Paul Hibler and David Sanfield are on the cusp of introducing Culver City to Pitfire Version 2.0. Back in April, Paul Hibler shared his initial vision for the fourth Pitfire. On November 19, they led a tour of the restaurant, which is on track to debut before Christmas. The concept has been rebranded as Pitfire Artisan Pizza, in keeping with the owners’ commitment to being an “indie chain” with market-driven, seasonal specials.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the Pitfire brand, the concept sprouted out of Deluxe Motion Picture Catering, which Hibler and Sanfield have run for the past two decades. “We used to do 4-5 major movies at a time. Now it’s 1-2,” says Hibler. “That’s a young man’s sport, feeding people in parking lots.” They catered “Titanic” and the commissary was located in North Hollywood, so they opened a pizzeria around the corner. That was 11 years ago, and Pitfire has grown ever since.
For Culver City, the longtime business partners hired architect Barbara Bestor (Intelligentsia Silver Lake) to transform the space into what Hibler calls a “pop art Pitfire.” “We love that it was a Shakey’s Pizza Parlor,” says Hibler. “In it’s day, Shakey’s was progressive.” This was one of the first Shakey’s, constructed in 1970.
They reoriented the entrance away from Washington Boulevard traffic, replacing the front door with a three-tiered planter that will sprout wheat. “We actually took parking out to add greenscape,” says Hibler. Along the lot’s east wall, you’ll find an olive grove and edible garden with tomatoes and herbs. “Master gardener” Maggie Lobi will plan and curate the garden.
A giant sliding glass and metal barn door separates the 30-seat patio from the restaurant. The patio will be covered with a grape trellis.
Enter the front door and find the ordering counter on your left, along with a glass wall of kegs and draught lines that lead to 6-8 taps.
By the time Pitfire opens, the interior will house a polished concrete floor and a counter lined with Carrera marble. Instead of a standard L-shaped counter, you’ll find 22 stools that wrap around two jutting communal tables. The lighting consists of yellow dock lights and, during the day, skylights.
In all, Pitfire houses 130 seats, including banquettes and an elevated area lined with booths colored British racing green. Walls will be lined with irregularly tilted mirrors. Insulated ceilings are coated with craft paper. You may even find a Dutch BINGO board from the ’50s.
The showpiece of the dining room is a red Mugnaini oven, which burns 50% red oak and whatever fruitwood Pitfire can get. Think apple or cherry, and once a year, they score prized olive wood from up north, which “burns hot and is really aromatic.”
“We want to keep the food consistent, but each place has a different personality,” says Hibler. Michael Ainsley is the overall executive chef who’s in charge of consistency and developing market-driven, seasonal specials. The Culver City-specific chef is Andy Lopez, who previously cooked for the group that owned the Sunset Room and Ritual in Hollywood.
When it comes to the pizza, “We’re not strict Neapolitan, and it’s not New York,” says Sanfield. “It’s somewhere in between.” He wouldn’t reveal Pitfire’s proprietary three-component blend, but he did leak that it includes semolina.
To keep the food consistent and to keep costs down, they have a 3000-square-foot commissary below the downtown Pitfire where they produce 1500 balls of dough per day for pizza and panini. It’s aged for two days and divvied up between the three locations. The other side of the commissary is the production line for The Edison. In case you didn’t know, Hibler and Sanfield are The Edison’s food partners.
In other Pitfire news, they recently started serving organic vanilla soft serve ice cream from Straus Family Creamery at the Westwood branch, and it will be available in NoHo and downtown in the next month.
UPDATE – February 9, 2010 – Pitfire Artisan Pizza is open in Culver City.