What’s the first thing a born and bred (downstate) New Yorker looks for when arriving in any other city? Are you frikkin’ kidding me? A pizza place, of course. This happens even if, like me, you haven’t lived in the Big Apple for over two decades. Therefore, it was a real treat when, early this year, fellow blogging.la-er Julia introduced us to her former college roommate’s dad, who happens to be Little Italy-born and Brooklyn-raised Paul LaRocco, owner of LaRocco’s Pizzeria in Culver City.
As we discovered during our blogging.la “research outing,” the pizza at LaRocco’s is the real deal, and I highly recommend it. However, don’t be a stugats. Take a tip from this born and bred New Yorker, and try Paul’s calzone. How good is it? Fugeddaboudit! Whether or not you’re a calzone expert, you’ll be floored (and quite literally so, if you finish the whole thing).
If you don’t know much about calzone, here’s the layman’s version: it’s a large pocket of dough, filled with mozzarella (sometimes ricotta) and possibly other ingredients of your choice (I like to add tomatoes), and served with red sauce (known as “gravy” back in Paul’s old neighborhood), which you can pour over the top like I do, or use for dipping. Marron! Think of it as a pizza turned inside out. However, there are a few differences between calzone and pizza. First, the thick dough generally does not get charred the way thinner New York style pizza crust does. Second, although the cheese inside is melted and deliciously gooey, it does not bubble or get browned the way the cheese on top of a pizza often does. And third, the sauce comes fresh from the pot (at least it does at LaRocco’s), rather than being baked on top of the dough.
I’m a fan of calzone, and I haven’t had one in the Los Angeles area that comes anywhere near the calzone at LaRocco’s. So when you go, bring a friend or three, or a gaggle of bloggers, and sample not just Paul’s excellent pizza, but also his exquisite calzone. Ask for plenty of sauce, which, I believe, is made from his grandmother’s recipe. And if you spot Paul there, ask him to come sit down and explain all about his dough, his cheese, his sauce, and those intangible elements which elevate his calzone above the rest. Because he’ll do it.
Here are two more tips: (1) call ahead to order your LaRocco’s calzone, since it can take about 20 minutes to bake. Hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know? (2) anyone from New York, no matter what their ethnic background, is automatically Italian. And Jewish.