Piecing Together One of Our Favorite Salads at Pitfire Pizza
IT’S THE PREP WORK THAT WORRIES YOU. DO YOU SLICE, DICE OR CHOP?
How much do you really need of that? And yet, each ingredient is distinctive and integral like an instrument in a full-sized, crunchy orchestra. The songs of “Crisp” and “Snap” can only be played as beautifully as they are with the freshest of the fresh and the perfect harmony of carefully conducted pieces.
You might be hesitant to shell out entree prices for what is seemingly just lettuce and dressing, but think about how reluctant you often are to make your own at home. With so many parts in play, salads can be quite complicated but well worth it when composed correctly. We have always been supporters of letting ingredients really shine in their true forms and flavors; what better way for them to demonstrate that than raw and ready for consumption? Great salads showcase vegetables’ natural flavors with just the barest of assistance from dressings, and here, we take a look at a great salad from a somewhat unexpected place.
A stylish but practical behemoth of a pizza oven greets you upon entrance. It is where the magic happens for Pitfire Pizza’s Mar Vista location—a kiln befitting of the volume of pizzas that must go in and out on a daily basis as customers flock for good eats. Founded in 1997 by David Sanfield and Paul Hibler, Pitfire Pizza was built on the premise of providing pizza topped with the freshest, seasonal ingredients as well as creating a space to which the community could congregate for a good time. We looked around and admired the work of well-known LA architect Barbara Bestor, a design that won the restaurant both an award from the American Institute of Architects and a James Beard Award nomination for Outstanding Restaurant Design in 2011. However, we weren’t there to talk pizza or paint colors; we wanted to know more about what else Executive Chef Andrew Lakin has up his sleeve.
Q: How did you get involved with Pitfire?
Andrew Lakin: I met Paul through a mutual acquaintance. We were both interested in dough, the process and fermentation. We talked about how we both wanted to make great pizza and great bread, and here I am now going to all the locations to make sure the food is consistent. We work seasonally, showcasing beautiful product that is in season. For example, in the summer, there are heirloom tomatoes that are perfect.
Why use anything else?
Q: Can you tell me about the saladwe’re deconstructing today?
AL: This is the Hand Chopped Salad based on the Brown Derby Chopped Salad, which has a story of how the first chef chopped it all on marble in the back to keep everything cool. Paul put this on the very first Pitfire menu. It has a lot of great ingredients—Romaine, iceberg lettuce, radicchio, garbanzo beans, cherry tomatoes, red onions, Provolone, roasted corn, pepperoncini and olives with the option of adding on Zoe’s Meats salami and pepperoni or grilled chicken. Then, the oregano brings it all out. We break a little bit of oregano right into the salad at the last minute for its oils. The dressing is made in-house from red wine vinaigrette, oregano, a small amount of mustard and some garlic.
Q: How often do you get your produce in for your menu of salads?
AL: Mar Vista is the second busiest restaurant for Pitfire Pizza. It’s easy to maintain freshness here because of that. Within an hour of the produce showing up, a large chunk of it is already gone; by the time we have processed it, people have ordered it. It rarely hits the walk-in refrigerator. It is delivered every day and sometimes, a second delivery is needed. We go through four or more cases of Romaine in a day, three cases of chicken and 40 pounds of steak for the steak salad and panini. In just over 10 days, we can usually get through 1, 800 kale salads and 1, 500 chopped salads company-wide.
Q: Do you source locally?
AL: With our volume, it’s too difficult to go to farmer’s markets ourselves, but we work with LA Specialty to source from local farmers that we’re happy with (our favorites). We seek out those people who think the same way as we do and find a relationship with them instead of buying from 50 different people. We look for the best from the guy who is on the same page as us. You get a sense of community that way.
Our pepperoni and Genoa salami are from Zoe’s Meats in Northern California. They are a local artisan company that does not use nitrites and only has hormone-free pork. We know the owner, George, who comes down often. We talk about product a lot, and it builds a sense of community where you know both the customer who eats the product and where it comes from. It’s good to know everyone involved. George even came up with a special salami just for us that is peppery and garlicky—we use that on the Sausage Party pizza. It’s just nice to have that kind of relationship with the purveyor where they create something exclusively for you.
Q: Fantastic! Just curious, how early do the staff arrive in for prep work?
AL: The first person gets in at 7am, but most stores open between 6-7am. They receive product, open doors and turn everything on— the wood ovens take a few hours to get ready and the dough takes a few hours to get to the right temperature.
Q: And lastly, is there variation in the menu? I want to know where else I can get this amazing salad
AL: Oh, no. It’s a fascinating concept where each store is tailored to the surrounding community, but the menu is the same. If you order our Margherita pizza, it’ll look the same in all seven locations, but the restaurants are very different. Community is very important to the company. What you love in Mar Vista won’t be the same as what you love in North Hollywood. Noho is very artistic and the patio there showcases local bands and musicians who also wait tables, whereas Mar Vista has a huge amount of children and young families. We’ll do pizza-making parties here and are the go-to for soccer and Little League teams. The vibe will vary depending on where you are and so will the design.