It is housed in an unassuming outpost along Bell Street in Los Alamos, but Full of Life Flatbread has become an exporter of certified organic and locally sourced frozen flatbread pizza to markets and distributors in approximately 20 different states. Started by self-taught baker Clark Staub, the humble little factory was inspired by a realization that food should, in Staub’s words, “satisfy by tasting good, be nutritious, and carry with it a sense of the place and people who grew and prepared it for us.” It’s a philosophy both down-to-earth and high-minded, but it works.
From Friday through Sunday, the production area is filled with tables (built of recycled wood from area barns) and becomes a lively restaurant, which is how I had the pleasure of stopping by with friends to sample some pizza on the spot, in full view of the 900-degree wood-fired oven, with Evan the Baker at the helm. The buzzwords at Flatbread are local, organic, and quality, beginning with Giusto’s unbleached whole-grain flour, the seasonal produce of neighborhood farms, and even ingredients such as cheese, sausage, and olive oil obtained from carefully selected sources within a 400-mile radius. The result is a pizza that defies the conventional archetype, but don’t think of it as health food, even if it is; it is a surprisingly satisfying and gourmet experience filled with flavor and free of unsettling mystery.
The bread itself is thin but substantial, with a rustic home-baked flavor that the toppings enhance without overpowering. The varieties we tried were Central Coast Sausage, Fire-Roasted Tomato Salsa, Smoke-Dried Tomato, and an offering called Shaman Bread, which featured fresh garlic, Cuyama organic pistachios, and charred red onions, lightly topped with a local version of raw milk serena-type cheese. One of our dinner companions was organic farmer extraordinaire Chris Cadwell of Tutti Frutti Farms, who recognized quite a few Farmers Market patrons and the names of local farms, and pronounced the place “extreme local,” which in his domain is a high form of praise.
Even the oven at Flatbread is handcrafted of local materials. Built of rocks and clay from the area, it’s an igloo-shaped hearth with a heart, literally-there’s a heart-shaped clay tile set artfully into the side. A formidable-looking woodpile is stacked high against a wall nearby (“We split it ourselves,” said Evan), and it’s impossible not to notice the colorful prayer flags strung from the ceiling across the room, a platter of pomegranates that just happens to have been placed upon a barrel by the door, and, at the risk of sounding hippie-trippy, a certain affirmative energy in the air.
On factory days, Monday through Thursday, the high-ceilinged room is cleared of dining tables and the staff forms an old-fashioned production line. The pizza is made in small batches, packaged, and placed in a deep freezer in the back room until a truck pulls up to carry it away. It is perhaps romantic, but not that much of a stretch, really, to think that some pretty good Santa Barbara County karma is shipped out with those frozen boxed pizzas.
There are six packaged varieties of Full of Life Flatbread Pizza currently available: Tomato Sauce with Three Cheeses; Mushroom with Caramelized Onions and Tomatoes; Olive and Feta with Cornmeal Crust; Cheese and Fresh Herb; Margherita; and Flax Seed and Pistachio with Red Onions and Rosemary. “We just recently got our first order from the East Coast,” one employee announced with pride. Here in Santa Barbara, look for them in the frozen foods section at Gelson’s, Lazy Acres, Tri-County Produce, and Whole Foods Market, or check out fulloflifefoods.com for more information.
Get your fill of Full of Life Flatbread at 225 Bell Street in Los Alamos. The restaurant is open Friday-Saturday, from 5-10 p.m. and on Sunday from 4-8 p.m. Call 344-4400 or visit fulloflifefoods.com.