After a recent visit to Stuft Pizza & Brewing Company, a friend and I decided that our trip should have begun and ended with hot wings and chianti.
Those were by far the two most successful points of our meal. Stuft has an excellent house chianti on offer — a pleasingly subtle fruit blend with an occasional kick that otherwise minds its own business (admittedly not the best match for the exemplary buffalo chicken wings we ordered but, in judging an Italian eatery, I have to try the chianti).
Unfortunately, the rest of our feast was belied by the hoards of devotees that crowded the restaurant, a place whose atmosphere seemed to straddle both the chicness of streamlined breweries that have popped up in the last 10 years and the comfort of a family-style pizza stop, serving entire little leagues.
I ordered the linguine clams in white wine sauce and Emily ordered the pollo pizziola. We wanted to hit both ends of the spectrum: white and red sauces. (Admittedly, I had long since drained my chianti, so the meal and the wine weren’t at odds with each other.)
The clams, far from fresh, tasted canned — and even canned they were not properly prepared: For every bite I took, I was reawarded with a mouthful of sand.
Emily’s pollo pizziola ($16) — a baked dish with garlic and olive oil, Roma tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and fresh oregano — was among the more expensive items on the menu, and judging by comparable items, it felt safe to assume that any option above the $10 mark would be something special. Perhaps her dish was priced by pound; the portion size was humongous. Unfortunately, the chicken was too heavily seasoned, giving an unpleasant back-kick of garlic. Where we had expected an inventive take on a classic dish, we received a hastily thrown-together version that tasted as though it had been reheated.
But we were determined to like the place — the staff was friendly, and in complaining about our food, we couldn’t help but feel that we were dumping on an area institution. I wouldn’t want a snarky critic having a bad night dump on West L.A.’s Texas Rib Joint, a sawdust-floored BBQ palace I once considered a second home, so I was determined not to give up on Stuft. After all, a full bar and 20 future major-league-baseball giants couldn’t be wrong.
Emily was of the same mind, thinking of her own Seattle-area eatery. Leaving plenty on each of our plates, we decided to give the pizzas a try.
We ordered a small pie topped with fresh tomatoes and Italian sausage. Again, there was something off about the dish; although the crust was delicious — buttery and fluffy — there was an unpleasant aftertaste in the tomato sauce that kept us each from finishing a slice between us.
(In the interest of full disclosure, a mutual friend finished the pizza off later, so it may be that Stuft pizzas reheat well.)
Perhaps I was disingenuous in not trying any of Stuft’s home brews, so I leave you with this: Hot wings? Good. House chianti? Good. What more do you want?