This is a re-post of an article I contributed to California Beer and Pizza.
Have you been to Rance’s in Costa Mesa, CA? If you haven’t, you need to make some time to go. It’s in a small strip of stores off Baker and Harbor, in-between a nondescript sushi place and indeterminate Chinese place, just waiting to be discovered. Inside this gem you will find craft beer, delicious pizza, and a friendly staff just waiting to share their passion with you.
I was fortunate enough to have an impromptu sit-down with the owner and founder, Rance Ruiz. He shared some of his secrets to success and explained his passion for pizza.
Jessica: How did you start the restaurant and know it’s what you wanted to do?
Rance: I was visiting my sister in Berkley, CA when we ate at a local Chicago pizza place and I immediately fell in love. Every year I visited her I made a point of it to eat some Chicago-style pizza. I was saddened that there really wasn’t anything like it around where I lived so I decided I would open a place to satisfy that hole in the market. I made my first pizza at 18, and began testing and perfecting recipes with my mom. People really seemed to enjoy our pizza creations so it seemed only natural to start a restaurant so we could offer it to more people. I have no restaurant experience, no kitchen experience. I just know how to make really good pizza with all original recipes that people really seem to respond to.
Jessica: What kind of flavors and textures are you trying to achieve?
Rance: Flavor profile from the first bite to the last bite. The crust is such a huge part to the pizza, we had to perfect the recipe to build upon to make a fantastic pizza.
Jessica: I notice your crust for the deep dish stuffed crust is a pie-like crust that is flaky and buttery. This is totally different from your pan-crust with the crispy-crunchy pieces and soft and doughy center. Why make both? Do you have a preference?
Rance: The crust is meant to be savored. If I see crust pieces coming back on plates to the kitchen I get frustrated because I feel like I failed to make the best crust I could. I want everything to be flavorful and savored until the last bite. The crust adds flavor, texture, and crunch to an otherwise singular experience that is pizza that I feel is not only necessary but enhances the experience.
Jessica: Your crust is insanely good, so I think you achieved your goal there. What about people who want to take their pizza to go?
Rance: We of course offer a to-go option. Since we make everything from scratch we aren’t fast in producing the pizza. On average, it takes 20-40 minutes for the pizza to cook so I recommend calling your order in and then coming to get it in about 30 minutes. If you want you can also have your pizza par-baked and take it home to finish the baking process and have a hot, semi-homemade pizza in the comfort of your own home.
Jessica: How do you choose your craft beer on tap?
Rance: When we opened I really wanted to keep with the Chicago-style of beer and that’s why we have so much Goose Island. I want to feature beer that are artisan in nature, and has brewers who aren’t afraid to be experimental. I would like to keep adding more beers to help with the flavor and satisfaction of the restaurant experience. Why follow the rules when you can let your taste buds guide you?
Jessica: Do you make your own salad dressing?
Rance: Yes, in fact we do. We take pride in the fact that most everything we make is home-made and our own recipe. From the pizza to the salad dressing, it’s all hand-made.
Jessica: Are you the sole owner or do you have partners? Has it been hard mixing business with family or friends?
Rance: I have a partner, Aaron Tofani, who has been my friend since 2nd grade. We were both raised in Mission Viejo and working together has been surprisingly easy. It’s amazing how well things can run when there is mutual respect and a good work ethic.
We ordered the crowd-favorite of mushroom and spinach with the stuffed crust deep dish style and the pan pizza with sausage and pepperoni with jalapeno. Both were equally wonderful. The delectable pie-like crust crumbled yet playfully held the unctuous cheese in place while barely being able to keep the luscious tomatoes at bay. I am not a tomato person and I could probably just eat a bowl full of these tomatoes. It’s like they secretly put crack in there, and now no other stewed tomatoes will satisfy me.
The pan pizza is more “traditional-like” where it has a crunchy crust with a soft and chewy center. The jalapeno are spicy but not overbearing to the savory sausage and pepperoni. The little charred crispy pieces of the crust flirt with my eyes enticing another fleeting bite. It’s a hodge-podge of heavenly items that shouldn’t make me want more while beads of sweat drip into my eyes, but my hand reaches for more.
Since we arrived and had some time to kill before the pizzas were ready, we had the caesar salad and a few beers. The caesar salad was crisp and crunchy and had the unami punch that you would expect from a good caesar dressing. I was entirely impressed by the entire experience.
I love this place. In the middle of the interview with Rance, a pregnant woman came in and asked if they had soy cheese they could substitute in their pizza. Rance replied no, but he offered to use any soy cheese they brought in. He offered a suggestion of a local Trader Joe’s who had soy cheese he could use and offered to make a pizza without cheese. He was so accommodating and warm; it was really like you were a guest in his home.
Everything about Rance’s impresses me. I hope all the readers will make a point to visit and support this small, locally owned, amazing pizza place. I am working on Rance to have a tap-takeover and expand his craft beer selection. They are putting Hangar 24 Helles Lager in soon, so that is exciting. I love me some Helles Lager. Maybe a Speakeasy tap-takeover is in the future? Only time will tell!