If Pizza Is a Vegetable, This Is My New Favorite Salad Bar


If you haven't already heard, pizza is now a vegetable! Thanks to Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee, pizza is in the same group as broccoli, cauliflower, and beets. I wish they had decided that when I was a kid. I'd look more like Pizza the Hutt.

The timing of this couldn't be better for Los Angeles' pizza renaissance. There's a lot of good pie popping up on our grid lately. Thanks to joints like Pizzeria Mozza — the brainchild restaurant of Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali, and Joe Bastianich, which opened back in 2006 and has inspired many new artisan pizzerias, LA finally can boast about having truly amazing pies.

If pizza is the new veggie, then Urbano Pizza Bar is one awesome salad bar. Ilan Hall of The Gorbals (and their unholy bacon-wrapped matzo balls) has been guest chef for the past few months at this pizza and beer sanctuary near central Downtown LA.

Having Top Chef-testant Ilan Hall make your pizza is like having Mario Andretti drive a school bus. It's penning up a raging bull. Although it seems to be an odd fit at first, the proof is in the pizza, or vegetable or whatever you consider pizza now to be.

The twin wood-burning ovens encased by bricks are infernos of deliciousness. With their fuel stacked neatly beneath them, these ovens are ready to turn even the most mundane food into crispy, flavorful satisfaction.

Take Urbano's grilled artisan table bread. Simply amazing. Sexy, dark grill marks underscore the serious heat that these crispy carbohydrates were baked with. Crusty and light, the texture welcomed the freshly made crushed tomato sauce topping, soaking it up and flavoring the bread through and through.

The charred corn with balsamic butter proved to be a fun and inventive dish. Snappy kernels of roasted corn were adorned with a curious balsamic butter that gradually melted and coated the corn, flavoring every bit with its uniquely sharp richness.

A mighty platter of their meatballs with warm pizza bread could satiate even the most savage of carnivorous appetites. Three hefty spheres of beef, nicely seasoned, sat atop a fluffy piece of pizza bread like an edible life raft.

Another eye-pleasing plate was the baby caponata — eggplant, zucchini, and vinegar-soaked golden raisins. The charred eggplant, miniature squash, and zucchini dotted with capers and golden raisins was a far cry from chef Hall's rebellious cuisine at The Gorbals.

Heavenly pink sheets of La Querica Prosciutto Americano was presented and quickly devoured. This earthy, sweet prosciutto maximized its simple ingredients of pork and sea salt.

If you think mozzarella cheese is happiness, the mozzarella trio is triple happiness. This vegetable-cheese platter has a lot going on — burrata with roasted tomato and basil pesto; smoked mozzarella with grilled radicchio and crushed tomato; fresh mozzarella with cherry tomato and basil oil. Each cheese is paired optimally.

Urbano specializes in Neapolitan-style pizzas, which is to say they're trying to keep it real since pizza originated in Naples.

The Salsiccia slices were the first ones out, donning a flavorful combination of fennel sausage, mozzarella, caramelized onions, and crushed tomatoes. The fennel sausage was nicely spiced and crisped up a bit in the oven for a pleasing texture.

Yes, I'm a fun guy who loves a good funghi pizza. One bite of Urbano's funghi pizza and you are in mushroom heaven. Every bite is an intoxicating burst of wild mushroom flavor. They're roasted and then baked on the pie with burrata cheese, with thin slices of red onion, crushed tomatoes, and thyme.

The testa verde was one of the more unique pizzas of the night, with its baby spinach, herbed ricotta, and Irish Cheddar toppings. Green is the theme here and it made for a very tasty combo, with the spinach contributing a surprisingly meaty texture.

Another favorite was the flavorful selvatica pizza, offering a variety of flavors and textures like gooey burrata, perky slow-roasted tomatoes, bright basil pesto, and toasted pine nuts. Again, like the testa verde, there's no meat, but it satisfies like a meat pizza with tons of tasty elements.

I am saving the best pizza for last here. The creative scimmietta pizza uses puréed pumpkin in place of tomato sauce. Other versions of this pizza include chunks of pumpkin like another topping. Urbano reinvents this pie and deftly applies a coat of the pumpkin purée without slogging it down, since it's heavier than a tomato sauce. In addition, charred pieces of Applewood smoked bacon, gobs of goat cheese, and green onion coalesce into one harmonious albeit strong flavor. This is a pizza with lots of personality.

Urbano uses its higher gluten dough to make everything from bread to pizza crust to, well, dessert. One example is an experimental pastry of sorts filled with ricotta and sticky fruit jam. It was satisfyingly gloppy and gooey, just what you want in a dessert sometime.

Actually, I shouldn't even call this a dessert. Maybe I was eating a serving of fruit the whole time. Yeah, that's it. Fruit.