Can't get a dinner reservation at Pizzeria Mozza? Don't worry, neither can we. So instead, we decided to check out Olio Pizzeria & Cafe, a new Neopolitan-style pizza joint on Third Street that officially opened Friday evening and serves up just about everything (including breakfast) from its 1,200 degree, wood-burning oven. We spoke to Bradford Kent, Olio's enthusiastic yet sleep-deprived chef-owner, about the pizza joint's grand opening, why he opens the doors at 7 a.m., and the best way to buy a used wood-burning oven. Turn the page.
Squid Ink: So how has the neighborhood reaction been so far?
Bradford Kent: It's been great. It's the weirdest thing; we've only been open for three days but already thirty percent of customers have been repeat customers. And maybe twenty percent have been true Italians, with broken English and all. All I wanted was a nice corner restaurant, not a phenomenon. But the fact that our sales figures over our first three days were better than what we thought they would be is a great sign. We thought we were going to make between 40 and 60 pizzas per day, but we sold 130 pizzas each day. Some guy came in with his family on Saturday, and he was the first customer back on Sunday morning. When he was leaving, he handed me a twenty dollar bill and said, “You're doing a great job. I want you to stay in the neighborhood.” That was really nice.
SI: What have been the most popular menu items?
BK: Our customers' favorite things have been really simple, which tells you a lot about the neighborhood. The most popular item so far has been a Swiss chard pizza with homemade chicken sausage with roasted tomatoes. It developed from a margharita pizza recipe that I worked for months to perfect. My pizza crust was inspired by the French baguette, which I think is the perfect bread. It's Neapolitan-style, so the crust comes out crispy in about ninety seconds. I also put the sausage on the pizza completely raw, which gets nice and crunchy within ninety seconds, too. We also have a lot of classic pizzas on the menu, which we make just to show that we can turn out wonderful classic dishes.
SI: You're one of the few pizza places around town serving breakfast. What's the philosophy behind that and what should we order when we come in at 7 a.m.?
BK: My grandfather was a “deli man” during the depression, which was a very different definition of “deli” from what we have today, so I wanted to bring back something like that. I'm making breakfast dishes like bialys and lox. I'm really excited about the breakfast bialy with the poached egg. Some people call it “toad in the hole” but I grew up calling it an “egg in the hole.” To do it right, we shape the bialy to order and then ask the customer if they want sesame seeds or onions on it. We dry our onions in front of the oven at night because that area is about 230 degrees. The onions are perfectly dried in the morning and are great on the bialy. We put the bialy in the oven until it is about ninety percent cooked, then take it out and put homemade basil pesto in the center, then a little bit of sea salt. We add a lightly poached egg and put it back in the oven just until it's done.
SI: Is it true that you cook every menu item in your wood-burning oven?
BK: I'm making cookies right now in a convection oven because they can't take the high heat of the wood-burning oven. But everything else is cooked in the wood-burning oven. I use both olive and walnut wood in the oven, I love the smell of walnut and the olive wood burns at a higher temperature but is less forgiving, which I like. Also, I try to keep the temperature of the wood oven low for breakfast items — around 600 to 700 degrees. Lunch is around 800 degrees. The dome of the oven is 1,200 degrees, so it's really hot. And as far as I know, we're the only place in the country making wood-fired bialys for breakfast.
SI: Where did you get your wood-burning oven?
SI: So it's considered seasoned?
BK: Exactly. And it's recycled.
Pizzeria Olio: 8075 West 3rd Street., Suite. 100, Los Angeles. (323) 930-9490.
Christie Bishop also blogs for PardonMyCrumbs.com.