Progress in pizza

Ed picks up something round, brown, and with a pepperoni crown.

My banana-Nutella dessert pizza
  • My banana-Nutella dessert pizza

"To err is human. To arr is pirate.”

Heck, I’d come here just for the quotes.

The wall is loaded with cool sayings

The wall is loaded with cool sayings

“Housework can’t kill you, but why take the chance?” (Phyllis Diller).

Project Pie

555 Broadway #140, Chula Vista

These are handwritten on a big wall in a mall pizza joint. Project Pie. These guys are opening up all over. Hillcrest, Chula Vista, Eastlake. This one opened last November.

Not that pizza has ever really turned me on that much. Too much dough. And yet I keep coming back. ’Course, that’s partly because Carla is a registered pizza addict and threatens to go online and order from Domino’s — which always ends up around 40 bucks somehow — unless I bring home something that’s round, brown, and with a pepperoni crown, as she puts it.

Which is why I’ve stopped, in the roasting afternoon sun, and started staring at this sandwich board.

“Come custom-build your own pizza. Cooks in less than 3 minutes.”

Really? Build your own, without adding dollars here, two dollars there for “extras”?

“Order by number,” says the really simple eight-item wall menu inside. “Or build your own, $7.95.”

Eight bucks, unlimited shoveling? They seem to have plenty to choose from, too. Pepperoni, Italian sausage, grilled chicken, Canadian bacon, prosciutto, gorgonzola, roasted brussels sprouts, artichokes, on and on. I guess the limits come in the size of the pie. It flattens out to maybe 11 inches.

On the other hand, for the same price, they have eight pizzas of their own. Like, number 2: pepperoni, Italian sausage, crumbled meatballs, mozzarella, red sauce, and garlic. Number 7: Prosciutto, caramelized onions, mozzarella, and parmesan. Sound good. Not that exciting, but a pretty fair deal. The most interesting: roasted brussels sprouts, prosciutto, red onion, mozzarella, parmesan, and olive oil.

There’s definitely something here to take home to Ms. Carla, I’m thinking. Then I notice something right below the pizza list: “Other Good S#*!” it says. And first up under that, “Nutella and banana, $4.50.”

Huh. I’ve always wondered why you couldn’t have sweet pizzas, like, dessert pizzas. Why does pizza always have to be salty?

Jackie holds the pizza she made for herself

Jackie holds the pizza she made for herself

Now I’m, like, committed. Excited, even. Think I’ll try that Nutella and banana. Get a savory one for Carla.

I start looking around. It’s airy in here, creamy, woody, with a counter overhang repeating the mantra: “Design. Build. Eat.” “Design. Build. Eat.” Scrawled logos on the right wall say “Pizza in Progress. Progress in Pizza.”

It’s all new. Nice angle-planked wooden floor. Black matte ceiling and piping keeps you focused on eye level. Behind the sneeze shields, three gals stand hard at work, swiping real thin pizza pastry with olive oil, then adding cheeses, pepperoni, and other toppings. They’re asking customers, “More? Any of this?” Kinda encouraging them to have at it, build the pizza of their dreams, same $7.95 price. But they’ll put the things on, not you. Then they pass the result to the guy at the big black oven with “Hot, really hot” written above the maw of the chamber.

There’s a line of people ahead of me, all doing Build Your Owns. So, got time to wonder about the guy or gal who started this. A quick google. “James Markham got sick of eating bad pizza,” says the blurb on their site, “and thought the good stuff cost too much.” He started in Seattle with Mod Pizza then created Pie-ology in California, worked out kinks, and then created Project Pie. Started big with a 25-franchise deal in the Philippines, now has a place in Vegas, three in ’Diego, and lots more in the works. In the crowded pizza field, I guess that’s quite an achievement. And, eight bucks for an all-you-can-pile-on-your-crust pizza ain’t bad.

“Have you decided?” says the first gal, Jackie.

Yeah. I ask for the number 8 ($7.95), the brussels sprouts and prosciutto one, and the Nutella and banana ($4.50.) Jackie sets about with number 8, taking the dough from the squishing machine, painting olive oil onto it, laying down the sprouts — actually crumbled, so you just have to trust that’s what they are — prosciutto, red onion, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese.

She looks up. “Anything else? Honestly, whatever you want.”

Like a fool, I say no. Because I figure they’ve worked out the taste combo. Then, when it’s heading for the oven, I kick myself. Could have created a pyramid of stuff! Sigh.

By now, Jackie’s chopping up a banana, painting the dough with the sweetish butter she says they use instead of olive oil, then placing the banana chunks like she’s playing checkers, then sweeps back and forth across the top, squirting the chocolate Nutella in a grid.

When they come out, I have to try them both. The sprouts on the first one are good, and give the meats a veggie tang. But it’s the flash roasting of the bananas that delivers the taste sensation du jour. It makes them totally delicious, and the Nutella has stayed intact. It’s kinda like a crispy crêpe.

Five minutes later, Jackie passes by. End of shift. She has a pizza. “It’s for me,” she says. Opens up the box. “I made it gluten-free, used garlic butter instead of olive oil, laid on some chicken, ham, prosciutto, feta cheese, mozzarella, and barbecue sauce. I’m working my way through the possibilities.”

I walk out of here $13.45 poorer, including tax. For feeding two, that’s not bad at all. I really think this guy James has created something. Low prices, letting the customer pig out if he wants and, more important, letting him make all the decisions. You don’t need a menu a mile long. You decide. Brilliant!

First thing Carla does after reheating the pizza is pour some olive oil on it, and that certainly adds a whole Mediterranean thing to it. “It’s a really nice pizza,” she says. “And you made it yourself?”

“Yeah. Well, good as.”

  • Hours: 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., daily
  • Buses: 701, 703, 932
  • Nearest bus stops: H and Broadway
  • Trolley: Blue Line
  • Nearest trolley stop: H Street, Chula Vista

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