Golden State pies
California Pizza’s small dining hall with the kitchen set visibly in the corner right behind the register gives it that homey neighborhood pizzeria feel you might find in New York or Chicago. And while the downtown location is convenient, it’s just far enough away from the main Virginia strip that street parking is easily acquired for quick takeout. But you’re not in Brooklyn anymore, Dorothy. Ultimately, it’s just a place you can go get some pizza.
One other family came for sit-down dinner on the quiet weeknight my husband and I came, but most of our fellow patrons zipped in and out picking up called-in orders. (They deliver to proximate and select downtown locations, especially casinos.) It is modestly adorned but clean, and the staff is friendly and casual. Our server-cashier was really cool about one thing: California recently launched a website (http://californiapizzareno.com) indicating you could get a large pepperoni for $10 if you mention it when ordering, so we asked if we could substitute for a large cheese. No problem.
We were politely handed the remote control so we could channel surf on the corner TV while we awaited our pies. There really wasn’t a whole lot going on, and thus there isn’t much to write about. I apologize to any readers who tire of my constant quest for the Apt Metaphor, but in truth the general malaise seemed to permeate atmospherically into the food. Our pies were prepared promptly without being rushed and raw, then politely plopped next to the requisite parmesan and crushed red pepper. My husband pitched the remote to the other customer, and we dined.
The $10 special was a solid score, but our medium veggie was $15, so we thought this should be a cut above your chain buffets and two-for-one specials, but it really wasn’t. While the menus advertise “Fresh California Pizza,” this is a misnomer because nothing was fresh except the onion. The tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, artichoke hearts and olives were all from cans or jars. The tomato paste was industrial grade. The crusts were done correctly, but the cheese bases had a little of the oily residue that accompanies a middling mozzarella. In all, it was decent without distinguishing itself from a corporate competitor.
Prices range. While a small cheese is a little dear at $8.99, as of this writing California is offering various specials, such as a free pitcher of soda with a large veggie ($16.99) or sausage-pepperoni ($18.99). Be sure to ask about specials because they seem to assume you already know.
California pizza has been a family owned business for eight years, and appears to have established itself with a satisfied clientele. It’s fast, palatable, and served with finesse. If you’re downtown and want to try a convenient local establishment, you won’t go terribly wrong dining there, but neither will you feel any compulsion to avoid a more proximate chain in your neighborhood.