I've never been one of the cool kids. Maybe it's the old lady trapped inside my sort-of-still-young body, but I like my hangouts mellow and friendly and far from "the scene," whatever that is. And yet, like many 30-somethings wading into the married-with-kids time of life, the thought of "family-style" restaurants makes me shiver with horror. Red Robin is a personal nightmare for me.
But, nowadays, readily available high chairs are becoming more and more of a necessity when leaving the house to dine. Still, should I have to sacrifice eating at a place with at least some creativity, hipness and even a bit of the cool factor at which I normally scoff?
Pandora's Pizza in Leucadia (828 N. Hwy. 101) serves up the family-friendly coolness I'm looking for. The feel of Pandora's reflects its community: a little funky, very friendly and a mix of upscale-coastal-yuppie crossed with the attitude of a dazed surfer. It's not striving to reach pizza nirvana—there's no obsession with "char" or anything like that. In fact, its slogan proudly proclaims that it serves "inauthentic Pizza." The walls are a funky deep purple, and the small, high-ceilinged dining room has a few intimate booths where you can tuck into a pie while lounging back on a pile of pillows.
The Margherita is solid— very cheesy, if a little gummy at times, but with a ton of fresh tomatoes and a wonderfully generous scattering of fresh basil. A Margherita pizza is a good barometer of what kind of pie a place turns out, and this one is no exception. It's a respectable "B"—nothing to make you swoon, but it hits the right red, white and green notes.
It's fair to say that not every food is worthy of being a pizza topping. That said, you'll never know unless you try. The "Outside the Box" section of Pandora's menu is where the pizza chefs have a little fun. The Apollo attempts to put a fancy-pants twist on Thanksgiving flavors: Duck confit shares the circular space with cranberries, wild mushrooms, Brie, browned butter and chives. I actually enjoyed the combination, although baking all those ingredients together does not lend itself to delicacy—my palate couldn't really pick out specific flavors beyond the tangy Brie and the sweet cranberry. The idea was fun, but it was lacking in execution.
Keeping with the Greek-gods and -goddesses theme (echoing the names of Leucadia's streets), check out the Hermes, another ambitious pie loaded with strong flavors: Chicken, thyme, mushrooms and creamy Fontina work well together. The flavors are a strong mix, but they don't lose their individual punch, and together they compose a hearty pizza.
Pandora's Pizza might not set the trend-setters' hair aflame, but, for me, it strikes the balance I'm looking for: tasty pizza and an environment suitable for date night or a family dinner, and the coolest kid I have to contend with has to wear a bib while eating her pizza.