It was always a special occasion when my parents took us out for pizza. We always went to the same little family-run restaurant where we were allowed to climb on the chairs and run in the aisles. I can still remember playing “Billy Don’t be a Hero” on the jukebox while drinking root beer out of one of those pebbled plastic glasses. When the pizza finally arrived, it was always presented with a flourish, as if it were a birthday cake. That is the pizzeria against which all other pizzerias in my life have been measured. If you were lucky enough to grow up with a neighborhood pizza joint like this, then you will recognize Folliero’s from the minute you walk in the door.
Serving pizzas in Highland Park since 1968, the Folliero family holds a special place in their customer’s hearts. Everyone greets Titina by name, who they refer to in third person as “the daughter”. She works the counter with a calm and friendly demeanor in spite of the hectic pace, even on a busy Saturday night. She joined the business only a few years ago with plans to carry on the family legacy.
Her father, Tony, who was born in Naples, founded the restaurant almost 40 years ago. At the age of 73, he still comes in early every morning to make the pizza dough himself. There is a local legend that he is the only one who knows how to make the dough, and that he comes in early to make sure it is kept a secret. As romantic as it may sound, that story made Titina giggle until her eyes sparkled. She assured me that the recipe is not kept in a secret underground vault somewhere.
Folliero’s menu is your standard “American-Italian” fare: spaghetti, lasagna, and chicken cacciatore. The only surprises are the shockingly low prices. Large pizzas average ten dollars, and you can get a plate of ravioli for 4.95. It is cash only, but dinner for two will not set you back more than twenty bucks. The medium pizzas are the size of most restaurant’s large. It feeds three people easily. They also serve beer and wine, if you have outgrown root beer.
The tomato sauce is the kind that simmers all day, the pride of the Italian home cook. The chicken parmigiana and cacciatore are served over rigatoni instead of the usual spaghetti. Chicken parmigiana is a dish that is often ruined by a soggy, breaded coating. Folliero’s pounded cutlet is fried with a crispy outer coating that is completely impermeable to sauce. It comes highly recommended for a good reason.
Although their pastas are good, most people come to Folliero’s for the pizza. The sauce is flavorful, and applied with a light hand. The crust is thin and chewy, with a flour-dusted bottom. If you prefer a crispier crust, you can ask to have it “overdone”.One of their most popular pizzas is the somewhat passé ham and pineapple, and they serve an unbelievably cravable chorizo pizza. Their pizza may be authentic Napoli, but they are definitely not purists.
In addition to an excellent traditional margherita, they serve an authentic pizza bianca. The a la Romano is the bianco with ham. The crust is lightly brushed with a garlic olive oil, then topped with cheese and a barely-there sprinkling of rosemary. Just before it is done baking, the pizza is sprinkled with additional mozzarella cheese and returned to the oven. The cheese comes out browned and bubbling on top from that last blast in the oven. The ham is of good quality, although not generously applied.
On Saturdays, the wait is long. But the patient regulars crowd together by the front door, trading stories about how long they have been coming to Folliero’s. A little girl stands on a chair at the counter to watch the pizzas being hand-tossed. Her mother pauses while reminiscing to caution her daughter not to lean so far over the counter. The little girl’s father says, “My parents used to bring me here when I was ten years old.” I can just imagine this little girl saying the exact same thing one day.
Folliero’s Italian Cuisine and Pizza
5566 North Figueroa Street Highland Park, CA 90042 (323) 254-0505
M-F 11am – 9:30pm. Sat & Sun 12 noon – 9:30pm.