This is the Place
New York-Style California Surfer Pizza -- Totally Awesome, Dude! — But Skip the Lunch Buffet
Restaurant: Santa Monica Pizza
& Pasta Co.
I had never heard of Santa Monica Pizza & Pasta Co., then saw a canvas banner planted on the side of the road on the South side of Jordan Landing. I had originally been headed to Ruby Tuesdays, but was up for a new pizza place, so I looked for it as I drove into the center of the complex. And I looked. And I looked. I wasn't sure where it might be. So I gave up, figuring that I had missed it on the way in. Then, when walking in from the parking lot, I saw it there, on that little strip complex where the European crepe place used to be. It was kismet.
When I walked around to the entrance, I read the labels on the glass, declaring that they serve clay-baked pizza, sexy salads, etc. — then stopped reading as I saw a row of surf boards through the glass on the inside. Regardless of the name, that was unexpected.
When I walked inside, I took an immediate liking to the surroundings. The concrete floor is stained dark, the walls are a mix of grooved wood paneling and layered slate. There is a bar on the far side that immediately catches the eye. And that row of surf boards is there behind the front desk, which I learned is where you order. There is a big menu board on one wall, or they have menus at the desk. As I approached the desk, I noticed several flat-screen TVs on the walls, with the sound turned down. I wish I could have said the same for the music, though. First of all, it was rap, and I'm not a fan. I don't even consider it music. And it was playing loud. The hostess actually suggested that I wait a couple minutes to order, so the song would end, because she knew we wouldn't be able to hear each other. The next song was a sort of modern teeny bopper song, which was still loud, and only slightly less annoying. But I ordered. They had a Pepperoni pizza listed (description was "Pepperoni, pepperoni & pepperoni" and I had then add ham and mushroom, to make it into my standard pizza when trying a new place. I consider that my pizza litmus test. I also asked about the breadsticks and garlic bread. The woman suggested the garlic cheese bread instead, telling me with absolute authority that it's awesome, she loves it, and she always recommends it when people are unsure which way to go. So I went with the recommendation. I paid and she gave me a number (a galvanized steel canopy painted a la California underpass) and I chose a booth.
There were two options for cups for soda: standard fare and holy Moses. (My words, not theirs.) I think that the hard plastic cup might well have been more than 32 ounces. I can't recall ever seeing a cup at a self-serve soda bar quite that big. They also had a choice of straws — standard or doubles for a short sword. Even better — they have the good ice. It’s the crumbled ice that you don't see very often anymore, and just takes a regular old soda to the next level. Based on this, I was excited to see how my meal turned out.
The wait was not too long. (I think there were three more annoying, too-loud songs that played, then I realized that it was actually a radio station. Don't remember which one — just know I don't like it.) While waiting, I noticed that there were the old-fashioned glass candles on the tables to keep your pizza warm — except the "old fashioned" ends there — they weren't red, they were blue. I also noticed that the ducts overhead were not concealed by a hanging ceiling or painted to blend — they were painted in a myriad of colors, faux tags all over them, like they had customers from the 22-foot-tall street gang. The woman who took my order walked by and I asked her what the bar was for. She said, "For people who like to watch the chef cook. See? The oven's right there." And so it was.
When my food arrived, the pizza was on a hard, white pizza plate, sans the silver one it had likely been cooked on, and a matching white plate was home to four halves of sub rolls covered with cheese, and a ceramic black cup filled with marinara sauce.
First words out of my mouth: "Looks good!"
The pizza crust showed an unevenness in color that screamed out hand tossed. It was also New York-style thin crust, which I had not anticipated. But it was steaming hot, so I started with the bread and was very pleasantly surprised. The garlic flavor was not as strong and I expected, but the thing that made it special was the bread. It was a high-end roll, dense in the middle and crusty. And the sauce was not marinara in the traditional sense. It had some bite, which was clear when I noticed the pepper seeds that had settled below the surface before I dipped into it. Again, I was excited for the rest of my meal. And I was not disappointed.
The pizza was very thin, the crust crispy, and the underside was as unevenly browned as the top, devoid of the divots you see on the premade pizza crusts. The sauce was good, well seasoned, with a good blend of garlic, basil and oregano. There was plenty of meat and cheese, also. The thing that was most lacking was that they were using the orange pepperoni, rather than the red, which turns into little bowls when cooked.
Last words out of my mouth:
"I'm definitely coming back here."
When I walked inside, I had the same pleasant response to the décor. Even better, the music wasn't playing rap and it wasn't blasting, trying to outdo the morons outside trying to shatter their windshield with their bass. I asked the woman at the register — the same one who had taken my order on the previous visit — about the lunch buffet. She said it had three choices: pepperoni, vegetarian and cheese, and included the salad bar and breadsticks. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed. Granted, it's all you can eat, which has its own inherent limitations, but Rock Creek and Mountain Mike's (review forthcoming) both have good pizza — and both have a pretty extensive selection for the buffet. But I ordered it anyway, since that was my mission plan.
I got my drink and was again tickled to see they had the good, crumbled ice. I just like it. I then went over to the salad bar and my smile slipped a little. It's pretty sparse. They had slivered pepperoni on it, but the rest of the options were not anything special. It was better than Mountain Mike's, but fell quite a bit short of Rock Creek. So I made my salad and glopped on a spoonful of bleu-cheese dressing that literally rolled off my plate and onto the counter. I had thought it was thick when in the spoon, but not that thick. And I was a little embarrassed. So I did what I think anyone would do in that situation: I picked it up with my fingers and dropped it back on my plate. The astonishing part, though, is that I held. I was holding it lightly, but my fingers did not penetrate.
Not something I was looking forward to eating.
I then walked over to the bar, where they had their "buffet." There were two pieces of pizza on it. Two. Call me crazy, but two pieces of pizza does not a buffet make. A woman behind the counter told me that more was coming, that they don't like it to sit, and that she would bring it out to me, if I wanted. That was something unexpected, sort of a pleasant surprise, so I took a breadstick from the silver chafing dish and sat down.
The flavor of the salad dressing was fine. Nothing special, although I could not clean the fork with just one pass. It was a bit more like peanut butter than salad dressing. And just helped fan the flames of my annoyance. The saving grace was that the breadstick was really good. It was light and fluffy, with a very nice, garlicky, buttery flavor that seemed to float on the tongue. Only problem there was that it had been the last one in the chafing dish.
About the time I was halfway through my salad (the breadstick was long gone by this time), the woman from behind the counter brought out a pepperoni pizza fresh from the oven, and told me to pick what I wanted. Again, a nice touch, just would've liked to have more options. And I was a bit grumpy after the dressing-cum-peanut butter and general lack of options in the buffet.
First words out of my mouth: "Love that brick oven!"
The sauce is excellent, and you get the nice heady garlic and salty flavor from the crust that comes with those types of ovens (as opposed to the conveyor ovens). The woman waited till I had taken my first bite, smiling at me, then asked if I wanted anything else. I said I would like more of those awesome breadsticks. She said she would bring those out, too. Again, not expected with a lunch buffet.
Last words out of my mouth: "I'll eat here again, but skip the two-piece buffet and peanut-butter dressing."
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noun. Slang. A person who has an ardent or refined interest in food; a gourmet.