You might say that Pitfire Pizza has come full circle. The local, family-friendly chain got started in the NoHo Arts District in 1998 after Paul Hibler and his co-founder catered for the blockbuster Titanic from a neighborhood commissary. Six more SoCal outposts followed. Now his American Gonzo Food Corporation (also behind Westside hits like Superba Food + Bread and American Beauty) is reimagining the chain’s concept, starting with its original NoHo location, which the company has transformed into a sun-soaked, fun-filled California beer garden with a more robust food program.
“We are based around pizza, but we’re not an Italian restaurant, so we’re finding a balance,” corporate chef Collin Leaver explains. They achieve that equilibrium by buying seasonal ingredients and encouraging collaboration. “It’s a team effort at Pitfire,” he adds.
Although pizza has generated solid business for the company, their philosophy discourages resting on laurels. Collin says they are constantly refining the dough, sourcing new flours and tweaking hydration levels. For the NoHo revamp, they invested in a dual-burner, rotating deck Marra Forni pizza oven that really impressed Collin, who is a certified pizzaiolo. He earned his credential through Vera Pizza Napoletana, an organization that holds pizzaiolos to strict Neapolitan standards. He says, “Everything you’d expect to get from a wood-fired oven, this oven’s able to produce it.”
Playful new pizzas include the PB&J, which may be the furthest thing possible from peanut butter and jelly. “The staff always gets pepperoni pizza with pineapple and jalapeños,” Collin says, so they added Hawaiian pizza. The final version sports thin-shaved, caramelized pineapple, savory Canadian bacon, spicy jalapeños, mozzarella and tomato sauce on a pliable crust.
Other NoHo exclusives center on the grill, including marinated flank steak and rosy seared Pacific albacore loin, both dressed with chermoula, a smoky, chunky North African sauce crafted with red peppers, cumin and garlic. Vivid “chips and dip” are more unexpected, letting customers dip crispy beet chips and kale leaves in chive-showered onion dip. Bucatini highlights hearty, high-value pasta dishes, tossing thin, toothsome tubes with zesty tomato sauce and braised chicken meatballs.
Pitfire Pizza also runs seasonal specials. Spring has ushered in vibrant preparations like artichoke and spinach pizza, roasted fingerling potatoes with romesco, and pea toast with burrata. Their bountiful “farmers plate” entrée packages a choice of three vegetable preparations.
Architect Barbara Bestor’s eye-catching design stars a sprawling, light-strung gravel patio and square bar backed with Daniel Johnston’s iconic “Hi, How Are You” frog mural. Group-friendly picnic tables transition into a spacious 70-seat dining room. The Pitfire 3.0 rebrand extends from pizza boxes to uniforms and a new motto that graces the dining room wall: “Pizza Forever.” A white-and-yellow-striped Superba Snacks + Coffee kiosk outside in front of the restaurant resembles a circus tent, but serves sandwiches, pastries, and caffeinated beverages for breakfast and lunch.
An expanded craft beer program encourages lingering. So do family-friendly patio games like Ping-Pong, cornhole, and Jenga. “Doing food and friends and family is really important to us,” Collin says. “We want to bring people out of their homes, to get away from DoorDash and delivery service, so you can have a conversation with your family and sit around a table like this and enjoy the atmosphere.”
Swanky supper club, anyone?