Eastern Avenue south of the 215 freeway is becoming a literal restaurant hotbed and has the traffic patterns to prove it. Adding to the congestion is the new Richmar Plaza, a swank mini-mall that is home to the newly revived Freed’s Bakery, the terrific Espresso Café and these two shrines to the American way of eating.
Coal-fired, brick-oven pizza, like you get in Brooklyn, has finally made it across to our side of the country.
The crust is everything, according to a chef I know. The best pizza crust, for my money, has a mildly blackened bottom and some blisters on the surface, and is crisp and chewy at the same time. Grimaldi’s is all that. This crust is probably the best in town, including my formerly favorite crust, the one at Henderson’s Settebello. Where I take issue with this pizza is the slightly watery marinara sauce, which has a rather low Ph to boot. That’s easily fixed, though. When I come here, I simply order the white pizza with garlic and maybe a little anchovy. It’s pure bliss.
This atmospheric Brooklyn-style joint is sure to recall the halcyon days of that storied borough. The tables have red-and-white-checked cloths, and walls are festooned with black-and-white photos of Noo Yawk landmarks, such as the Chrysler Building.
Service is brash and friendly, and pizzas are cooked in a spectacular oven exactly like the ones in Brooklyn.
Before you dig into that pizza, start with one of the good house salads. Antipasto is a platter of fresh mozzarella, oven-roasted sweet red peppers, Genoa salami and ripe olives, served with fresh bread from the pizza oven. Don’t overdo it.
Pizzas here come in three sizes, personal (12-inch), small (16-inch) and large (18-inch), and the small should feed two or three. Choose your toppings from a list that includes sun-dried tomato, ricotta cheese and many other options. The pepperoni here is especially delicious, but I would be wary of the meatball, premade and served in unappealing slices.
If you make it to dessert, you’ll want to try the New York-style cheesecake, one of the best versions in town. There is also a mean tiramisu, and even cannolis, if you insist.
“Founded by firemen,” the menu tells us. What connection this has to the submarine sandwich escapes me, in spite of a lengthy rationale on the inside of the takeaway menu, but so what. I liked most of what they do here.
This is a narrow, crowded room, with a colorful Rat Pack mural on a rear wall and an array of hot sauces set up on the front counter, in front of where your sandwiches will be assembled. You’ll order at the cashier, and then wait for someone to bring the sandwiches to your table. When you get a table. At lunch, this place is doing a land-office business.
Yes, that was Carrot Top ordering the chain’s signature sandwich, the Hook and Ladder, a smoked-turkey and honey-ham sub with Monterey Jack cheese, and his awesomely filled-out physique is a good advertisement for eating here. Like most subs here, this one comes up hot. I opted for the Club on a Sub, which is like the Hook and Ladder but with two strips of bacon. The menu tells us the bacon is crispy. I’d characterize it as chewy.
Still, it makes for a delicious sandwich, though purist that I am, I prefer the Italian. You’ll get a pre-portioned amount of Genoa salami, pepperoni, ham, provolone, Italian dressing and Italian spices. It’s steamed, and when had with all the trimmings, it’s a real treat.
I’m giving high marks to the meatball sub, delicious meatballs made from beef and pork, swimming around in a rich marinara. All subs, for the record, come in medium (8-inch) and large (12-inch) sizes. I’ve been known to hold my own at the table, so take it for what it’s worth when I say that the medium is plenty large for me.
There are lots of other choices to cut your teeth on. Firehouse Steak & Cheese is your basic, garden-variety Philly cheesesteak, a proper gut bomb that does the original proud. Not so the New York Steamer, a relatively tame corned-beef and pastrami combo. It’s a Midwestern version, for someone who has never eaten these meats in a real deli. Try the real thing in New York, instead.
All sandwiches come with the usual trimmings and a cold, crunchy dill-pickle spear. There are good cookies and brownies the chain has made for it, and friends to be made at these close quarters. At first glance, this concept comes up sevens.
9595 S. Eastern Ave. 657-9400. Open daily 11 a.m.-midnight.
Suggested dishes: antipasto, small, $8, large, $12; small white with garlic, $15; personal pesto, $10; New York cheesecake, $5.
9555 S. Eastern Ave. 893-3483. Open Sun.-Thurs., 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Suggested dishes: Hook & Ladder, Firehouse Meatball, Italian sub. All three $5.49 (8”), $7.49 (12”).