Dear Mr. Gold:
I used to like Casa Bianca before the lines stretched halfway to China, but I have to admit it's been a while. I know - good neon and checked tablecloths and everything, but is it still worth a visit?
--Jean, Sierra Madre
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Sam Martorana, who was behind the ovens at Casa Bianca for more than 50 years, was such a presence at the restaurant that it was hard to imagine it continuing after he passed away a couple of years ago. His pizza was idiosyncratic to an extreme: thin when the fashion was for puffy crusts, judicious with cheese in an era marked by bubbling excess, sliced not into neat wedges but into the odd parallelograms characteristic of bar pies from Chicago, which is where he learned to cook. The mushrooms were always canned - he thought fresh mushrooms leaked too much water - and he kept pineapple-topped Hawaiian pizza on the menu for years after the foodinistas had chased it out of most of the other local pizzerias.
But the people never stopped coming. The family kept the restaurant intact. Half the steakhouses in Los Angeles may feature wedge salads now, but there were years when Casa Bianca's was the only model in town. And when I stopped by the other night to toast Obama's Nobel Prize with a frosty Moretti (he was a regular when he attended nearby Occidental College) I was unable to spot any discernible changes in the eggplant-and-sausage pizza, a combination I have ordered maybe a hundred times since I was first introduced to the place in the mid-1980s. The sausage is still fresh and homemade; the fried eggplant still crunchy; the tomato sauce still well-reduced; the crust still thin, crisp, lightly charred, and quick to stiffen. Is it worth a visit? Definitely, yes. As at Pizzeria Mozza, the crowds are almost manageable at 4:30 p.m.
Casa Bianca: 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; ( 323) 256-9617.