That’s amore! Photos courtesy of Jemma

The RundownLos Angeles

Jemma Hollywood Steals the Scene With Pizzas and Pastas Aplenty


Along Vine in the heart of Hollywood, just steps from historic landmarks like the Capitol Records building, the Walk of Fame, and the Pantages Theater, chef Jackson Kalb has opened his latest restaurant: Jemma Hollywood. It’s as much an homage to the classic era of Hollywood as it is to East Coast Italian red-sauce joints of yore. 

“I love the restaurants that have been there forever,” Kalb says. “But,” he adds, “I think Hollywood needs this kind of old-school Italian mixed with more modern food.” That’s where Jemma steps in. Kalb has spent years painstakingly honing recipes for pizza dough and garlic bread to achieve his unique vision of Italian-American classics with his own personal flair. “If you’re not laughing with me, that’s my fault,” Kalb says. “But if you’re laughing with me, that’s also my fault.” 

We got the inside scoop from Kalb about what makes his pizza unique, which sandwich comes on a silver platter, and those massive chandeliers at his newly opened hotspot.

Pizzas aplenty.
Pizzas aplenty.

The pizza dough was five years in the making

If you’ve been to any of Kalb’s other restaurants (Ospi, Jemma di Mare, Jame), you know that pizza is a central part of the menu. But Kalb wasn’t satisfied repeating the same pies for Jemma Hollywood. “The Ospi dough took eight months to develop. I was working on [Jemma Hollywood’s] at the same time, and it just wasn’t right yet,” he explains. Whereas a thin, Romana Tonda-style crust might work for a different concept, Jemma Hollywood’s Italian American theme demanded something different — a crust that’s still relatively thin, but pliable. It took over five years, but Kalb finally found a recipe that he’s happy with, one that involves fermenting the dough for two days. For a taste, try the Frankie pizza, which is “our version of a Ligurian almond pesto sauce,” topped with Jemma’s housemade chicken-kale sausage.

The aforementioned Italian beef sandwich.
The aforementioned Italian beef sandwich.

And the rest of the carbs are just as good 

It’s not just the pizza dough that Kalb spent years dialing in. The Italian beef sandwich, made with shaved prime rib and giardiniera, is served on a literal silver platter (a little goofy, Kalb admits, “but it’s so fun”), in a hoagie roll made “with a very slight chew to it,” and an egg-wash brush at the end to give it that perfect, golden crust. The pasta dough is handmade, too, and shines in perennial favorites like a spicy rigatoni alla vodka, and the cavatelli, tossed with pork sausage and a hearty, vibrant broccoli puree. The garlic bread, similar to the pizza dough, took a long time to develop.

“At first it was a focaccia,” Kalb says, but after many iterations, the current loaf features a blend of cheeses including caciocavallo and fontina, along with a garlic confit technique that he picked up during his time at Alinea. Heady? Yes. Delicious? Almost irresistibly so. 

A different kind of Italian restaurant 

Hollywood has been no stranger to flashy new restaurant openings over the last few years (see: Mother Wolf, Ka’Teen, Grandmaster Recorders, etc.), but Kalb believes that Jemma adds something different: a mix of old-school and modern sensibilities, East Coast heritage, and California comfort. Whereas nearby Italian spots like Mozza or Angelini Osteria offer more regional fare and slightly finer-dining experiences, Kalb prefers to keep Jemma approachable, with deliciously crowd-pleasing food, a cozy ambiance, and a disarming sense of playfulness. “It’s supposed to be fun,” explains Kalb. “Maybe that’s to my own detriment, but I like to have a sense of humor with it.”

Wines (and not-wines) for every occasion 

“We’ve always looked for quality for the price,” Kalb says of the wine list, which has plenty of by-the-glass options between $15-$20 and bottles between $60-$100. The bottiglie di reserva menu focuses primarily on bottles from California and Italy, with some natural wines in the mix, and some expense account-friendly options, “because: Hollywood,” Kalb adds with a laugh. If you’re wanting something non-alcoholic, the team has been introducing new mocktails. Try the Light & Stormy for a tart mix of lime, lemon, mint, and ginger, or the more refreshing Cool As A Cucumber, with clarified raspberry, lemongrass, citrus, and cucumber. Of course, there are traditional boozy cocktails, too, like an espresso martini and a limoncello spritz. 

Putting the finishing touches on crispy calamari.
Fried provolone.

Think vinyl booths and crystal chandeliers 

“I really wanted to pay homage to somewhere between Hollywood and old-school New York, back in the heyday when the red-sauce joints were the nicest place in town,” Kalb says of Jemma Hollywood’s aesthetic (he designed the room himself). There are no red-and-white checkered tablecloths here, but all the furniture was custom-built for the space, with a general mid-century modern feel. Sleek burgundy-colored vinyl booths line the perimeter, and “big, fat, cushy green chairs” make diners comfortable throughout the rest of the room. Of course, “the chandeliers tie everything together,” Kalb says about the imposing pieces, which dangle like upside-down wedding cakes.

They recall the grand lobbies of early 20th century movie theaters, a perfect reference, of course, because: Hollywood.

Oren Peleg is a screenwriter and journalist based in Los Angeles. His work appears in Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest, The Hollywood Reporter, Eater, and more. Subscribe to his newsletter here. And you can follow him here. While you’re at it, follow Resy, too.