Taste in the bag
Witness the evolution of pizza at The Luggage Room
By Dan O'Heron 01/13/2011
After a week of post-holiday light eating to get back into shape, I went out to dinner at The Luggage Room, but I didn’t know what to do with my hands: rub them together in anticipation of gorging on beautiful pizza or wring them in despair over a dearly departed diet.
Much laborious ritual and serious delusion had gone into that seven-day fast. Sometimes, with knife and fork, I caught myself eagerly cutting into iceberg lettuce like it was New York Steak. I also remember faking smiles over limp greens that tasted like they should have been a target for herbicide.
Now, about to pounce on pizza, was it all a waste? Would the joy of stuffing fluffy, hot cheese into my mouth and veins bring back the two or three pounds I had lost?
It turned out not to be a matter of concern. The pizzas here are not made in the de rigueur Italian or New York styles. These pies are satisfying and healthy without neon orange blobs of cheese, thick humps of dough or ubiquitous rounds of pepperoni (one high-grade pepperoni is available as an extra by request).
Arguably, their “Padre” may be the best pizza you’ll ever taste. Fussily prepared with special ingredients that were made for each other — vanishingly thin slices of sweet and mild, air-dried prosciutto, a whisper-thin coat of Maytag blue cheese (once described as “milk’s leap toward immortality”), a splash of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, and — SURPRISE — in each of the pizza’s eight segments, underneath a leaf of peppery arugula, is buried a slice of fig.
Leading up to the fig, I found each bite was full-flavored enough. But when ambrosial sweetness of the fig burst to bloom, it was like having a great dessert to top off a meal. It was pizza’s own leap toward immortality.
Located in the former luggage room of the historic Santa Fe Del Mar Train Station, adjacent to its parent, the La Grande Orange Café, renowned for American regional cuisine emphasizing fresh, organic and seasonal cookery, the pizzeria’s setting should evoke warm memories for many.
With sturdy boxcar doors studding the walls and a stray suitcase here and there, it invites recalling the tender feelings many of us share about trains and train stations: the broken hearts of parting; the naughtiness of sleeping cars; and the comic Houdini-like efforts in a tiny fold-up compartment trying to get out of bed to get to the toilet.
In many ways, The Luggage Room on today’s Gold Line stop charms equally in other ways. Instead of a railway depot with a gumball dispenser in one corner and an always-vacated Traveler’s Aid desk in another, here there’s a roomful of people dining and drinking like they’re riding on the Sunset Unlimited. With a few Grey Goose vodka lemonades or Craftsman 1903 Pasadena lagers, the memories of bad situations seem to taper off as the distance increases between the train (now drink) and the mishap.
Now, instead of a cloud of steam and a clacking of wheels, heat waves shimmering from olivewood-burning ovens and the clanking of pizza trays (along with big colorful salads) announce the search for new people, experiences and adventure. Scents of the burnings not only blanket organic sourdough pizza crust with smokey flavor, but they also permeate the room with a heady aroma you don’t get with gas or mesquite.
They also produce pizza like the “Fallen Angel,” a delicious combo of spicy house-made Italian sausage with shavings from the feathery foliage of fennel, roasted pepper and a judicious use of red sauce.
Even though they create what might be called gourmet or “designer” pizzas, these are not the frou frou kind that make a fashion statement and look and taste like Carmen Miranda’s flowered hats. They are not the thrown-together fusions that turn the cuisines of three countries into wasteland Instead of some lucky alchemic knack, The Luggage Room pizza recipes have been formulated painstakingly through trial and error by owner Bob Lynn, his son Jordan, and his chef Jorge Gomez. Eschewing the Italian model of “extra fats,” the trio tries to be as organic as possible by choosing ingredients from farmers markets, creating healthy pies that even veteran pizza lovers will take to.
Even though the restaurant is located in an historic train station, you don’t need a bagful of money. All 10-inch pizzas cost between $12 and $14. Add a buck here or there for special-request add-ons.
Unlike American food staples, which haven’t evolved and shouldn’t — think scrambled eggs and bacon — pizza was bound to evolve and has at The Luggage Room.
The Luggage Room
260 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena
(626) 356-4440 | theluggageroom.com
Full bar/Validated parking | next door or valet