A few exits east of La Cañada Flintridge, in a mini-mall anchored by a security-bar-heavy liquor store, sits a little restaurant with a big heart. Pizza of Venice oozes neighborliness and a spirit of unbridled experimentation. The one long, communal table ensures you'll be making friends before the night is through. The atmosphere of "Try it! You'll like it!" will have you sampling pizzas you never dreamed existed. And the Buffalo Brussels Sprouts will clinch your return visit.
Pizza of Venice (aka P.O.V.) is pure Altadena. The last few years have seen a blossoming of urban homesteaders in this fertile enclave. Backyard farmers grow exotic fruits and vegetables. They raise chickens for eggs, goats for award-winning cheeses, and llamas just to have llamas. Pizza of Venice exploits, in the best possible sense, this local goodness, using the ingredients to add vitality to their salads, pizzas, fruit drinks and plates-to-share.
While the unique flavors at P.O.V. do start with fresh, regional ingredients, chef/owners Jamie Woolner and Sean St. John take them to the next level. These innovative young men cure their own meats, slow-cook their own sauces, and stretch their own pizza dough. I say "stretch" because the pies don't look as if they've been tossed into perfect circles. They're wonderfully amoeba-shaped with toppings from classic to quirky. St. John and Woolner categorize the pizzas as "Expected" (e.g. Margherita, Pepperoni), "Unexpected" (e.g. Braised Lamb, Cashew Pesto) and "Off the Wall" (e.g. Curry Chicken, Brie Pancetta).
My dining partner and I went for the house pizza, the P.O.V. ($20). The primary flavor was the incredible Cowgirl's Creamery Mt. Tam Triple Cream brie, warm and gooey and decadent. Tied for second were the flavors of rich tomatoey sauce and sweet caramelized onions. A little hard to detect was the house cured pancetta. Still the overall effect was exciting. Alongside we got the Altadena Salad ($12), a large affair with pretty greens, peeled citrus sections, pistachios, feta and roasted tomato vinaigrette.
Not full yet, we opted for the Braised Lamb Pizza ($12) and Buffalo Brussels Sprouts ($8). Wow and wow. Bites of tender lamb that have been simmered and reduced and simmered again for hours play well with their Mediterranean pie-mates: mozzarella, tabbouleh and tzatziki. My friend fell in love with the Brussels sprouts, as did I. Raw sprouts are deep-fried in peanut oil then tossed in a sticky, addictive Korean sauce including (but not limited to) Sriracha. They look like meatballs but the hot, firm orbs are way more interesting. The Belgian Fries with garlic aioli are also great for sharing.
To quench your thirst, there is a fresh-squeezed citrus-ade du jour such as tangerine-limeade. The fruit comes from a secret farm in the neighborhood and may or may not be available on any given day. The same is true of favorite dishes. On the other hand, there may be unexpected additions to the menu. The night we were there, a sushi chef colleague popped in to offer a tight menu of fresh rolls to P.O.V.'s enthusiastic patrons.
Though the pizzas might be pricier than most, there is no corkage fee for bottles brought from home or from the nearby liquor store. Parking is easy and free. Everything is available for take-out, but on a busy Friday or Saturday night, Pizza of Venice is the place to be.
Where: 2545 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Altadena
When: Tuesday to Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m; Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Prices: starters, $6 to $8; salads $8 to $15; pizzas, $7 to $20
More info: (626) 765-9636, pizzaofvenice.com
LISA DUPUY has reviewed over 200 area restaurants. She welcomes comments at LDupuy@aol.com.