Parallel Pizzeria’s pies are different from any other I’ve had in Orange County, and that’s a good thing. First, there’s the shape: They’re more oval than round. Second, they’re not sliced into triangular wedges. Instead, the cuts are made in, yes, parallel lines so that the pieces are rectangular, like at Little Caesar’s.
Parallel’s pizzas are also the first I’ve encountered for which mashed potatoes count as a topping. Most important, the dough is unlike the airy, barely there style of the Neapolitan pies we’ve seen a lot of lately. Rather than a bulbous, cracker-like edge crust that turns floppy toward the middle, these pies possess a uniform thickness from edge to edge that maintains its structural integrity while still being thin.
Each piece is completely rigid, a stable platform that no amount of toppings can bend, dampen or droop. That has a lot to do with the dough’s density, but also with how well the bottom is baked. The undercarriage has a good amount of char, attained after spending seven minutes on the searing-hot floor of a 700-degree, coal-fueled oven. As I bit into it, I heard the crackles of a million tiny molecular bonds breaking.
Above all, this pizza is crispy and crunchy. It’s as if the dough were pan-fried in olive oil. On my fingers, I felt the slick of its grease—not as much oil as that of a pan pizza, but there are some inherent similarities to it, including the hearty and satisfying chew of its crust.
What Ryan Adams—the chef behind Three Seventy Common and Buttermilk Fried Chicken—was shooting for is a New Haven-style pie. I’ve not yet been to New Haven, but if Adams says that these are what they taste like there, I believe him. I read he pulled out all the stops to make it as accurate as possible to what that city’s Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana pioneered. Adams was reported to have sought the help of UC Irvine experts to mimic Connecticut water for his dough, even adding drops of blue green algae.
But perhaps the most faithful thing he did was to top one with clams. It can be argued that the clam pie put Frank Pepe’s on the pizza map. And while Adams’ version is a nod to the original, it’s not a straight-up copy. Adams pairs the littlenecks with garlic and pecorino, then adds bacon—lots of bacon. The resulting flavor profile is smoky, but also briny. It reminds me of the last time I had a bowl of clams steamed in white wine, butter and garlic, with a side of grilled bread to sop up the broth. This pizza emulates that entire experience, down to the part in which errant grains of sand from a clam interrupts the pleasure.
This brings me to the mashed-potato pizza, which I actually like better than the clam pie. I am at a loss to explain why the splotches of potatoes actually work here; maybe it’s because the pizza is also packed with rings of jalapeño, pecorino, onion, garlic, thyme, black pepper, olive oil and more bacon. Perhaps the bland mashed potato acts as a sort of reprieve. Whatever bizarre alchemy is at play, I’m now of the firm belief that the traditional side dish makes more sense on a pizza than canned pineapple.
If you want fruit in any part of your dinner here, let it be in a salad—particularly the house salad, which is studded with juicy pears, candied walnuts and morsels of runny gorgonzola. Since it uses fancy mixed greens and is dressed with a tart lemon vinaigrette of Adams’ own making, the dish tastes like a gourmet restaurant salad. It just happens to be served in a wooden bowl with tongs, as though you were in a neighborhood pizza parlor that still has a Pac Man machine in the back.
That’s how Parallel rolls. There are flashes of Adams’ more upscale Laguna Beach restaurant here, especially in his well-trained service staff. But at its core, Parallel just wants to be a laid-back pizza joint that has a TV tuned to sports, Coke from a self-serve fountain, and a very good, no-nonsense basket of Buffalo wings.
The wings, by the way, came with a warning. “Be careful,” our server said. “They just came out of the fryer, and they’re super-hot!”
It was exactly what I wanted to hear when I order Buffalo wings, be it in Buffalo, Dana Point or New Haven.
Parallel Pizzeria, 34255 Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste 101, Dana Point, (949) 441-7406; parallelpizzeria.com. Open Sun.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Pizzas, $16.95-$29.95.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.