Sunday, February 12, 2017

Pizza Party in the Pizza Capital of OC

TJ's Woodfire Pizza
641 Camino de Los Mares
San Clemente, CA 92673

After almost eight years of writing restaurant reviews, I have learned that there are some foods that are more controversial than others. I judge this by the comments I receive, and the page views that a particular review gets. Burgers, barbecue, and sushi get their fair share of attention from our readers, but by far the biggest response I get is when I review pizza places.

If I had to give a reason for this, I'd say it's because, like barbecue, pizza is really a regional food. Depending on where you are from, or if you just prefer a certain type, you are pretty passionate about your favorite kinds of pizza. Chicago, of course, has deep dish, New York has their hand tossed, thin crust pizzas, California even got into the act by coming up with single serving pizzas, topped with non-traditional toppings like chicken, barbecue sauce, salmon, and other things that were not included on pizza before the early 1980's. Then there's Neapolitan, which comes to us from the birthplace of the modern pizza, Naples, Italy. With so many options, it's no wonder no one can agree on what kind of pizza is the best.

For the record, I enjoy deep-dish pizza the best, but I've had some really good versions of all pizzas, and try not discriminate against any kind of pizza. I'm always intrigued by best of lists, and I took note of Brad A Johnson's, top 20 Pizzas in OC, which was published in the Orange County Register last March. I was a little bummed that my favorite pizza place, Tony's Little Italy did not make the cut, but I realize everyone has different tastes. I did make note of the number one spot on his list, and we finally made it to TJ's Woodfired Pizza nine months later.

Not only had this restaurant gotten the coveted number one spot from Brad Johnson, but another tough cookie, Gustavo Arellano from the OC Weekly gave this pizza a glowing review. Needless to say, my hopes for this pizza were at an all-time high. TJ's gained some acclaim by selling their pizzas out of a trailer at the Great Park Farmer's Market starting in 2011. They got their own restaurant in late 2015, in this pizza rich city of San Clemente, which already boasts Pizza Port, Sonny's, Cassano's, Brick, and Selma's. Not deterred by the competition, TJ's has been thriving with a four-star rating on Yelp, and all of the good press I mentioned earlier.

We got to TJ's at the weird time of 3 pm on a recent Saturday, which is right after the lunch rush, and before the start of dinner. Predictably, we were the only ones in the restaurant at this time, but as time went by, a few other people trickled in. Being in the same shopping center as a Krikorian Movie Theater, a Juice Stop, and a Wahoo's, I could imagine that parking could be at a premium during the weekends and meal times. We quickly made our pizza selections, ordered at the counter, and found a table close to the TV's, which were broadcasting the NFL playoffs. Let's see if TJ's can live up to their number one pizza reputation.

We had a lot of food coming our way, but I could not resist getting a Caesar Salad ($7.95) to start things out with. This was a very basic version, which came with chopped romaine, shaved parmesan, and a few small croutons. It was decent but did not blow me away. The romaine was very fresh, but they were very conservative applying the dressing on this, to the point that nearly half of the produce was not covered by any dressing. A few more of their crunchy and pretty solid croutons would have helped as well. This was still a good sized salad, which easily fed both Katie and me for under $8. We'll just ask for extra dressing next time.

Like my obsession with Caesar salads, Katie has an affinity for Garlic Knots ($6.75). Her best to date were from Oggi's, but these rivaled them. Their dough is tied in knots, baked, and then coated with a fire roasted garlic sauce, Italian parsley, and parmesan, and served with marinara and ranch dressing. I liked these, even though I thought they were a tad overcooked. I like a softer garlic knot. The marinara at TJ's is very good, and I found myself using it more than the ranch, which is rare for me. Katie still holds the garlic knots from Oggi's as number one, but these are closer to our house, so we will definitely come back for them.

Pizza time. Whatever style of pizza you crave, TJ's has a pizza for you. They offer Neapolitan, Cracker Thin Pizza, Deep Dish, and this New York Style Large Pepperoni Pizza ($18.25). This pizza had plenty of cheese and pepperoni topping it, and I found myself eating the crust, which is something that I very rarely do, which is a testament to how good it is. I was not in love with the bottom crust, as it was covered with cornmeal, which I think detracted from the pizza. This pie was not as greasy as I was expecting, which was a plus.

Katie is all about Neapolitan pizzas, so it was no shock that she went with this Gianelli ($18.50) for her meal here. This one comes with plenty of crumbled Italian sausage, a garlic oil base, burrata, fennel pollen, truffle oil, and basil. Both Katie and I really enjoyed the combination of toppings on this pizza. They interacted together wonderfully. The sausage was of a pretty high quality and added a nice saltiness, while the slightly melted burrata added a creaminess to this pizza. The truffle oil was applied in just the right amount, as it did not overpower, but you could tell it was there. A very delicate balancing act to achieve. Katie was not in love with the crust here, as she liked the crust on my pizza better. A very solid version of a Neapolitan pizza

So is TJ's the best pizza that we have had in OC? I'd have to say no, but that doesn't mean it's not worth a visit. Right now I'd have to say my top three are Tony's Little Italy, Angelina's, and Angelo and Vinci's. Of course, these rankings are subject to change based on my next visit to any of these places, or until I try something better. Back to TJ's though. It's easy to see why they get so much love from everyone. I really enjoyed it, even though I thought it was a tad too expensive, but I get that you're paying for quality stuff here. My pizza was solid, but it did not make my taste buds sing. I actually liked Katie's pizza better, and I'm not really a big Neapolitan kind of guy. So now that you've read this review, commence firing, and let me know that I don't know anything about pizza, or even better, let me know where you like to get pizza from.

Out of five policemen, (because when I think of TJ, I automatically think back to watching the 80's TV show TJ Hooker starring Willaim Shatner as a police officer), five being best to zero being worst, TJ's Woodfired Pizza gets 3 policemen.

For more information about TJ"s Woodfired Pizza, head to their website here:

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