If you’ve been lucky enough to snag a ticket to Wicked Lit being performed at Mountain View Mortuary and Cemetery in Altadena, you’ll be spending one of the next several evenings (Thursday through Sunday nights through Nov. 11) being scared silly.
Wicked Lit producers, Unbound Productions, guarantee the evening is going to be frightful, and perhaps not just because of their efforts. Who knows who or what inhabits the Mountain View grounds aside from the actors in the three plays being performed this year?
If you want to be safe, you need to take precautions, so let me suggest a surefire defense.
Before the show, stop by Pizza of Venice (just north of the Fair Oaks Avenue entrance to the cemetery) for one of their personal pizzas “with a point of view.”
Order the “Louder Mouth” pizza (shaved garlic, provolone, mozzarella, tomato sauce, red onion and basil – $12) or the “Italian Stallion” (tomato sauce, shaved garlic, mozzarella, red onion and meatballs – $16). Aside from shaved garlic, they’re garnished with garlic sauce for extra protection. If a mere necklace of garlic bulbs can ward off vampires, you can bet a mouth reeking of freshly chewed garlic will send ghosts, goblins and other ghoulies back to whatever netherworld from which they came.
If you’re not heading to the cemetery, there are less potent but no less pleasant pies to choose from. “Five Cheese” (tomato sauce, mozzarella, asiago, smoked mozzarella, goat cheese and provolone – $15) is garnished with chive oil, while “Fungi” (mushroom mix, goat cheese, mozzarella, caramelized onions and chives – $10) has no sauce. We’ve had both and would gladly order them again.
All POV pies are picture-perfect, thin crusted with edges charred and blistered in traditional Italian mode. They also offer a gluten-free fried russet potato crust for most pies, although a footnote at the bottom of the chalkboard menu warns of a 45-minute wait for the substitution. According to the POV website, meats are prepared in-house, so some pies include house-cured pancetta and house-made chorizo. Meatballs are made of beef, veal and wild boar. House-cured ham can be added to salads for a $5 surcharge.
Speaking of salads, you’ll likely want to try an Altadena salad ($16), the ingredients of which are subject to seasonal change but right now feature mixed greens, arugula, tomato, feta cheese, radish, citrus segments, fresh sliced plums, pistachios and luscious stone fruit dressing. The house salad ($9) with goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, radish, almonds and house herbed vinaigrette is simpler but just as good.
You won’t have time for much more sustenance if you’re trying to make the show, but note the starter list. Of course, you’d expect wings; they’re almost ubiquitous at pizza joints. POV’s are tossed in a choice of Korean gochujang-based sweet and spicy with sesame and chive garnish, yellow Caribbean coconut curry, mango chutney blended with house-made habañero sauce or sweet pineapple barbecue, an individual order for $9, a 20-piece “deal” for $20.
Depending on the season, Brussels sprouts or cauliflower ($9) are prepared exactly like the wings — deep-fried and tossed in one of the four sauces. Fries ($6) are Belgian, served with chive aioli and ketchup. All would pair well with beer but POV so far lacks a liquor license. They used to have the next best things; a liquor store with iced beer sharing their L-shaped strip mall parking lot and a welcome BYOB attitude. But last time we visited, a sign on the door warned that “due to circumstances beyond our control” carry-in alcohol is no longer allowed.
So, should even more fortitude than garlic be required before your Wicked Lit spirit encounter or should you wish to celebrate your survival following the event, check out the Altadena Ale & Wine House, also close to Mountain View and open until 2 a.m., long after Pizza of Venice has closed for the night.
The two guys who own POV are young. Sean St. John grew up in Barbados while Jamie Woolner is a native son. Their pizza creations are a complex blend of ideas and ingredients from both partners. And last year they opened up a POV snack shop featuring all their appetizers and sauces (no pizza) in downtown Los Angeles, on the first floor of the Spring Arcade Building, which seems to be doing well.
I wonder, however, if this expansion has taken its toll on the Altadena location. When it first opened in 2013, POV’s kitchen was much more ambitious. According to early discoverers who Yelped their praise, not only was there a greater selection of pizzas (including one with pulled pork and one with braised lamb with tabbouleh and tzatziki) but occasional pies featuring toppings like sea urchin, Szechuan crab or spicy tuna.
In addition, Yelpers raved about ceviche in pizza dough puffs, semolina foccaccia bruschetta, empanadas, smoked meat platters, fried chicken sliders smothered in gravy, multicolor beet salads and weekend chef’s dinners. Plus desserts! Four-layer carrot cake, cinnamon buns with gooey icing, pumpkin goat cheese cake and pumpkin bread pudding with cranberries and brandy sauce. Just looking at the pictures makes me drool.
Alas, most were pretty much gone before my belated discovery of POV. By last year, when the original cheery Pepto-Bismol pink façade had been painted in funereal black, the regular menu had shrunk, although occasional mentions of smoked brisket sandwiches, lamb pizza, barbecue and other occasional unadvertised treats dot recent reviews by diners fortunate enough to have encountered them by chance.
These apparitions are far more welcome than those you may experience walking through Mountain View this season. And although the extraordinary quality of their pizza alone will keep us coming back, I hope those amazing extras which contributed to Pizza of Venice’s immediate and overwhelming acclaim four years ago will reappear far less sporadically and that POV will get its very own beer and wine license before too long.
Pizza of Venice
2545 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Altadena | (626) 765-9636
pizzaofvenice.com/menus/altadena | Major Cards/No Alcohol