Ann Marie and I stayed home for Valentines day this year – of course that is what you do with a one year old, a four year old and no babysitter, and especially when your original plans get scrapped due to a baby’s cough. So we decided to open a nice bottle of wine, scrap around for some Hor D’ouevres stuff – and order a pizza to go from a local new pizza place, Papa Lennons www.papalennons.com.
I was actually stoked after eating at Papa Lennons. Not because I loved it – I didn’t (I only liked it), but because I decided that a good friend of mine could still make a go of starting his own pizza place in Ojai even though Papa Lennons got there first.
Papa Lennons looks great. Its all new, very nicely designed interior, a great patio outside with nicely landscaped surroundings. Everything is very tastefully done. Except for the food. You have to give any pizza place marks if they are trying do something other than the typical American pizzaria style of yester-generations and I think Papa Lennons is definitely trying to do that, even if the main evidence is the decorative way they approach it. They have two main problems: The menu & the ingredients. I know what you are thinking, these are big problems. They are. Not that they don’t produce a palatable pizza, it was indeed edible, and certainly enjoyable. Hey, throw some bread, cheese tomatoes and some random yummy stuff together and the fact is that it is hard to screw it up. But in the end, I have to say that if you only pay a little attention to the bread, the cheese, the tomatoes and the random stuff, you can never achieve the status worthy of an exemplary pizza. It seems to me that Papa Lennons doesn’t pay any attention to any of this stuff. The crust was mediocre – probably made by them, but probably not using any of the ingredients (appropriate bread flour) or technique (minimal amount of yeast plus extended rising time). It did not have the crispy exterior and creamy interior required of a great pizza. The sauce was fine. The cheese was most certainly not fresh mozzarella, and no way it could have been buffalo (which is ok), more than likely it was pre-grated by US Foods or Sisco. The toppings were obviously off the rack – boring pepperoni, nothing-special sausage, and regular brown mushrooms.
Ok so why didn’t I get a pizza with better toppings? They don’t have any. Look at the menu, its CPK meets the neighborhood pizza joint. The menu stinks to high heaven. Absolutely zero creativity. Maybe they started out with a modest menu until they can see if their model works financially, then plan to expand out into new area: I can only say I hope so. They have four salads, each of which is available at any cafe/restaurant, not whithstanding Denny’s. The “house” salad was completely unispiring – little more than the “greens” you get in a bag pre-washed at TJs plus some cheam “balsamic,” which does not consist of any concentrated grape juice and had never seen wood in its life (an inside joke for those of us who actually make balsamic).
They have four appetizers:, olives, fries, Focaccia bread, and caprese. Since any of us, including those of us who don’t cook, can “make” olives or caprese with little or no attention or barely even a trip to the store, and since focaccia bread is basically what we are going to be having for the main course (pizza), and since fries are a complete stranger to this menu, one has to wonder if they sell any appetizers at all.
The strangest part of Papa Lennons is that I am virtually certain they are cooking the pizza in a regular electric or gas pizza oven. I don’t think they are baking it in a wood fired oven, which is astonishing, given the developmens of pizza culture in the US and especially California, and what they are trying to convince you of. If the crust is 4/5 of the quality of the pizza, then a wood-fired pizza has to be 5/5, if the math is possible. The Italians know this. CPK knows this. Heck, I think if McDonalds was going to start selling “California Style” pizzas, something tells me even they would be firing them in a wood-fired oven right back there by the french frier (don’t knock it. How many of us thought they would actually figure out how to make a pretty good Mocha). How anybody can pass off a contemporary pizza without cooking it in a wood fired oven in this day and age is beyond me. If in fact they do have a wood fired oven, then my apologies. However, the pizza has no flavor of smokey wood, and the crust does not resemble anything cooked in such an oven – more like a toaster oven.
Anyway, the two people I have talked with raved like crazy about the place, and the truth is, the food wasn’t bad. But it isn’t inspiring either. If you have been to CPK, you won’t be surprised with what you get at Papa Lennons.