Saturday, July 15, 2006

the return to mr. pizza.

red light

we were foolish enough to be driving down fairfax avenue on friday night; being in a car on fairfax, on any given day at any given time, is not unlike being a lemming stuck in concrete flowing down a cliff--you're trapped, you're fighting your way out amongst the throng you stupidly followed, and more lemmings are piling up behind you and flailing around like you. friday night at 10pm is no different, except for that someone turned the lights out.

we were hungry; canter's wasn't appealing at the moment, and eat-a-pita had just closed. i remembered my old haunt, damiano's (aka 'mr. pizza'), and felt an overwhelming desire to have their pizza again. i hadn't had it in years--not because it was bad or because damiano's is too far away, but because there really isn't any parking ever, and it would take too long to fight the traffic to get there. damiano's was, and is, open until something like 4 or 6 am, and probably more filled with customers at midnight than at noon. although what time it was in there was really never known as they kept it so dark you could barely see your food, let alone a clock. i spent many an early morning there, eating the giant slices of cardboard thick, slightly charred, substantial pizza with a sour-sweet tomato sauce and incendiary melty cheese. a wave of nostalgia passed, and i made my companions stop.

i lied about the no parking ever, because we found a spot--only two area codes away, whoot! i thought it might be worth it to stop in because i had in my head rather mythologized the pizza there as The Best Pizza Ever™. which of course, could only spell disaster. however, as we walked towards it i was greatly reassured that the storefront was as i had remembered--a propped open door, small window looking into a kitchen you probably don't want to be looking into, a cheapie park bench with random characters sitting on it. none of whom look like they're waiting for their order, and all of them looking like they've been there all day. week. year.

things were looking good. i stopped abruptly at the door, and my dining companion looked at it, startled, then looked at me, then back at it. she pointed. "what? in there? that hole in the wall?" i nodded. she wasn't being derogatory, because the entrance really looks like hellmouth--you can't see anything past the two large drinks refrigerators that hold damiano's vast collection of beers and sodas (101 on the menu i believe, which sounds impressive, but--and it's a big one--they only have one of each. fnarrr). past that is almost pure darkness, save for weak candles on some of the tables, and a dim 20-watt red lantern above that probably doesn't radiate light but sucks it all up (to be fair, it is actually brighter in there than it used to be as the red has faded to a tongue-coloured pink--and by brighter i mean you can almost see what the lantern looks like, but it still doesn't cast out light). why is it so dark? it's not to create a romantic mood, i'll tell you that. it's drafty, there aren't any windows, and you are serenaded by almost ear-splittingly loud jack fm, which i think is the radio version of lad lit/spike tv--guy music. i think the reason for the darkness is so they don't have to redecorate. or clean. although, as far as i could tell, none of the surfaces were sticky or dusty, so i'm okay with that. i plunged into the darkness, with my companions following timidly behind. a waitress immediately stopped us. "hey you can't go in there!" um, but we're coming in to eat. she looked at us like we were nuts and shrugged a "suit yourself" and we slid into the first booth, because it was the only one we could make out.

waitress slapped down some menus (near impossible to read without the aid of the table candle), which is surprisingly large. the food at damiano's is old school italian-american, lots of pizzas, pastas, hero sandwiches, fried vegetables, parmigiana dinners, but there are a surprisingly decent selection of vegetarian and vegan options. although it's not on the menu, and i haven't actually ordered it, you can get vegan pizzas made with a meltable vegan cheese, and apparently they have vegan pepperoni as well (their marinara sauce and minestrone are also vegan, and quite good). we placed our order for a large pizza, and a couple sides of spaghetti with marinara sauce, then kicked back.

...for over 45 minutes. ah, yes. i had forgotten about the service, or lack thereof. there is a reason why i always got my pizza to go, and basically it's because you could wait all night for your 'za (good thing they are open until 6am). we watched a couple sit down, order beers. then we watched them drink the beers. then try to order the same beers, but they drank the only bottles of chosen liquor, so had to order two different ones. then another couple walked in. lather, rinse, repeat. by the time we got out pizza (mushroom, spinach and garlic), the place was full, and we were the only ones with food.

and how was the pizza? not quite as i had remembered it but still close to great--a solid crust, with the sort of heft you find in a good artisanal bread crust, a minimally spiced tomato sauce, just the right amount of cheese, and the barest amount of toppings. this is not an overloaded pizza, but it somehow works perfectly as a whole--the toppings don't weigh it down, and it never gets soggy (not even the morning after). there is something quite compelling about the combination, because most people--including myself--can't stop eating the pie until it's done. it's total pie crack. the pasta was cooked al dente, just a bit salty, and liberally doused with sauce; there's nothing else involved, but the sauce is as addictive as the pizza, so that's all you may want. there are also very good homemade meatballs and italian sausages on the menu, should you want to supplement the gravy, but i'm happy with it as is.

there are no photos of food because it was just so comically dark in there. yet, the wait was definitely worth it, and we walked off more sated than bloated. and still the only ones fed in the joint.


i had lunch with bekki, dave and keith a few days later, and keith informed me that some rock star died at damiano's a few years back; i was more surprised that there wasn't more than one fatality there, than the thought that one had died there. we couldn't remember who it was, so a quick search on google told us that bryan maclean from love died there one christmas day. yike. well, rock'n'roll cred to mr. pizza, and maybe mr. maclean had a good meal before he went.

mr. pizza

update 18 july 06: we returned! and brought back a slice for inspection:

damiano's pizza, dissected

412 n fairfax (x-street oakwood)
los angeles 90036.


Anonymous said...

aww. no pictures of mushroom garlic pizza. but you made it sound so delicious! i can see it in my head! and now i want some!

santos. said...

sadly, no. it was too good to save some for photos in daylight. maybe we should have ordered a second one, but i swear we would've eaten that one just then, too. i'm thinking i should draw a picture of it.

Watergirl said...

The darkness reminded me of the first Tia Maria's, near the old International School campus in Makati. It was pitch black, you had to feel your way to candle lit tables, hoping not to stumble over someone's drugged out body (or your guidance counselor/principal), and while eating the gloppiest enchiladas and quesadillas, hope that the dark bits aren't what you think they are.

santos. said...

mila, ha, it was certainly the guidance counselor, i'm sure of it. how's the "new" tia maria's? i take it it's not quite as dark.

e d b m said...

I remember stumbling in here after a wild night at the hollywood bowl. All i could remember was square pizza and a fridge filled with a lot of beer i've never heard of haha. It's funny b/c i was trying to remember the name of this place for over 2 years! Nice posting.

santos. said...

aaah, the sicilian pizza is the square one. i haven't had one of those in awhile. i love that you can just order slices of pizza there. i think next time i'll get that!

and yes, damiano's is definitely a place you stumble into after a wild night--or maybe during :)