Ask a friend: what’s your favorite kind of pizza? Go ahead, I’ll wait. Chances are they have an opinion regarding not only their top spot for a slice, but also what style and which toppings reign supreme. In fact, I bet you’ve conjured up a personal pizza of your own while reading this. Pizza is very personal.
When interviewing chefs and restaurant owners around Los Angeles, I make sure to ask one key question. This question always elicits one of two reactions. Reaction A: a long pause, folding of the arms, furrowed brow and a scratch of the chin, followed by a carefully decided answer. Reaction B: zero pause, a twinkle in the eye, a wide smile, and a quick response. The question: “Where’s your favorite pizza in LA?”
Oftentimes, the “authenticity” of the pizza becomes the main focus. How the dough is made, the crust, the region from which it hails. Oftentimes, the New York style pizza prevails, with restaurateurs saying “the best pizza outside of New York” to support their answer.
What is it about the New York slice that has inspired millions to dedicate their pizza proclivity to it with unwavering dedication? In this interview I sit down with Zak Fishman, owner of Prime Pizza on Fairfax, to talk slices and pies, pepperoni and sausage, and hear what he has to say about the New York style movement in LA — and across the country.
Tell me about Prime Pizza and your experience opening a New York style pizza spot.
Well everyone says there’s no good pizza in LA, which I don’t think is true, but I do think is true in the sense that there are not many truly good New York style pizza places. It just seems like there are so many wood-fired pizza places that are doing more Neapolitan style. But, if you’re someone who really loves New York pizza and classic stuff like grandma pies and square pies and Sicilian pies, then there are not a lot of great options in LA.
When we first opened, that was our goal. So what we set out to do was to do the authentic, 20 inch, New York style pizza. Almost everyone else does 18 inch pies. Such a huge part of what makes it New York pizza is the size of the pie, that big slice.
How does the high quality of ingredients set you apart?
We also wanted to be a good value, especially for what it is. We serve excellent quality pizza. That means using quality flour, using quality cheese, we use Grande Cheese which is the industry standard for New York. It melts really well, it melts differently than other cheeses, which is so important.
Our veggie pie is a great example of the quality. It’s not canned olives and bad tomatoes and bad button mushrooms, we use really good crimini mushrooms, fresh kale, pickled jalapeños. We also don’t just use raw mushrooms, we season them with oil and salt and roast them. It’s the little things that make a big difference.
What are some of the key ingredients in a New York style pizza?
The pepperoni is another one of those classic New York ingredients. It has a small diameter and cups up when you bake it in the oven. The oil pool in the middle, that’s key.
The dough is a huge factor. That’s the building block of any pizza. We make it in house. A couple keys points include fermentation time. We make our dough and let it sit basically for two extra days. So if it’s made on Monday, we let it sit until Tuesday, and then we roll it, and then it sits again, and then we bake it on Wednesday. The fermentation allows it to really develop the proteins, and that’s where you get that deep flavor.
What makes Prime Pizza unique?
The sandwiches, they are something we’ve been thinking about for a long time. A few months ago, Noah (Chef), took a trip. We went everywhere from Chatsworth to Canoga Park down to the deep valley, Italian neighborhoods, all the way up to Glendale and beyond to the North valley. We wanted to know, ok, what are the best Italian sandwiches in LA?
We wanted to create a really fantastic Italian deli sandwich that wasn’t just an Italian combo, but also a great sandwich on it’s own. We ended up making three sandwiches: Caprese, Turkey Pesto, and Italian Combo. We use Bub & Grandma’s bread which is hands down the best bread I’ve had in LA. He makes fantastic bread.
Also, the BBQ chicken pie. It’s a collaboration between Bludso’s BBQ and Prime. We use the smoked chicken from Bludso’s, and we use their BBQ sauce.
Me and Noah always joke that it’s the only real BBQ chicken pizza. It’s not just chicken breast with BBQ sauce, it’s actually smoked chicken. It’s the staff favorite for sure. And the block favorite too. All the guys from the block come to get that.
What do people love about Prime Pizza the most?
They love the pizza. It’s why they come back. It’s a really good mix of neighborhood people and block people. This block has a very strong identity. All of the people who work on Fairfax know each other and they are all pretty tight, so we see the same people every day. It’s beyond regulars. It’s really great, this neighborhood is high density residential so we get a lot of families. I think they all appreciate that we serve really authentic New York Pizza.