Papa Lennon’ Pizzeria
515 W. El Roblar, Ojai
Somehow, Papa Lennon’s, in the laid-back Meiners Oaks neighborhood of Ojai, stayed under my radar for years. Locals know this neighborhood joint and love it. Perhaps they want to keep it that way, who knows? The outdoor side patio, covered by a canopy of greenery, lit with small lights at night and toasty when there’s an evening chill thanks to outdoor heaters, makes for a relaxed, desirable destination, enhanced by pleasant recorded music (there’s live music Thursday–Saturday). Indoors, where you order, there’s a counter with beers on tap and wines by the glass and half a dozen or so tables.
I enjoyed a filling and leisurely dinner with an artist who lives nearby, among other locals there for the pizza, pasta, salads and more, as most, including us, had leftovers, thanks to the hearty portions. We shared the patio with several families, couples and even a large Labrador who dozed comfortably with his master during the two hours we lingered.
“Meiners Oaks,” my dinner companion told me, “is Ojai’s poor cousin, but this is a happening block. There’s an art gallery next door (525 Gallery) and a martial arts dojo that my son attended.”
The ivy-covered front entrance is welcoming — a white backlit sign and big plate-glass window that reveals the brightly lit interior of the building.
Ordering at the counter from a chalkboard menu we decided to share a simple margherita pizza (there’s also pepperoni, barbecue chicken, Hawaiian and “Papa’s favorite,” a white sauce pizza with blackened chicken, artichokes, mushrooms) and the wonton chicken salad with Thai peanut dressing, recommended by an Ojai yoga teacher who raved about it. My companion mentioned that he liked the panini sandwiches, but that seemed like too much food — and indeed it would have been. He ordered a Chief Peak on tap from Topa Topa Brewery; I had a pleasant glass of Paso Robles red. For those with special dietary needs, there’s gluten-free pizza dough made in-house available as well as dairy-free cheese.
It works like this: You order at the counter, pay, get a number and grab your own colorful plates, utensils, water and find a table.
Service is swift; our salad was delivered with a smile (all the staff is energetic and friendly), the pizza followed not long after. The crunchy salad, served in a pie pan with a thick wedge of focaccia, had a pile of fried wonton strips (used on Thai pizza too), plenty of chicken, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, cilantro. The tangy Thai peanut dressing had just a tinge of “bite.” There was enough left over to fill a small take-home box.
The margherita pizza crust was standard with a nice crunch on the edges (not thin, but not too thick either) topped with a plethora of fresh basil silvers covering the super-cheesy topping and a tasty red sauce. We managed to gobble it all down — eventually.
There’s super-smooth gelato in a case near the register, making it tough to resist at least a taste. (Yes, I tasted and was tempted to go further … ) We decided we’d be remiss if we didn’t try one of the homemade desserts and we opted for the tiramisu, a huge slice that would feed at least three people. This tiramisu was a tasty rendition, but I prefer a wetter version (ladyfingers sopped with espresso).
“Oh, that looks good,” I said, as I grabbed another to-go box for the leftover tiramisu, eyeing another customer digging into an overflowing bowl of the chicken fettuccini alfredo.
“I have that three times a week,” a chatty Papa Lennon employee replied.
Sounds like an excuse to come back to this sweet spot and load up again.