805-344-4400.
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