Mario Christerna recalls his days as a young boy living in Wyvernwood Gardens, waking up on Saturday mornings waiting for his favorite show to start. Typically kids his age would wake up to watch Saturday morning cartoons, but Christerna was different. He remembers eating his cinnamon roll with strawberry Nesquick watching cooking pioneer Julia Child in awe and thinking “I want to be like her. I want to cook like that.”
Christerna found his passion for food at a young age, which ultimately led to him becoming a chef. After developing a following at the downtown LA restaurant The Bricks, he made his way back home and late last month opened Brooklyn Ave Pizza near the corner of Mott Street and Cesar E Chavez Avenue, on the ground floor of the historic Paramount Theater.
“We are locals serving the local community,” he said in an interview. “We want to continue to preserve this history and preserve the culture.”
Christerna believes he was destined to open his restaurant in Boyle Heights.
“I believe that dreams always make their way back to where those dreams were created, and my dreams were created here at home” he shared.
As a homage to his hometown, he decided to name his pizzeria after Brooklyn Avenue, the former name of Cesar Chavez Avenue. And he pays his respects to the Jewish community that once called Boyle Heights home by making his pizza pies at a space that was once the home of the Jewish Bakers Union.
Not only did Christerna pay homage to Boyle Heights with the name, but he also wanted his restaurant to incorporate flavors that brought him back memories from his childhood in the neighborhood.
Growing up here , Christerna says mole was a dish he often ate; that ultimately is what inspired his mole pizza and wings. His mole pizza is made with a mole poblano base, queso Oaxaca, curtido, crema, and mozzarella, while his wings are covered in mole poblano and topped with sesame, curtido, and pepitas.
Another popular flavor Christerna grew up with was Hot Cheetos. He knew how popular the chips were and created his Flaming Hot Cheetos wings, which are covered in nacho cheese and topped with crushed Hot Cheetos.
“I wanted to make a dish that was fun and nostalgic, because nostalgia has the power to trigger the part of the brain that gives you a memory that makes you happy and some of my greatest memories were here in my neighborhood,” he said.
Other wings flavors include tamarindo and the Chef’s version of a classic Buffalo with lemon pepper. The menu also includes two kinds of “loaded fries” – Chicano Gravy (chorizo, queso fresco and cilantro) and B.R.C. (bacon, ranch and cheddar).
At Brooklyn Ave Pizza Co., the dishes are made with fresh ingredients. The chef takes pride in the fact that their pizzas are all made with in-house cheese, dough, and sauces. Their potatoes are freshly cut.
So far, the restaurants top selling pizzas have been The O.G. and The Sinner. The O.G. is made with a special pepperoni that cups up, mozzarella, and fresh oregano. The Sinner is made with in-house bacon, sweet and spicy pineapple, mushroom, and mozzarella.
Christerna’s inspiration for The Sinner stems from the controversial debate – does pineapple belong on pizza? “Pizza traditionalists say that putting pineapple on a pizza is the ultimate sin, but I’ll confess I love pineapple on pizza” he said. “That’s the sin and I’m the sinner.”
Brooklyn Ave Pizza Co. was designed to have outdoor and indoor seating, but the restaurant’s opening coincided with county orders that forbid serving food on location, so for now the fledgling restaurant is only offering take out orders. It also offers delivery via Uber Eats and Door Dash, but the chef hopes to open up for dining once it is safe to do so.
“It’s going to look beautiful once everyone can come back, be outside, be together again and feel the spirit of togetherness” he said.
Open Sundays and Tuesdays to Thursdays, 11 am to 8 pm; Fridays and Saturdays, 11 am to 10 pm, closed Mondays.