Italian food in Gardena is served in an unlikely space at Eatalian – Daily Breeze

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This is probably more than you want (or need) to know. But I stopped in at Eatalian after picking up the ashes of my dog, George, who had crossed the Rainbow Bridge at age 16 years and three months. The company that cared for him was just down the street. And with George in a box on the passenger seat, I felt the need for some solace and care. Italian food seemed exactly right — and Eatalian the place to go for it.

Eatalian sits in a neighborhood (if you can call it that) where there are no restaurants. There are also no people. At night, there are no cars. It’s the industrial zone east of the 110 and south of Redondo Beach Boulevard on the edge of Gardena. It sits in a former textile factory, with a large parking lot in the back. You enter through a door on the side, where you’re faced with stacks of canned Italian goods, past what seems to be a sort of ad hoc grocery store.

Sometimes, the hostess will seat you. Other times, she’s kind of busy, and you seat yourself. Eatalian has a beguiling, do-it-yourself, my-dad-has-a-barn-let’s-put-on-a-show homemade quality to it. This may be the most informal restaurant in town. And one of the best when it comes to the fine art of thin-crust, Neapolitan pizza.

This is a thinner crust pizza than you find in New York and Boston — and far thinner than the crust you’ll encounter in Chicago. This is not the artisanal, pleasantly lumpy crust of Pizzeria Mozza. This is the sort of razor-thin, crackeresque crust found at the cafés that line the streets of Italy — crust that crackles and crunches with every bite, and because of its crispness, manages to support the many ingredients used as a topping. This is an admirable creation, made in an industrial setting. It’s a real treat.

The pizzas are made in a Pizza Zone that takes up one side of the totally open kitchen at Eatalian. It’s easy to find — just look for the pizza chef who never, ever stops moving. He makes pies at a frantic pace, spinning, topping, tossing, sliding, turning — and taking them out so they can be rushed to the tables, still bubbling with cheese and sauce.

Since you can sit at a counter that faces the kitchen at Eatalian, you can watch the pizza-making process up close and personal. Really — it’s a thing of beauty, a ballet of pepperoni and mushrooms.

The pies take up a big section of the menu, divided into “Traditional Pizza” and “Eatalian Pizza.” Not all the traditionals are all that traditional. Certainly the pizza Margherita with its topping of mozzarella and tomato is as basic as it gets. But there’s a pie topped with tuna and onions that’s definitely on the edge of traditional. And there’s a Greek model as well, with feta cheese and kalamata olives. Which is traditional, I suppose, in Athens. But not so much in Rome.

There are 11 Eatalian pizzas, none of which is all that odd; you won’t find a pizza topped with chocolate chips and maraschino cherries here. What you will find is the Rock — a pie made with tomato, mozzarella, salami, gorgonzola blue cheese, spinach and pancetta bacon. It’s a busy pizza. But it’s not a crazy pizza. Ditto the Pizman — tomato, mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, the dry ham called speck, pancetta and blue cheese. There’s a pizza called the Marlon Brando as well — half Rock, and half ham calzone. I’m sure there’s a story there, but no one seemed quite sure of it.

Another large section of the menu is dedicated to pastas. Good, workman like pastas. But not pastas that are going to steal me away from the joys of the pizzas. Like the pizzas, most of the pastas are substantial and reasonably priced — this is a generally inexpensive restaurant.

If you’re hungry, try a tasty plate of penne arrabbiata, or a good spaghetti carbonara (a bit gooey, though it would be surprising if spaghetti topped with egg, cheese and pancetta was anything but a bit gooey). Here’s a very nice order of tortelli di zucca — homemade ravioli filled with butternut squash and topped with butter and parmigiano or pancetta, as you wish.

There are lots of salads, which go well with the other dishes. But really, what you go to the Eatalian for is, first and foremost, a pizza. That’s the sine qua non of the Eatalian experience. And as a further sine qua non, there’s a gelato counter not far from the pizza maker, where you can order cups of soothing, satisfying gelato from a selection of about two dozen.

There’s another case next to the gelato, filled with pastries and desserts — tiramisu, bombolone, milleflogie, cannellino. Have your desert with a nice double cappuccino. And try to imagine what the space was like when it was a textile factory. It’s not easy — because the smell in the air is pizza, not pants.

Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email [email protected]

Eatalian

  • Rating: 3 stars
  • Address: 15500 S. Broadway St., Gardena
  • Information: 310-532-8880; www.eataliangroup.com
  • Cuisine: Italian café/bakery/factory
  • When: Lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday
  • Details: A sprawling space on an industrial street near the 110 Freeway, that’s easy to get lost in, as you admire the pastas, the pizzas, the gelatos…and the many baked goods. Not what you might expect, but then, that’s LA!
  • Prices: About $25 per person
  • Suggested dishes: 13 Traditional Pizzas ($13.25-$19), 11 Eatalian Pizzas ($5-$15.95), 6 Small Salads ($6-$14.95), 6 Large Salads ($7.75-$23.95), 5 Panini Sandwiches ($9.95-$12.50), 7 Antipasti ($11.50-$20.25), 20 Pastas ($11.50-$22.50), 5 Meat Dishes ($15.50-$21.25), 3 Fish Dishes ($20.25-$23.95), 8 Desserts ($3-$6)
  • Credit cards: MC, V
  • What the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth a trip from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, even exceptional. Worth a trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A good place to go for a meal. Worth a trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry, and it’s nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic going.) 0 (Honestly, not worth writing about.)

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