Chef Jason Neroni insists that those stressed-out kitchenfolk on The Bear have nothing on his real life these past couple years. After announcing plans in 2019 to open a new Culver City pizza restaurant where Roy Choi’s iconic A-Frame, and before that an IHOP, had been, the Rose Venice chef also known for his B Side Pizza in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen has been navigating various hurdles, from the pandemic and major construction to personal loss (Neroni’s mother died in June).
But after three-and-a-half years, Best Bet is up and running, and already the toughest reservation to score in part of Los Angeles recently billed as the Westside’s hottest dining spot. After two amazing meals at Best Bet, I spoke to Neroni about persevering on what he calls his most personal and passionate project to date.
Like a Good Neighbor
Neroni and his wife and business partner, Jennifer Horan, live down the street from Best Bet. He rides his bike to work. His son goes to Venice High. The tchotchkes and art on the walls of Best Bet come from Neroni’s house. “The idea was to make the restaurant feel almost like an extension of our home,” he says. “We wanted a smaller scale to keep things intimate, and we’re holding 50 percent of the reservations open to walk-ins so it feels neighborhood-y. We’re doing Sunday night suppers with a tame consolidated menu for families who don’t want to stress too hard. You know, it’s salad and meatballs and in bed by nine. Rose Cafe was about big tickets and big parties. Best Bet is more personal than that. It’s a casual, family-style rock and roll kind of place that’s about keeping the locals happy. If you lose the neighborhood, you’re lost completely.”
Fried Pizza with a Difference
Neroni and his family have a house in Umbria, near where chef Nancy Silverton also has a house. Last summer, she urged Neroni to go to Naples to experience the sublime wood-fired pies made by legendary pizzaiolo Franco Pepe, owner of Pepe In Grani in Caiazzo, Italy. The result is “Ode to Franco,” a fried montanara pie of confit tomato topped with taleggio fonduta, arugula pesto, and crunchy olives. “When you hear deep-fried pizza you picture something next to the Oreos and Twinkies at the O.C. Fair, but this has way more nuance and thought,” Neroni says. “When you find the right combination of puffy and crispy, and the perfect toppings, you hit new levels in flavor.”
About that Mustang in the Parking Lot
The gorgeous silvery 1965 Mustang V-8 you might see outside Best Bet isn’t a midlife crisis vehicle for Neroni. It’s a memento to his mom. “My dad died before I was born and I don’t have any brothers or sisters so family was really just my mom and me,” he says. “Mom fought cancer for 30 years and it really took a toll on her. When she died in June, she left me a letter and a bit of money saying, ‘this is something I can do for you on my way out the door.’ I found the car online. It had lived in a garage for many years. My mom gave me $300 to help me buy the 1967 Carmen Ghia I drove growing up. Now when I drive the Mustang, I think of how hard she fought, how hard she worked, and where I get my drive from.”
Pancakes in a Former IHOP? They’re Coming!
Best Bet is a dinner-only restaurant for now, but weekend brunch is on the horizon. You can bet there will be pancakes on the menu in a space that was built to serve them. “The thing we did after church when I was growing up in Orange County was go to IHOP, so I can’t resist putting pancakes on the menu,” Neroni says. “I make pancakes at home, but I bake them instead of putting them on the griddle, so you’ll probably see one or two of those on the tables in the not too distant future. I owe that to my mom, too.”