A New Pizzeria Pays Homage to an Older, Simpler L.A.
I tasted a ghost. And it died 26 years ago, so you know this was one bet-your-foodie-tush, no-doubt-about-it, bona fide walking-dead apparition. It was last seen on a west-of-the-405 corner of San Vicente and Darlington, where a Coral Tree now blandly stands; and this was definitely a Casper: one of those friendly ghosts. And when it was alive, everyone ate it. With its cracker-thin, multicheese blend and sauce to the crustless-edge style, it kept Angelenos stuffed in the happiest of ways throughout the 1970s and '80s. It kept us coming back for birthday parties and after Little League games and with family on Sunday nights again and again and even more, and when you were there nothing else mattered. This wasn’t your average pizzeria.
Regular Jons (that's how the owner punctuated the name) was a Brentwood institution. A restaurant you looked forward to visiting at a time when a Hamburger Hamlet was slinging slop across the street instead of Suzanne Goin’s Tavern, a time before Whole Foods and readily available sushi and options beyond Reddi Chick at the Country Mart; the dark culinary ages for that soon-to-be-infamous-for-a-white-Bronco community. But Regular Jons was our spot, a dining room away from your dining room where you’d endlessly swallow slices, standing in sawdust playing Donkey Kong and Karate Champ with a grease-stained palm. It was the anti-L.A. The kind of place that served pitchers of soda on long red- and white-checkered tables in a wonderfully warped wooden room with all kinds of strange light barely keeping things aglow.
When Ferris Bueller’s Day Off filmed a scene in our beloved pizzeria, the legend only grew. Ed Rooney’s face was soda-sprayed by a video game–playing character inside Regular Jons, and the world bought it as an authentic pizzeria in an iconic pizza town because that’s what it was, and it was all we knew. And then it was gone. Closed due to rocketing rents as Brentwood’s glitz-transformation began. 1991. The year of my bar mitzvah. Shitty gift.
We’ve gotten on just fine with pizza in Los Angeles since Regular Jons closed and my rabbi decided to inexplicably call me a man. Spago, Maria’s and California Pizza Kitchen (I swear they were once good), and later Mozza, Vito’s and Jon & Vinny’s (you know they are good) filled the void while elevating L.A.’s tossed-dough game. Reality set in, newcomers took over, time healed and everyone accepted the demise. Everyone except for Steve Goldberg. He wasn’t comfortable with accepting only the taste of memories. Steve grew up, pre-Netflix, eating Regular Jons “since before I could even remember,” and when he wasn’t, he was cooking dinners with his mom, and when he was old enough to cook a meal for real, Regular Jons was where he went. It’s where he first sunk 10 digits into dough, made cheese rain and learned to sauce with a paintbrush. It’s where he became obsessed. To Goldberg, this was more than just a symbol of his youth or where he started a career — Regular Jons was life. And when his boss, Regular Jons owner Jon Persoff, was forced to close the business, Goldberg refused to say die.
But first he had to find a new job. While living outside of the restaurant world and Southern California for the first time, Goldberg’s passion for that singularly thin, multicheese slice never wavered. In fact, it grew. So, he did something about it while living 1,000 miles away from that west-of-the-405 corner of San Vicente and Darlington — he started re-creating his favorite food, or at least trying to.
When Goldberg worked at Regular Jons, the individual pizza components were prepared ahead of time, the secret dough, sauce and cheese recipes held close to the boss’s marinara-stained vest. Now it was trial-and-error time. Goldberg would come home from his marketing job in the Pacific Northwest to experiment with gluten levels, dough proofing and spices in the sauce that he finally perfected, “after 150 attempts.” And how much cheddar did the cheese blend call for? Was it even cheddar? It went on like this. Questions abound about the cracker crust. Was the dough stretched or pressed? Tossed or rolled? He tried them all. Fifteen years of a little of this, some more of that, the ingenious purchase of a granite slab to act as a heat-retaining oven stone and endless recollections to his days of eating and working and living Regular Jons ... until he finally nailed it. “In an instant my childhood came rushing back.” It was Gladwell’s 10,000 hours times 10. But before the rebirth of Regular Jons could be complete, one more step had to occur: it needed to come home.
Regular Guy’s Pizza (named as an homage) is available for delivery to Angelenos with internet access and an appetite for a cracker-thin, multicheese, sauce-to-the-crustless-edges ghost.
Be excited, Regular Jons fans. It’s back.
Available through UberEats, Postmates, GrubHub, DoorDash and Amazon Prime to a growing list of L.A. neighborhoods, Sun.-Wed., noon-2 a.m., and Thu.-Sat., noon-4 a.m.
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