Your first visit to Pavich’s Brick Oven Pizzafe might be prompted by curiosity. Croatian pizza? Croatian burgers? I’ll try anything once, you might think.
But if you’re like most people, that first visit won’t be your last. You’ll come back to the restaurant again and again until your company transfers you to Outer Elbonia -- and even then, there’ll be trips home.
Almost everything at Pavich’s Brick Oven Pizzafe is designed to be shared. Paninis are twelve inches long. Individual pizzas have eight big slices. Even the salads are packed down and could easily fill several average bowls.
Zdenco Pavić opened his Pizzafe on Western a just a few months ago, but he already had many fans thanks to his first restaurant, a tiny spot on Alma in San Pedro. Buzz about the new place — where Summerland terminates at 29701 S. Western — has spread quickly.
The brick oven is just beyond the counter; no walls screen it from customers’ views.
“I want you to see what I’m doing to your food,” Pavić said as he spread his arms. “I want you to be connected.”
The oven is not just for pizza. Pavić goes out early in the morning for pork that will roast four and a half hours before being stuffed into roasted pork sandwiches with roasted yellow bell peppers, white garlic sauce, and lettuce ($7.56). The bread, in round loafs called Somun, comes out of the oven as well.
But pizzas are, of course, a big part of the menu. All ingredients are spread on a thin, bubbling, bendable crust, from classics like pepperoni and Hawaiian to more exotic numbers like the Croatian, with Mozzarella and Feta cheese, beef prosciutto, mushrooms, red or yellow bell peppers, red onions, olives, and fresh tomatoes.
A popular pizza is the San Pedro: half Croatian, half Quattro Gusti (Mozzarella cheese, thin-sliced ham, mushrooms and artichoke hearts). Pizzas are light on sauce and come in two sizes: individual and extra large, 12 and 18 inches respectively, and prices range between $7 and $15 for cheese up to $10 and $19 for the San Pedro.
Those are new prices, which Pavić raised rather than compromise on his ingredients. Green bell peppers are about one-fourth the price of yellow ones, he pointed out, but their taste is bitter. He won’t use them.
“Denny” Pavić comes from a culture that prizes good cooking: Croatian Sarajevo.
“Not a rich country,” he shrugged.
Outings for coffee and conversation were a tradition that most people could afford; trips to restaurants were out of reach.
“We eat at home,” he said.
And almost everyone learned to cook.
Pavić, with wife Mirela and their small daughter, arrived in the U.S. in 1995 as refugees. Their son was born an American. In Texas, and later in Southern California, Pavić took whatever jobs were available -- from refurbishing jet airplanes to valet parking in Beverly Hills.
By 2008, he had saved and borrowed enough to open the tiny take-out place on Alma. The Rancho Palos Verdes location followed in May 2010.
“And I paid everyone back,” he grinned. “All paid back. Mention that.”
Done. Now back to the food.
The soups at Pavich’s Brick Oven Pizzafe remind you of an old commercial: they’re thick enough to eat with a fork.
“I tried in the beginning," Pavić waved his hand and scowls. "I bought several frozen soups from restaurant people.”
He and Mirela now make everything from scratch. Their Pasta Fagioli ($5.50) is full of white beans, chunks of tomato, smaller bits of corn, peas, green beans, carrots, and the beef prosciutto that Pavić has shipped from Pennsylvania.
A few truly Croatian dishes are on the menu such as cabbage rolls ($9.25) and cevapcici, a sausage grilled with onions and served on Somun ($10). Then there’s the Croatian burger, made with the seasoned meat of the cevapcici and topped with pickles, yellow and red peppers, more salad fixings and garlic sauce, all on Somun ($8.20).
Finally, there are desserts -- strudels, doughnuts, and other pastries, whatever Denny and Mirela feel like baking that day (about $1.50 each). Most are sprinkled with powdered sugar but are not overly sweet. Imagine biting into an apple strudel and tasting apples instead of sugary mush. Dang.
As for the future, Pavich’s Brick Oven Pizzafe will install a double-decker brick oven this summer, giving them the capacity to start delivering to the east side of Rancho Palos Verdes and San Pedro.
What about more restaurants? Maybe. Pavić would like to expand to Long Beach, Torrance, even Redondo Beach. But not just yet.
“In two years we opened two locations, and this year, I want to relax,” he said.
Thankfully, relaxing to Denny Pavić means cooking with Mirela at Pavich’s Brick Oven Pizzafe every day, so the rest of us can enjoy.
Park in front and in back of the restaurant. Inside, a flat screen TV is usually tuned to soccer.
Pavich’s Brick Oven Pizzafe is at 29701 S. Western Ave, Suite 103, Rancho Palos Verdes 90275. 310-832-1200.