That’s probably more than you want (or need) to know. But I stopped at Eatalian after picking up the ashes of my dog, George, who had crossed the Rainbow Bridge when he was 16 years and three months old. The company looking after him was just down the street. And with George in a box in the passenger seat, I felt the need for comfort and attention. Italian food seemed just right – and Eatalian was the place to go.
Eatalian is in a neighborhood (if you can call it that) where there are no restaurants. There are also no people. At night, there are no cars. This is the industrial area east of the 110 and south of Redondo Beach Boulevard bordering Gardena. It is in a former textile factory, with ample parking at the rear. You enter through a side door, where you are faced with piles of Italian preserves, in front of what appears to be some sort of ad hoc grocery store.
Sometimes the hostess will seat you. Other times she’s a little busy and you sit down. Eatalian has an alluring homemade, do-it-yourself, my-dad-has-a-barn-let’s-put-in-a-show quality. This is perhaps the most informal restaurant in town. And one of the best when it comes to the art of Neapolitan thin crust pizza.
This is a thinner crust pizza than you’ll find in New York and Boston – and much thinner than the crust you’ll encounter in Chicago. It’s not the artisanal and pleasantly lumpy crust of Pizzeria Mozza. It’s the kind of razor-thin crust you find in the cafes lining the streets of Italy – a crust that crackles and crackles with every bite and, thanks to its crispness, manages to hold up to the many ingredients used. as a garnish. It is an admirable creation, produced in an industrial setting. It’s a real treat.
Pizzas are made in a Pizza Zone that occupies one side of Eatalian’s totally open kitchen. It’s easy to find – just look for the pizza maker that never stops moving. He makes pies at a breakneck pace, spinning, filling, tossing, sliding, spinning – and popping them out so they can be rushed onto the tables, still bubbling with cheese and sauce.
Since you can sit at a counter that faces Eatalian’s kitchen, you can closely observe the pizza-making process. Really, it’s beauty, a ballet of pepperoni and mushrooms.
Pies occupy a large part of the menu, divided into “traditional pizza” and “Italian pizza”. Not all traditionals are so traditional. Admittedly, the Margherita pizza with its mozzarella and tomato topping is as basic as it gets. But there is a pie topped with tuna and onions that definitely borders on traditional. And there is also a Greek model, with feta and kalamata olives. Which is traditional, I guess, in Athens. But not so much in Rome.
There are 11 Eatalian pizzas, none of which are so odd; you won’t find a pizza topped with chocolate chips and maraschino cherries here. What you will find is the Rock – a pie made with tomato, mozzarella, salami, gorgonzola blue cheese, spinach and pancetta bacon. It’s a busy pizza place. But it’s not crazy pizza. Ditto the Pizman — tomato, mozzarella, ceps, dry ham called speck, pancetta and blue cheese. There is also a pizza called Marlon Brando – half Rock and half ham calzone. I’m sure there’s a story there, but no one seemed quite sure about it.
Another large section of the menu is devoted to pasta. Good, worker like pasta. But not the pasta that will delight me with the joys of pizzas. Like the pizzas, most of the pastas are substantial and reasonably priced – this is a generally inexpensive restaurant.
If you’re hungry, try a savory plate of penne arrabbiata or a nice spaghetti carbonara (a little gooey, although it would be surprising if the spaghetti topped with egg, cheese and pancetta were anything but a little gooey). Here’s a really nice order of tortelli di zucca — homemade ravioli filled with butternut squash and topped with butter and parmesan cheese or pancetta, as desired.
There are lots of salads, which go well with the other dishes. But really, what you go to at Eatalian is first and foremost pizza. This is the sine qua non of the Eatalian experience. And as another prerequisite, there’s an ice cream counter not far from the pizza maker, where you can order soothing and satisfying cups of ice cream from a selection of around two dozen.
There’s another box next to the ice cream, filled with pastries and desserts — tiramisu, bombolone, milleflogie, cannellino. Accompany your dessert with a good double cappuccino. And try to imagine what the space looked like when it was a textile factory. It’s not easy, because the smell in the air is pizza, not pants.
Merrill Shindler is a freelance food critic based in Los Angeles. Email [email protected]
- Evaluation: 3 stars
- Address: 15500 S. Broadway St., Gardena
- Information: 310-532-8880; www.eataliangroup.com
- Kitchen: Italian cafe/bakery/factory
- When: Lunch and dinner, Monday to Saturday
- Details: A sprawling space on an industrial street near the 110 freeway, where it’s easy to get lost admiring the pastas, pizzas, gelatos…and the many pastries. Not what you might expect, but then, this is LA!
- Prices: About $25 per person
- Suggested dishes: 13 Traditional Pizzas ($13.25-$19), 11 Eatalian Pizzas ($5-$15.95), 6 Small Salads ($6-$14.95), 6 Large Salads ($7.75-$23, $95), 5 Panini Sandwiches ($9.95 – $12.50), 7 Antipasti ($11.50 – $20.25), 20 Pastas ($11.50 – $22.50), 5 meat ($15.50 – $21.25), 3 fish dishes ($20.25 – $23.95), 8 desserts ($3 – $6)
- Credit card: CM, V
- What do the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth the trip from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, if not outstanding. Worth the trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A great place to go for a meal. Worth the trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry and it’s nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic.) 0 (Honestly not worth it to describe.)