Dough Box Is The East Side's Window Into Deep Dish Pizza
Deep dish pizza can be a rare bird in parts of L.A. So, right off the bat, deep dish slinger Dough Box Pizza is an anomaly. Also unexpected: it started off as a tucked-away spot in City Terrace, and recently moved into a storefront in El Sereno, replete with a coin-operated arcade machine. Speaking with co-owner Alexandra Gonzalez, I learn that the Dough Box story doesn't follow a linear trajectory. "I sort of just fell into this," Gonzalez told LAist. "The fact that we started this was kind of crazy."
To start, Gonzalez isn't a chef by training. She just stumbled on a natural touch with Chicago's gastronomical wonder—she hadn't even had deep dish until she made one for herself. "I had no professional experience at all. I picked it up from an illustrated recipe when I was 19, and I was just making it for friends and family," said Gonzalez.
The dish was popular enough to spawn a modest spot in City Terrace that opened about a year ago. Dough Box operated out of a 200-square foot space in Fishburn Kitchen. It was largely a delivery and curbside pick-up affair. Word spread of the mysterious purveyor of hearty pizza, and suddenly orders were coming in not just from the neighborhood, but also from downtown L.A., Chinatown, and Highland Park. The demand kept swelling, which necessitated a larger operation—hence the new Dough Box location on Eastern Avenue in El Sereno. The shop recently had its soft opening, and is slated to make its grand reveal by next week.
During our visit on a Tuesday evening, the phone was ringing non-stop. Is it surprising that locals have come to embrace the pie at Dough Box? Maybe not so much, as L.A. is a mere bystander in the rift between deep and thin—that age-old debate that has pitted Chicagoans against New Yorkers. As Gonzalez notes, we don't really have a representative pie down here in the Southland. "I don't think there's really an L.A. Pizza. I think most people really just expect to eat thin crust. Maybe a gluten-free, vegan pizza could be an L.A. pizza. But we don't have that." And perhaps it's this lack of allegiance—to a particular pie, to certain toppings—that keep us open to the novelty of Dough Box.
At any rate, Gonzalez (along with co-owner Tony Hernandez) has worked to draw out the best aspects of the deep dish. The crust, she points out, is a hallmark. "We want it to be more than a six-piece of pizza crust, which I think a lot of people think what deep dish is—super thick, white bread crust," said Gonzalez. "We do a nice, even pie crust that's not totally doughy and bready. There's a biscuit-y quality." And, to be sure, the crust at Dough Box is irresistible itself. It has a peculiar quality of being both crisp and crumbly, and once it breaks in your mouth, a buttery aroma fills your senses. The richness is balanced by the top layering: a bed of tomatoes that projects a pucker-y tang. As for the ensemble cast in the middle, "The York" comes with a prodigious helping of sausage and pepperoni. "The Figueroa" brings a bit of heat with pepperoni, onions, and cherry peppers. If you're not partial to the sharpness of tomato sauce, you can tone that down with the "The Hill," which plays with the more neutral tones of garlic, spinach, and ricotta. Our favorite might be "The Spring," which draws together the contrasting notes of mushrooms, onions, olives, and bell peppers. The wonderful thing about Dough Box's deep dish is that it leaves you room to experience all the different working parts of the pizza—another pie might compress those things into a flat monotone.
As you may have noticed by now, the ingredients at Dough Box are decidedly traditional for pizzeria fare. I asked Gonzalez if she ever felt pressure to tap into the fusion game, like how some places will banh-mi-fy a dish to tow in a more "local" flavor. Gonzalez says she's just intent on making her own pizza, and not reconciling her pie with some misguided notion of what the neighborhood might want. "We get a lot of jokes, like 'Are you going to put carne asada on the pizza?' And I've never really thought about that. Pizza is such a classic thing, and I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel," said Gonzalez. "There's a lady around the corner who sells corn, and some people have said, 'Why don't you sell that as a snack,' but I'm not trying to sell something that other people are selling. I don't want to be in competition with them—you really need to support the people out there."
It's perhaps germane to mention that Gonzalez is an Angeleno (nope, she's not from the Midwest). She was raised in South Central. She has relatives that call El Sereno home. Her grandmother had resided in the Chavez Ravine area when she was forced out as Dodger Stadium took hold. Maybe, in a paradoxical twist, it's her L.A. roots that free her from the idea of creating a specifically L.A. Pie.
But back to pizza! If you're incurably averse to deep dish, just know that there's also a pan pizza on the menu. Dough Box also slings out a thin crust option on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There are also plans to sell bread by its lonesome. The most joyous of news, however, is that the shop will start serving by-the-slice next week. Finding a slice (by itself) can be tough enough in L.A., but a single helping of deep dish? Rare indeed.
Dough Box is located at 2734 N Eastern Ave, El Sereno, (323) 346-6811. Call the shop to see if they deliver to your area.