Slices, Beats, and Community at Delicious Pizza, the L.A. Pizzeria That Hip Hop Built | KCET
Slices, Beats, and Community at Delicious Pizza, the L.A. Pizzeria That Hip Hop Built
If you haven’t yet had the good fortune of grabbing a slice at Delicious Pizza, you’ll likely recognize the classic hip hop soundtrack once you step through the door. The neighborhood pizzeria is co-owned by Mike Ross, co-founder of the iconic L.A. hip hop label Delicious Vinyl -- responsible for launching seminal hip hop artists such as Tone Loc (“Wild Thing”), Young MC ("Bust a Move”), The Pharcyde and more -- and his brother Rick, who has also played a major role in the long-running outfit. Two years ago, the brothers partnered with Fred Sutherland, real estate developer, designer and restaurateur behind Fred 62, and his son Travis, a young chef with a passion for pizza, to launch the hip hop-inspired restaurant. The pizzeria, located on historic West Adams Blvd., also serves as an art gallery, radio station and community space, and they’ve since opened a second location in Hollywood, appropriately near Amoeba Records. We sat down with Mike Ross to learn more about the pizza, music, art and events that help make Delicious Pizza a thriving community hub.
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"It's been two years. Man, time flies when you're eating a lot of pizza," jokes Ross as we grab a slice on one of the picnic benches behind the original Delicious Pizza. The small parking lot beside us frequently doubles as an event space for the pizzeria, hosting parties, holiday events, and record sales. “I wanted it to be a family-style, music joint steeped in the Golden Era of hip hop,” he explains. “We wanted to have a great music vibe, show some history and pay homage to that era, and create a cool pizza restaurant.”
Hip hop fans will undoubtedly recognize the logo of Delicious Pizza, which riffs on the unmistakable look of Delicious Vinyl’s logo, considered by many as one of the greatest in hip hop. Instead of a cartoon character with a toothy smile chomping on a record, here you’ll find him chowing down on pizza, a convenient swap that inspired Ross’ long-time friend Fred Sutherland to suggest that they open a pizzeria together. Coincidentally, the original Delicious Vinyl logo was inspired by an image found by label co-founder Matt Dike on a business card for a long defunct L.A. sandwich shop, bringing the image full circle back to a local eatery.
Sutherland, who had worked for decades near the restaurant, which is just east of Hauser Boulevard and south of the 10 freeway, encouraged the Ross brothers to consider opening Delicious Pizza in the neighborhood. Apart from a few eateries like breakfast spot Vee’s Cafe, a burrito joint, a pupuseria, and venerated JNJ Burger & Barbeque shack down the road, Sutherland felt the stretch of West Adams was in need of more dining options. “Fred said, there's really nowhere to eat around here -- at least no good pizza restaurant -- so let's build a really dope pizza restaurant for the neighborhood. And so that was really the concept going into it, let's do something really cool for this neighborhood.”
Fred’s son Travis, who had originally studied to be a mathematician at UC Berkeley, had recently been focusing his attentions on perfecting pizza that uses an all-organic grain mix fermented with a home-grown natural yeast starter. This was no ordinary, generic dough, and Sutherland suggested the Ross brothers give it a try. “If you're making pizza, you can't make crappy pizza,” explains Mike Ross of the decision to run with the pizza idea. “So we decided we really need to dial it in and make sure this pizza is better than almost any pizza we had before, otherwise what's the point of doing this?”
They also decided to focus on using fresh ingredients and creative toppings, including housemade sausage, ricotta and sopressata, in addition to classics like pepperoni. Available as 12 and 16 inch pies, as well as select options by the slice, many of the pizza names offer a nod to the hits of Delicious Vinyl, like The WhoRidas-inspired “Shot Callin’ Big Ballin’” with lamb meatballs or the Tone Loc-inspired “Cheeba Cheeba” with mushrooms, sopressata, shallots, pesto, mozzarella and fontina. “We spent a lot of time getting the pizza right and the recipes right. Travis really dialed it in and we did a lot of testing. Pizza is a living, breathing thing, and it's all about the dough. It's not a same day type of situation, so when you're working with organic starter, it takes a day to ferment before it's even ready to use. There's a whole process.”
In addition to serving pizza -- which is in our opinion actually quite delicious -- you’ll also find hot and cold sandwiches, salads, chicken wings, pastas and desserts. You’ll also want to try some of their housemade chili oil. Besides sodas, juice and gourmet coffee options, adults can also choose from craft beer and wine, or wisely opt for a pitcher of the Funky Cold Sangria. Delicious Pizza also recently launched brunch, which includes stacks of fluffy ricotta pancakes, egg sandwiches, polenta and eggs, and breakfast pizzas like the Mike Floss with lox, basil, capers and ricotta.
Before entering the West Adams Boulevard location, you’ll notice a large window to the right that peers into a DJ booth with turntables facing out to the sidewalk. It’s there that local DJs will play music for the restaurant, as well as host radio shows on the weekends like Soul Circle Radio, or broadcast special event shows. “We like to promote hip hop, turntablism, and great music from all generations,” says Ross. “Obviously with the Golden Era there's a lot of great sampling with cool jazz, funk and soul records. So it's all about music in general, not just straight hip hop all the time. You'll hear stuff from the origins as well.”
Delicious Pizza also hosts live jazz on Wednesday nights, featuring local musicians. “There's a lot of local jazz artists from this neighborhood,” explains Ross. “This area was actually steeped in jazz back in the day. Miles used to play around here, and lots of other players would perform in speakeasies and clubs around here. There's some old timers who still play around here, that have stumbled upon this place and we invite them to get their group together to play.” From the 1940s to the 1960s, the historic West Adams neighborhood was home to dozens of clubs and cafes that featured local performers and legendary jazz musicians, including Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, and Ella Fitzgerald. So while those venues may have long shuttered, Delicious Pizza aims to help foster a new generation of musicians and artists, and offer a space where community members of all ages can gather.
“Everyone loves to eat, and it's a great meeting place where people can come and maybe put their phones down for a minute to just eat and talk,” says Ross. “You hear a song you remember and talk about, ‘Oh, I remember when this came out,’ or ‘This has been sampled by this guy or that guy,’ or ‘This is the song I played at my wedding’ or ‘The one I lost my virginity to.’ Music takes you in a million different directions, so it's fun to have a meeting place where people can just hang out and eat, and they can have a good time.”
Inside the pizzeria, you’ll find the walls adorned by photographs and memorabilia, celebrating the artists and history of Delicious Vinyl. You’ll even find actual gold and silver records from some of the label’s biggest hits hanging behind Mike’s vintage ghettoblaster boombox, just above the counter. Further inside, you’ll find another dining area that features rotating works from local artists. And on the far side of the DJ booth, resides a gallery space with a separate entrance known as The Infinity Room, where Rick Ross curates shows by local artists and hosts special events. The Hollywood location also hosts frequent special events, including comedy nights, open mics and DJ battles.
“We like this to be a place where artists can come, hang their art, and we can have shows with a DJ, then come eat and drink, says Mike. “It's a cool little cultural center here in this area of West Adams. It's good to encourage artists, always. You never know where the next great artist of any kind is going to come from, so it's cool to have a little hub where people feel comfortable doing stuff or can get started by having a show. And who knows where it goes from there because you never really know.”
Mike Ross likens the experience of owning the restaurant and fostering the community hub that Delicious Pizza has become to his many years spent behind the turntables and producing records. “It's like when you're DJing and you're always trying to move the crowd, and make people happy,” he fondly reflects. “You always want to make sure people like it, but obviously you've gotta like it yourself first. It kind of applies to food -- make sure your product is really good. The pizza has to be stellar, you know, why start a pizza restaurant if you're going to make just mediocre pizza. So really trying to be consistent and making sure it's really good. I think our pizzas really good, I think the records we made were really good, but that was my opinion, so you have to put it out there and get the feedback. Whatever you do, anything you put your name on, make sure you do it really well. I like the brand to stand for a certain type of quality.”
Eventually Mike says they hope to open up other locations of Delicious Pizza elsewhere in the city, but for now the focus remains on maintaining the high level of quality food and strengthening the community at the two locations. Future plans may also include opening another restaurant on the far side of DJ booth at West Adams -- Ross owns the entire building -- and possibly creating a beer garden-type space in the open lot on the opposite side. In the meantime, he’s found a renewed enthusiasm for working with young musicians and beat makers, both in the worlds of hip hop and reggae. He also enjoys seeing many of the older artists he’s worked with over the years, who frequently stop by for a slice. “A lot of my artists are always coming around here,” he says. “Chop from The WhoRidas always comes by, and Fat Lip and Tre from The Pharcyde are always here. Def Jeff comes through. Most of the artists come through and hang out, so that's fun, we can just kick it and talk about the good old days.”
Reflecting on the two years since the opening of Delicious Pizza, Ross says, “Good music and food are both comfort for the soul. Done right, they create feelings of well being, happiness and inspiration. That satisfaction is always amplified when it can be shared with others. Who wouldn't want to promote that type of community experience? We need as much of that as possible in this crazy ass world. It's always been an honor to make people feel something in common and connect through music, and this venture into food is a continuation of that mission. Delicious Pizza is driven by the same goals I always had for the music label. Give people a reason to connect and feel good. It's pretty simple.”
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