Omygod. She’s eating her pizza with her knife and fork. Then again, she’s English. “What do you think, Robin?” She takes a sip of her English breakfast tea.
My old buddy Robin looks up from his eggplant, zucchini, and mushroom pizza. He’s eating his slice by hand, but I guess he sees me drop-jawed, watching his lady-love. “Actually,” he tells me, “the Dutch eat their sandwiches with knives and forks. Quite normal over there.”
He turns to Bridget. “What do I think, my dear? One, the crust is wonderfully thin and crisp, and two, they obviously make it all here. From scratch.” He turns to me. “Not like our English pizza chains, where the dough is trucked in by pantechnicon in frozen preprepared balls.”
“Uh, ‘pantechnicon’?” I say.
“Lorry, old boy. Truck, moving van.”
“More tea, dear?” Bridget asks.
Robin and I became buddies when we were both pimply teen greenhorns. He’d come over to conquer Hollywood. Didn’t, quite. Hollywood’s loss. Now he’s back in the States for a week, recently hitched to the beautiful Bridget, and seeing as I was heading up to Julian (yeah, driving, in a rental!), they jumped in and came along. The higher we climbed — up the 67, then the 78, around the boulder mountains, among the oak groves, through the upland valleys with their horse ranchettes — the more Bridget cried out, “Ooh, just like the wild West!”
It was around 4:00 in the afternoon that we hit this little pocket of civilization, Wynola Springs. Just a couple of antique stores, Jeremy’s on the Hill (the eatery I found buried in two feet of snow last winter), and this sprawling red barn with a sign outside that says something about pizza. I’d told them about Julian and apple pies and all, but — maybe it’s the mountain air up here at 4000 feet — I’m hungry for way more than apple pie today.
’Course, by 4:00, the crisp evening wind is starting to blow. So, it was great to get into the warm. It’s woody inside, with a gray tile floor, cream and white and orange walls, a giant mural of mountain meadows, and red-topped tables. But what you notice first is the pizza oven. Man. Nothing like the standard jobs they have down in the lowlands. For starters, you look into the maw of this oven, and inside is this fire and hot ashes glowering red at us. They have a pile of logs below, waiting to be tossed in. But, and here’s the thing, the whole bulging outside wall of the oven is covered in broken white-and-blue mosaic tiles. And whoever made it added bits of jugs and plates.
“James Hubbell built it,” says the gal behind the counter, Linda. “He and his helpers, eight years ago, when they opened. Our owner was born in Germany. Sabine Horner. The little pitchers and cups in the wall came from her home over there. James Hubbell still stops in all the time.”
I explain to Robin and Bridget that Hubbell’s a kind of, like, god around here. Famous artist-sculptor.
“If you’re having pizza, we only have one size, medium,” Linda says. “But we do have salad pizzas.”
“Good Lord,” says Robin. “Fire-baked salad? Never heard of that back in Blighty.”
“Blighty?” I say.
“England, old chap.”
They have a pretty darned impressive list of pizzas, all going for between $9 and $13. You can build your own on a basic $7.95 cheese pie, with each extra topping costing $1.75. But why build? They have everything from sausage pizza ($10.95) to chicken and artichoke hearts ($11.95) to “Joe’s Godfather” (with pepperoni, salami, and sausage, $12.95) to the cowboy pizza (with ground beef and onions $11.95). Bridget spots one with eggplant, zucchini, and mushrooms ($11.95) and orders that, and I’ve gotta try the salad/pizza combo thing, so I go for the tostada pizza ($11.95), which is basically frijoles, olives, cheeses, “fire-roasted salsa,” with a salad and cheese sprinkled on top. They also do about a dozen different soups and salads “made from scratch,” from a dinner salad ($3.75) to “our famous caramelized pizza crust salad” ($15.95) and entrées ($10-$16).
Our pizzas taste delicious. We share two between the three of us. Bridget’s eggplant has that basil flavor. My tostada has the cheese-and-olive thing going on. That thin, crispy crust is to die for. Heck, we could be in New York City. But it’s the refreshment on top that makes it special — the salad they sprinkled after the pizza came out of the oven, so it kind of melted into the cheeses but also stayed fresh and unwilted.
And, of course, can’t come up here without springing for an apple pie. We share an apple and boysenberry one baked at the Julian Cafe and Bakery, three miles farther on. Seems they’ve been baking them up there for about 125 years. And, boy, this is one lusciously old-fashioned piece of pie, served with vanilla ice cream.
“You should come back on the weekend,” says Linda. “We have country-and-western bands, bluegrass, classic rock playing live. Everybody’s welcome. It’s free.”
“Couldn’t we stay up here for a couple of nights, darling?” sighs Bridget to Robin. “I’m getting a taste for this wild West.”
“You’d adapt, no problem,” I say. “Except, well, might have to lose the knife and fork.”
The Place: Wynola Pizza Express, 4355 Highway 78, three miles west of Julian, 760-765-1004
Type of Food: Pizza
Prices: Build your own pizza ($7.95 for cheese pie, each extra, $1.75); sausage pizza, $10.95; chicken, artichoke heart pizza, $11.95; “Joe’s Godfather” (pepperoni, salami, sausage), $12.95; cowboy pizza (ground beef, onions), $11.95; eggplant, zucchini, mushroom pizza, $11.95; tostada pizza (frijoles, olives, “fire-roasted salsa”), $11.95; soup of the day, $5.95 (bowl); sumi (Asian) salad, $7.95 (with chicken or tofu, $3.50 extra); “our famous caramelized pizza crust salad,” $15.95; barbecue ribs, $14.95
Hours: 11:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m. (till 9:00 p.m. Friday–Saturday); closed Tuesdays
Bus: North East Rural Bus 891 (N.B. Not advisable. Buses only travel Friday afternoon, one-way to Julian. No way back till the following Friday morning. For info, call 760-767-4BUS or 619-442-8414.)
Nearest Bus Stop: outside restaurant