Yes: I am a native Philadelphian. Yes: I bitch constantly about restaurants and individuals who use the term “Philly cheesesteak” to describe sandwiches that, if they were magically turned into people, would be Dallas Cowboys fans with unplaceable Midwestern accents. Yes: I am, despite my best efforts at geniality, Kind of a Jerk About These Things.
But it looks like I have to make a concerted effort to stop, since I’m pretty sure I’ve found a deliciously authentic Chicago-style deep dish pizza at Masa of Echo Park.
I’ve only been to the City of the Big Shoulders once, and have only had real-live deep-dish pizza at Gino’s East; true fans and Chicagoans may debate whether this represents the platonic ideal of deep dish, but I thought it was pretty damn good. And the pizza at Masa — located just east of the Echo nightclub and Brite Spot diner on Sunset — seemed pretty damned Chicagoesque to me.
Masa’s authenticity likely stems from owner Rob Rowe’s roots in Chicago pizzerias; Rowe grew up in Chi-town and slaved over its pizza ovens before moving to Los Angeles to open Masa. Despite this, Masa bills itself as a “bakery and cafe;” there’s little effort to advertise the pizza to passing foot traffic, and my girlfriend and I were first drawn to it for its ambience: Classy yet easygoing, like a poet laureate who invites you over to watch Lost.
It wasn’t until we checked its website that we discovered Masa’s pizza, which ultimately drew us there. And thank goodness for this: Whether you agree with its authenticity or not, there’s no denying that the deep dish at Masa’s is delicious. Thick with a diversity of flavors and unapologetically dense, this is pizza that hits you like a ton of brick ovens. The crust is firm and broad, but carries a surprising lightness, with a bottom that somehow resists moisture and maintains a surprisingly delicate crunch. Likewise, the sausage topping is soft and yielding, but also has the barest suggestion of a crunch on top. Inside are tomatoes and mushrooms, and not the dead-inside, cold-stiffened slabs of fungal afterbirth usually found on pizza; these mushrooms are soft, salty and tasty, like the savory equivalent of apples in a pie. It’s all finished off with cheese that Stretch Armstrong and Plastic Man would be proud of.
For us, though, what truly set Masa apart was the service. Our server was the ultimate no-pressure source of information; rather than ply us with drink suggestions and lists of what was on tap, she suggested we stick with water until we were able to make a decision. It wasn’t a big deal, but speaking as someone who feels like ordering water makes me look like a cheapskate, it was a nice gesture. What’s more, because Masa is relatively small, we were never without quick and attentive service. And our water was refilled at least three times during the meal. Mr. Pink might have even left a tip.
(One last note about the service and then I’ll shut up: At one point, we were looking around the place to admire the decor, which included a nearly wall-sized mirror that I initially thought was an entrance to another room. Multiple Masa employees interpreted our rubbernecking as a search for our server, and rushed to see if there was anything we needed. But don’t read this behavior as some manner of toadying obsequiousness to ensure a big tip; I have a pretty excellent bullshit detector, and I can guarantee that the friendliness was genuine.)
When the night was over, we were tempted to try the croissant bread pudding or the chocolate creme brulee, but we were just too full. A small “traditional” pizza at Masa — which abounds with mushrooms and sausage — is about $15, and can easily feed four people. For those of you who haven’t spent part of your day shoving corn chip after corn chip into your gaping maw while playing Super Mario Galaxy (as I had earlier in the day), a large pizza is about $20 and has two more slices. We couldn’t have fit dessert without re-enacting the Mr. Creosote scene from The Meaning of Life, so we had to forgo dessert, but the chocolate creme brulee and the croissant bread pudding sounded great. Next time, though.
Masa of Echo Park
1800 West Sunset Blvd