OK, I’ll admit it, when I first heard there was going to be another pizza joint opening in Encinitas I was less than thrilled. I mean really, did we really need another option for pizza? Then I heard it was being run by the husband and wife team of Laurel Manganelli and Greg Lukasiewicz who were part of the innovative and very successful Bull Taco concept, teaming up with Lawrence Holland of the San Diego Coffee Company to open Pandora. My skepticism quickly turned to curiosity and anticipation. There are imitators and innovators in the restaurant world and Laurel and Greg definitely do their own thing and are very good at it. One of my early Lick the Plate columns was on Bull Taco and their “Inauthentic Mexican” cuisine which gave them a blank canvas and no restrictions as to what they could create at their stunning Cardiff Campground location. They are taking that course with pizza at Pandora and after my first visit; I’d have to say it’s working nicely.
Laurel is the driving force behind Pandora and she has some solid credentials of her own prior to Bull Taco to back it up. She was raised in Encinitas where her mom ran the concessions at Moonlight Beach and San Elijo Campground. She went to college in Los Angeles where she met Greg and proceeded to start a family and open four restaurants. Needless to say, the running multiple restaurants and raising a family was not an easy task, especially in LA. They decided a return to the slower pace of Encinitas was needed. Her connections at the campground led to the first Bull Taco location and that took off immediately.
The concept for Pandora space began with Greg’s vision which he’s coined “fantasy dollhouse”. I’m not sure I made that connection, but it’s a very cool interior and definitely not following some corporate chain cookie cutter plan. It’s very casual; as well it should be in the heart of Leucadia. There is a nice little bar, spacious dining area, and an upstairs lounge that looked very hip and comfortable. It’s a simple concept; you place your order, take a number, grab your drinks and wait for your food. Laurel is driving the menu at Pandora and she has come up with some really interesting flavor profiles using fresh local seasonal ingredients and fresh herbs.
We sampled some dishes from the upcoming bar menu including Prosciutto de Parma with melon, mint, shaved Parmesan and balsamic sauce and a bruschetta- tuna tartar in sesame soy vinaigrette topped with pea sprouts in cilantro ginger dressing. The flavor combinations all worked perfectly and quickly established this was not just another pizza place. A beet salad was also shared by our table and included red beets, orange, shaved fennel, arugula, goat cheese, toasted hazelnuts, and a citrus-hazelnut vinaigrette.
The pizzas were equally impressive. The Apollo, which consists of duck confit, brie, cranberry, mushroom duxelle in sage brown butter, chives was like Thanksgiving dinner on killer crust. Very rich, but something I could see sharing with a table. Note to self, this pizza would make a great addition to any holiday menu.
The Hermes had chicken, Gouda, mushrooms, red onions, tomato tarragon sauce, and fresh thyme and was a pizza I could devour solo no problem. Same with the Jupiter which leaned a little more on the healthy side with garlic olive oil, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, avocado, lemon zest, sea salt, and fresh basil. The pizza is collaboration between Laurel, Greg, and their very talented pizza master and kitchen manager, Nitai Sanchez. Besides these “out-of-the-box” pizzas as they call them, they do offer more traditional pies.
I was not expecting much for dessert but again was blown away that they had enlisted pastry chef Gina Fowler. Gina delivered with a stunning gluten free chocolate, pistachio and avocado cake with avocado crème anglais. She combined with a salted carmel tart and a cheese board that was a very nice French touch. Look for a rotating selection of desserts from Gina.
They have ten beers on taps, mainly of the craft variety. My beer connoisseur friend said it was a very solid selection of brews.
Due to the seasonality of the menu, and the whims of the kitchen, I would check the menu online and keep up with them on Facebook to keep up with what’s happening. Location and hours can also be found at www.pandoraspizzapie.com.