The existence of 2145 Pizza couldn't be any more head-scratching if it tried. The restaurant is built into a former car-repair garage and gas station in a nondescript part of Costa Mesa. And though the pizzaiolo there bakes pies in the familiar dome of a wood-fueled oven at 800 degrees (as the Naples-style dictates), he uses a sourdough leavened by a 12-year-old starter brought here from Japan. Why? No idea.
Then there's the rest of the menu; instead of the usual Italian antipasti, there are unexpected appetizers such as corn dogs made from the Japanese sausage arabiki. As I dabbed one into a takoyaki dipping sauce, I also realized the squid-ink-tinted arancinis I ordered were almost takoyakis themselves. Embedded in the middle of these deep-fried, jet-black balls of rice were pieces of octopus. And on top of them, bonito flakes flailed in the updraft and mayo was zigzagged all over, just as in the iconic Japanese street food. My friend, who sincerely thought he was eating takoyaki, said, "I thought you said this was a pizza place."
I thought so, too. Earlier, I'd witnessed the pizzas being made—twirled, swirled with sauce, then fed into the gaping maw of a red-hot oven by a guy who kinda looks Italian—but now, I wasn't sure. Where the heck did this place come from? Who was behind it?
To try to understand, I did a Google search on "Townes," the name stenciled on the big street sign. It turns out that Townes is a marketing firm, or at least I think it is. The description on its website says it's a "brand and lifestyle incubator." And listed along with 2145 in its portfolio is a clothing company called Ambig—short for ambiguous. But maybe Townes has now realized how ambiguous and confusing it had become for customers to have the word Townes on a sign for a restaurant that's actually called 2145 Pizza. On the next visit, I noticed the sign was replaced with one that features only 2145.
The new sign, by the way, has only those numbers in bold Helvetica. Pizza does not appear on it, so if you just happen to drive by without prior knowledge that it's a restaurant, you might think it's still a car mechanic's shop. Most people who know they can grab a pizza and guzzle a beer here have figured it out either by word-of-mouth or social media. Some may have been clued in by none other than Joe Jonas.
Yes, that Joe Jonas. For some reason, the DNCE singer mysteriously hyped 2145's opening last month on all of his feeds with a video of a pizza coming out of the oven. This, obviously, creates more questions than it answers. Is Jonas an investor? A friend of Townes? Was he actually in Costa Mesa? And if he's involved, why is there not a dessert on the menu titled "Cake By the Ocean"?
Whatever business and celebrity forces conspired to conceive of this quirky place, I'm now certain of one thing: 2145 has the nicest outdoor patio ever to be converted from the backside of a gas station. String lights dangle overhead, and on warm summer nights, you can have as romantic and intimate a dinner here as anywhere in Laguna Beach. It's practically made for a rom-com scene in which Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey scheme their way into each other's hearts.
As for the pizza, I'm still undecided whether that Japanese starter really makes much of a difference in the final product. The crust is certainly light, airy and tender, but it isn't unlike what we've come to expect of a Naples-style pie in its flavor and structural integrity. The bulbous edge crust is still pockmarked with blisters that crackle like Fourth of July sparklers when you bite into it. And as with all great artisanal pizzas of late, the toppings still gather in the middle, where the dough thins to the thickness of a tortilla.
I'm particularly impressed by the pancetta-and-fried-egg pizza, which you could eat for breakfast and not need another thing for the rest of the day. The prosciutto, arugula and burrata pie is also flawless. Lavished with the cold toppings after it's baked, this is the exact salad-pizza hybrid you want to eat outside with a beer or fizzy kombucha. And then there's pizza with drizzled honey, melted gorgonzola dolce, mascarpone, white Cheddar and mozzarella. It's basically fondue on bread—a stinky-stretchy orgy of cheese.
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The salads are also excellent, especially the arugula with still-moist morsels of barely smoked salmon scattered throughout its periphery. But perhaps the most surprising dish of all is the char-marked, house-smoked pork belly with barbecued asparagus and rosemary-scented mascarpone. It seems to have come from nowhere—kind of like, well, this restaurant!
2145 Pizza, 2145 Placentia Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 873-5853; www.2145eat.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., noon-9 p.m. Dinner for two, $25-$60, food only. Beer and wine.