The Dough Nuts

Elemental toppings are important, but for the latest wave of pizzerias in town, it’s the crust that’s key

Photograph by Misha Gravenor

Sotto’s Zach Pollack shovels a mound of sawdust into the wood-fire oven. Embers sputter. “Now it’s gone up to 860 degrees,” he says, reading the laser thermometer he’s aimed at the oven’s sweet spot, where a disk of dough will be transformed into a Neapolitan pizza—Sotto’s specialty—in 60 seconds.

Four years after Nancy Silverton opened Pizzeria Mozza and ushered in a different breed of California pie, nouveau pizzaiolos like the ones at Sotto, Settebello, Olio Pizzeria, and Stella Rossa Pizza Bar are further refining the art of dough. Simple science, right? Yeast mingles with proteins to form stretchy glutens that, with just the right amount of fermenting and heat, turn into a chewy, blistered, bubbly crust. Sotto—which Pollack owns with chef Steve Samson—as well as Mother Dough in Los Feliz and Pasadena newcomer Settebello serve pizza for purists. They use imported Caputo flour and handcrafted Stefano Ferrara ovens to create the supple, soft pies typical of Naples. “A great pizza dough,” says Pollack, “is 20 percent the ingredients, 20 percent the equipment, and the rest is all technique. That part is hard to teach.”

But there is no single new school of L.A. pizza. “When you see the dough crest the top of the jar, that’s when you know it’s perfect,” says Jeff Mahin, the chef with the Michelin-starred résumé at Stella Rossa, where plastic jars of proofing dough decorate the counter. Mahin, who has a degree in chemistry, commissioned a top-secret flour blend from a Southern California grower and miller. The result is dough that takes inspiration from good French bread. Across town at Olio, Bradford Kent spent three-and-a-half years working out his recipe, which yields a crust with a substantial crunch. He still makes every batch himself. “I can’t train anyone to do it right,” he says. 

ALSO: Watch Lesley Bargar Suter make a margherita pie at Sotto