Have you ever had the experience of eating at a restaurant, one that you sort of took for granted, and as you’re chewing mid-meal you realize that this isn’t just a good restaurant, it’s a great restaurant, and the whole world should know about it only you don’t want them to because that’d make it harder to get a reservation, even though this restaurant doesn’t take reservations?
That’s what happened to me last night at Hail Mary Pizza in L.A.’s Atwater Village (the village in which I live). In the space that once housed the beloved restaurant Canele, something exciting is happening. I knew it when I tasted the tomato salad, but I also knew it when the pizzas hit the table. Actually, I knew it when I stood at the counter ordering.
Do you see what I see? Food up on the counter, like a cafe in Europe: there’s cookies, cake, whole peaches, tomatoes, melons.
Things that I would normally find irritating at any other restaurant, I found charming here: bad air-conditioning. Counter-service only. Fetch your own plates and silverware.
The wine was really good: a chilled Lambrusco that was kind of the perfect thing on a hot summer’s night, with all of this spicy food.
And then the food. Check out this tomato salad:
That tomato salad was something else: sure there were the requisite heirloom tomatoes, but then there were big slivers of toasted garlic. There was a zesty, bright dressing that had some heat to it. And then all of those herbs. It’s the best tomato salad I’ve had this summer, and I’ve had a lot (including the one that I made myself).
Then there was the corn:
A riff on Mexican street corn, this was grilled to perfection, then slathered with a Calabrian chili butter, and then topped with a giant mound of Parmesan. It was outrageous. I don’t even like biting into corn on the cob (we were going to a party after and I didn’t want to have corn in my teeth!), but this was worth it.
But we haven’t even gotten to the pizza yet. The main pie you see above — okay, I’ll post it again — was called the Pep-Pep.
That had spicy pork chorizo, pepperoncini, tomato sauce, and mozzarella. It was the most exciting pizza I’ve had in a long time: mostly because of the heat (those chilis were spicy), but also because the dough that they use at Hail Mary is fermented with wild yeast and it makes such a difference. The same sort of fizzy funk that you get in a natural wine, you get in the pizza crust here. It rivals Mozza, as far as I’m concerned, for best pizza in L.A.
But we’re not done: we also got the Aye-Dunno, which had onions, gorgonzola, Mornay sauce, and — strangely enough — lettuce and ranch dressing piled on top.
There was some debate at the table about this lettuce on top of our pizza — “This would be better without the lettuce,” someone might have said — but I loved the boldness of this presentation, the weirdness of it. And also how much it made sense: people dip their pizza crust into ranch dressing, here was the ranch already on top of the pizza.
For dessert, we shared a salted chocolate chip cookie (excellent) and a brownie (just okay) but I think the star dessert would’ve been the Basque cake. I’ll get that next time. (Sorry for this blurry picture.)
In summary, let’s not tell too many people about Hail Mary, but I think there’s a world where a food critic could discover it and make it a thing and then we’ll never get to go there again. We’ll just keep this between us.