It made complete sense when TJ’s Woodfire Pizza slated its first brick-and-motor for San Clemente. Over the years, the Spanish Village By the Sea has emerged as OC’s most pizza-crazed city, a place where traditions such as New York (La Rocco’s), old-school (Sonny’s), deep-dish (Selma’s), artisanal (Brick Pizzeria), pizza-with-beer (Pizza Port) and so many more stand on seemingly every block, each happy to get a slice of the action. Why San Clemente? I’d argue that Italian pies are a metaphor for the city’s soul: laid-back, not too pretentious, always ready to party and make pals.
TJ’s has already seemlessly entered this scene—and brought with it a whole new game. It first earned raves in 2011, when owner Tim Gonzales brought out a brick pizza oven on a trailer and set up shop each weekend at the Great Park’s farmers’ market. The lines quickly started, people from across Southern California enticed by a miraculous crust that was simultaneously crispy and chewy, with cheese melted into rivulets of love, and sauce with actual herb and tomato flavors. It was a simple premise, but it worked—yet fans clamored for more.
Gonzales has rewarded them with a full menu. The pizzas are as fabulous as ever, but now eaters can gorge on puffy burrata, grilled broccolini and tart salads. You can ask for your pizza to be made in a Neapolitan, New York, Sicilian or cracker thin style, depending on your mood. The pasta is fresh; the calzones, bruising. Whatever you order, eat it with one of the 16 beers on tap, everything from a Stone IPA to a Ballast Point Sculpin to a fabulous Anthem Cider.
My only complaint: the hours! While it’s open seven days a week, TJ’s doesn’t open on weekdays until 4 p.m. But Gonzales knows what he’s doing; his spot is right next to a Krikorian theater, guaranteeing eaters during peak movie hours. Already, teens are sneaking in slices because two hours without a TJ’s slice is two hours too many.
TJ’s Woodfire Pizza, 641 Camino de los Mares, Ste. C100, San Clemente, (949) 243-6433; www.tjwoodfirepizza.com.