On the drive north from Los Angeles, I was questioning my sanity. Was it really a good decision to drive three hours – each way – to eat pizza when I could buy a frozen version by the same name at my neighborhood Gelson’s? On the drive home from Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos, the answer was resounding. Yes!
Sunday through Thursday, Clark Staub and his dedicated team of locals utilize American Flatbread as a wholesale bakery, shipping frozen flatbreads to premium grocery stores nationwide, including Whole Foods, Bristol Farms and Gelson’s. Friday and Saturday nights, as a way to connect with the public, the bakery becomes a restaurant, selling stellar flatbreads, salads and desserts that showcase locally sourced, market-driven ingredients.
Staub debuted the restaurant component of American Flatbread in September 2004, situating his multi-faceted business in the first new building in “downtown” Los Alamos in twenty years. The façade makes it look a little like a Wild West saloon, and the surrounding hills, green from all the recent rain, contributed to a spectacular setting.
Staub uses local, organic and sustainable ingredients whenever possible. Since Full of Life Flatbread is close to so many farms, he frequents farmers markets and has built a reliable network of farmers within a 300 square mile radius. The positive impact is reflected on this specials board, and on the plate.
Dining room walls host hand-painted posters advertising Organic garlic, tomatoes, wheat and onions, plus extra virgin olive oil. Several signs help to explain the thoughtful Full of Life Flatbread philosophy. Clark makes sure to credit farmers on every menu item.
A believer in the variety of local grapes, Clark only sells wine from Santa Barbara County, 90 bottles in all. The front bar also offers six beers on tap, including four or five from Santa Barbara County.
A well-balanced Windrose Farms Winter Greens salad ($10) incorporated Bill and Barbara’s “Babies in a Box” baby-lettuce and chicories, Peppercreek Farm treviso radicchio, celery-like cardoon roots from Stephen Bedford’s garden and crumbled egg that originated at Old Creek Ranch. The salad was dressed with a Rancho La Vina walnut oil and verjus dressing. There were also shaved turnips, to provide crunch.
Staub differentiated between “flatbreads” and pizzas: “It’s a flat bread, and I’m not Italian.” Clark and his crew hand make 150-250 flatbreads per night at the restaurant, each requiring 2-3 minutes to cook. The air in the oven reaches 800 degrees, but the floor tops out at only 450 degrees, so the sensitive baking process requires plenty of feel. In baking flatbreads, Clark goes through 30 cords of red and white oak per year, which are stacked against the wall near the oven.
The dough for the flatbread is made using 100% certified organic wheat flour, filtered Los Alamos water, sea salt, fresh yeast and a 36-hour rise, a step not normally used in pizza making. The flatbreads come in two sizes: 10 and 15 inches.
Our check was presented in a paperback book, a sign that Clark doesn’t take himself too seriously.
It’s debatable whether Los Alamos it too far north to qualify as Southern California. Either way, Full of Life Flatbread is producing the best flatbread/pizza in the region, they’re doing it with consideration for the land, and at least as important, they’re doing it in a way that’s fun for customers.