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Full of Life Flatbread
Los Alamos, CA
Really Good - But is it Pizza?

During the time that we've been writing passion-4-pizza.com, we've become less snobbish regarding some aspects of pizza and more snobbish about others.  For example, there was a time when we would have agreed with the untraveled New Yorkers who say, "there is no good pizza west of New Jersey," or "Califawnya? Fuggedaboudit!" We've since had great pizza out west and particularly in California.

At the same time, we've grown more specific about what we consider good or great pizza, or even what we consider pizza, than we used to be.

Frankly, Full of Life Flatbread, in the tiny Calisfornia Central Coast town of Los Alamos had us stumped. There's no question that what we ate there was mighty tasty and extremely satisfying. There's no question that the items we were served consisted of flat dough cooked in a woodfired oven with toppings. But was it flatbread, or pizza? Is there a difference? We're still not sure, but Full of Life seems to walk the line. They call it flatbread, but there's a big sign outside that reads "Wood Fired Pizza."

One thing for certain - they've got a very impressive oven.

Full of Life oven

But let's start at the beginning.

Los Alamos is a small town about an hour north of Santa Barbara, up Route 101. It's got a certain charm that makes us think the locals might prefer not to have the place heavily advertised. We went there on a recommendation after Cary's complaint to a local Santa Barbaran that "between L.A. and San Francisco seems to be a pizza wasteland."  (okay, we are still New York pizza snobs).

And while we like the philosophy of the place - locally grown organic ingredients (even an oven made of local stone!), sustainability, locally milled  whole grain flour, community activism, that's all great - but we believe foremost in Peter Reinhart's Flavor Rule: flavor rules. You can have the highest integrity and healthiest standards in the world; how's the pizza?

Our first trip to Full of Life Flatbread was a washout - we didn't know that their restaurant is only open on weekends. We walked around the place and saw their two massive mobile ovens and their herb garden which supplies the fresh herbs for their flatbreads. Sorry we don't have pics of the mobile ovens - we didn't have a camera with us that day.

In fact, there was some kind of camera karma going on even when we got there on the weekend - our camera's memory card was still in Cary's laptop. The pictures seen here were taken in low light with a Blackberry phone.

Full of Life was crowded the evening we were there, but we were seated  quickly, in the dining room where the oven takes center stage. This room also serves as their production room, where they make Full of Life Flatbread frozen pizzas

We ordered two pies: One was their "Slow-Cooked Tomato Sauce and 3 Cheeses."

Full of Life 3 Cheese

The sauce was tasty (they grow some fine tomatoes in California) but not particularly memorable, and the three cheeses - Mozzarella, Serena (a semisoft Spanish cheese) and Grana Padano - blended well and were very satisfying on a flavorful flatbread. We enjoyed it, the dough was flavorful if 'wheaty', but there was some thing, call it 'pizza-ness', that wasn't there for us.

We also had a flatbread called "Shaman's Bread", made with elements we've encountered before: cheese (in this case, Serena), red onions, rosemary, and pistachios.

Shaman's Bread

Yes, it seems ever since Chris Bianco created his stunning "Rosa" using red onion, rosemary, parmigiano reggiano and Arizona pistachios, pizzamakers everywhere have been tweaking it, but not beating it.

It's a killer combination and we had no complaints about the Shaman's Bread... except that it just wasn't what we call pizza.

So what was it? We think it's that big bad boy oven that is the source of our dilemma: a wood-fired pizza oven has a flat floor, on which the fire is built - usually to one side, though not always.  The wood-fired oven at Full of Life Flatbread is on two levels: the fire is centered and several inches lower than the baking floor - the flatbreads are baked on a "shelf" which arcs above and around the fire.  So is it pizza?

It's excellent bread, but what we missed was the char and chew of pizza, the crackle at the bottom with softer dough just above - you know, pizza.

We did some research and found a quote from Full of Life's owner/founder/chef Clark Staub: "It's flat bread and I'm not Italian." That kinda says it all.

So, if you're looking for a satisfying wood-fired bread-based meal in the Central Coast region of California (we haven't tried the frozen flatbreads available at Whole Foods), Full Of Life Flatbread is very, very good indeed. But we didn't think it was pizza, and apparently neither does Clark Staub.

Full of Life Flatbread, 225 Bell St, Los Alamos CA 93440 (805)344-4400.

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