On my first two visits, I couldn't find one pizza place worth trying. On my third visit, I found a terrific Neapolitan pizza at La Brea Bakery Cafe right in Downtown Disney. On this visit, I traveled two miles away from the Convention Center area to visit Ecco Pizza Shoppe.
Ecco joins the growing number of small regional and national chains that offer reasonably authentic "fast-casual" build-your-own Neapolitan pizzas. It may be premature to call Ecco a chain, because there are just two locations now (Anaheim and Costa Mesa) with one coming in Irvine.
|The courtyard at Anaheim Packing House|
- 1000 Degrees Neapolitan Express
- Blaze Pizza (200+ locations with one soon in Anaheim)
- MOD Pizza (200+ locations in US and UK)
- ZAZA Fine Salad & Wood Fired Pizza (Arkansas)
- Snap Custom Pizza (6 Philly area locations)
- Sauce Pizza and Wine (15 locations in AZ and NM)
- MidiCi (250 locations in development)
- Pieology (100+ locations)
- PizzaRev (about 50 locations)
|Inside the Packing House|
I've enjoyed these Neapolitans at MOD, ZAZA, Snap, and Sauce; they ranged from good to very good. None are quite the real deal, but all are miles better than the giant chains like Pizza Hut, Papa John's, or Domino's.
I didn't know that Ecco was part of a mini local chain when we arrived. It's housed in a former citrus packing house that's been converted to an "upscale food court" that is home to a great variety of restaurants. Walking through the open and airy space, I saw plenty of attractive options.
|Pizza assembly area|
|Authentic wood-fired Neapolitan pizza oven|
Like every Neapolitan, my pie was ready in a hurry and it was beautiful to see. This pie was a bit more substantial than the typical fast-casual Neapolitan, and it was generously topped with peppers and long slivers of crispy/chewy Calabrese salami.
Although the center of the crust wasn't soggy or wet, it wasn't rigid enough to support the toppings, so the first few bites of each slice required knife and fork. But on the very first bite, it was apparent that this was the best-of-breed, clearly more authentically Neapolitan than other fast-casual pizzas.
|Perfect color and char underneath|
I'm glad that Ecco was out of jalapenos, because this pie was blazing hot. It was at the upper edge of my spice tolerance, and I even removed a few of the Fresno chilies. The Calabrese salami was a standout topping - a much more complex and tasty experience than the typical pepperoni. The Grana Padano added the final umami note to this terrifically balanced pie.
I'm very much looking forward to trying both 1000 Degrees Neapolitan Express and MidiCi when a location opens near me - but for now, Ecco is the king of fast-casual Neapolitan pizza. Enjoy the good-to-great pies at these Neapolitan chains before Pizza Hut or Dominos' buys them out and ruins them with inferior ingredients as they did with conventional pizza.