Thursday, July 18, 2024

Pizza Parlor LB is East Long Beach’s hidden, underrated carby gem

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Surely, the sign just reads “pizzeria” amid the strip mall’s collage of small businesses where Clark Avenue meets Spring Street, stuffed among an old-school Mexican joint, a cake-ry, a DTLA Chinatown transplant… But Pizza Parlor LB—the East Long Beach pizzeria that plays sibling to its neighboring Coffee Parlor, both owned and operated by Long Beach native Josh Knight—has grasped the Long Beach pizza zeitgeist by the crust to deliver the best pizza on the Eastside.

East Long Beach has long been dominated by corporate food—and Pizza Parlor LB wants to change that

Knight is the first to admit a very hard truth, especially as someone born and raised in Long Beach: The Eastside tend to lean toward the corporate if not outright cheaper side of food and that his pizza is not for everyone, be it style or cost.

And while he recognizes he will not win over everyone, he does entrust his team and himself with the task of altering the way East Long Beach views food, beyond the food hub that is Long Beach Exchange. Yes, there are hidden gems like Vino e Cucina and, just across the way from that Italian gem, the Indian gem that is Cali Chilli—and Pizza Parlor LB joins those gems by bringing on a team that might be making the humble pizza but churn out some of the most quality pies in not just the Eastside but all of Long Beach.

“I know our pizza isn’t for everyone: It’s not outrageously expensive but it’s certainly not cheap,” Knight said. “$18 for a cheese to $24 for one of our more complex 14-inch pies. But we’re not buying poor quality ingredients—we’re using a quality mozzarella, quality flour, premium pepperoni—and we try to do as much as we can in house… We’re working with what I believe to be one of the best kitchen teams in Long Beach.”

And to that last point, Knight is right.

There’s his business partner and pie honcho Chef Mike Ortiz, whose culinary pedigree includes rounds at Tartine and Lodge Bread while earning his stripes in the Bay Area’s food scene. There’s lead pizzaiolo Riley Bowman, a man who is “a true asset on the oven and making our dough—he understands the complexity that is sourdough and it’s in and outs,” Knight said. And then there’s dessert and pastry maestro Megan Waterbury, who might just be churning out the city’s best panna cotta (in mini to-go containers no less—more on that in a bit).

“A year ago, the parking lot was this beautiful array of 22 tables, benches, umbrellas, lighting, heaters—it was truly a communal space for every food business in this strip,” Knight said. “And when we lost it all [as the City began returning converted parking spaces back into formal parking], I felt obligated to take over this pizzeria and create something genuinely special.”

Expanding his food portfolio was an echo of what he was trying to do at his neighboring coffee shop, Coffee Parlor: He was not only trying to give East Long Beach a taste of third-wave coffee—a part of Long Beach’s coffee culture that had largely been relegated to the streets of Alamitos Beach and Downtown—but also offer a different take on coffee shop food. That meant creating quality breakfast burritos, toasts, and baked goods in a way that, well, Starbucks wasn’t.

Even more, this shift from pastries to pizzas is also a direct reflection of his admiration and respect for what really has been a pizza renaissance across the city throughout the past decade.

“Thunderbolt. Chef Jason [Winters] over at Speak Cheezy. La Parolaccia—these are the places I love and respect and patronize and felt that East Long Beach deserved something on those lines,” Knight said. “We’ve always been a pizza-forward community but there’s been this really admirable change of hands from what was Alex at Valentino’s to those that want to do the next evolution of pizza. And I wanted to be a part of that.”

And thus, Pizza Parlor LB was born.

Pizza Parlor LB’s five-day sourdough base and its play with toppings contribute to the Long Beach pizza renaissance

“I’ve been a baker for forever—that’s what saved us during COVID,” Knight said. “That’s what we did at Coffee Parlor: We closed off all the seating and turned the front into a bakery. Brought in ovens, brought in mixers, and went bananas.”

With a team of five bakers, they were churning out fourteen, fifteen different pastries seven days a week—donuts, croissants, brioche, loaves… And that process, melded with his history and passion of making sourdough bread at home, led to the desire to take over what was, at the time, Ottimo Pizzeria.

Of course, one will know that Pizza Parlor LB doesn’t mess around with toppings. One can watch his Ortiz or Knight assemble and layer the pizzeria’s Authentica Papa pie with a creamy béchamel sauce base topped of with thinly sliced potato, spicy crumbles of Italian sausage, rosemary, and hot honey—and they will certainly watch with wonder. But perhaps most captivating are the parlor’s crust on every pie: Dots of deep brown and black bubbles, creating a cheetah-like array of crust dots.

It’s the result of a five-day proofing process inside a 36-degree walk-in fridge, which is then stretched when prepared, topped with the Parlor’s various toppings, started in a 700-degree-plus top oven before being finished in a 600-ish degree oven below it. And every pizza is finished smoked Maldon salt.

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Echoing the love of collaborations from Winters at Speak Cheezy—whose partnered with everyone from Gemmae Bake Shop to Chef Carlos Jurado from Selva—Knight is perpetually partnering with other businesses he loves and respects: There’s a Ray Texas BBQ collab pizza currently on the menu, where the Huntington Park’s legendary brisket is layered with street corn that is accompanied by a chipotle crema, cilantro, and pickled onions. The result is a savory bomb dotted with bits of sweet and umami.

“We will always fight for every customer and win them over as they learn to trust us,” Knight said. “Born and raised here my whole life—so I know there’s a learning curve, especially out here. But as I chose to raise my family in this part of town—sometimes I call it ‘The Forgotten Land’—I decided that this part of Long Beach deserves something better.”

Pizza Parlor LB’s stellar crew is punctuated by their equally stellar desserts to-go—sweet little gems of their own

In what is arguably their largest stand-out from the genuinely great, rather large pizza scene Long Beach has going on, one must reiterate the work of their lead baker and pastry chef, Megan Waterbury: Fresh out of culinary school, Knight described her as a “beast in the kitchen.”

And rightfully so.

In unassuming plastic to-go containers sit what could be considered the city’s best panna cotta: Eschewing a plethora of options, one can have the classic French vanilla panna cotta or a coffee-based one (using, of course, coffee from Coffee Parlor). But the real star of these masterful takes on the Italian dessert are their textures: Not too gelatinous and wonderfully silky smooth, they are a masterful representation of the importance of mouth-feel and tinkering with a recipe until it feels just right.

Waterbury’s tiramisu eschews lady fingers in favor of denser, house-made Meyer lemon madeleine sheet cakes and soaks those with a seasonal single-origin coffee before layering whipped mascarpone cheese, whipped vanilla heavy cream (with house-made vanilla extract) that is folded in with marsala wine, and a healthy dousing of semi-sweet chocolate shreds. The result is, simply put, an amazing dessert.

And then there’s her cheesecake. Her cookies. Her brown butter rice crispy treats that also use Fruity Pebbles in one version and Cinnamon Toast Crunch in another…

Don’t skip on the dessert. Or the pizza. Or the house-made ranch dressing. In all frankness, don’t skip out on Pizza Parlor LB. Period.

Pizza Parlor LB is located at 2936 Clark Ave.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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