All-star artisan pizza

Red Tavern owners bring gourmet pies to Chico

photo by kyle delmar

Farm Star Pizza
2359 The Esplanade 343-2056 Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.

Farm Star Pizza

2359 Esplanade
Chico, CA 95926

(530) 343-2056

Eating pizza isn’t usually a glamorous experience. In fact, it can be somewhat shameful lying on the couch, watching a movie and stuffing your face with too many slices. (OK, so maybe that’s just me.)

However, when I stepped into the new Farm Star Pizza (in the old Gashouse Pizza location on The Esplanade) last week, I didn’t feel shame at all. As a matter of fact, I stood a little straighter as I glanced around the hip-looking restaurant, a quaint two-room spot with modern lighting, a soothing gray-and-orange décor that’s consistent throughout (from paint to coasters), and a cashier who seemed as if he’d been waiting for us to arrive.

Opened by Red Tavern owners Craig Thomas and Maria Venturino in November 2010, Farm Star offers a menu that’s cleverly crafted with ingredients chosen for not only their flavor and distinctiveness, but also their origins. The chalkboard menu showcases a short list of pizzas with toppings such as roasted garlic, leeks, goat cheese and scallions, sourced from places like Berkeley, Marin County and the North State.

Artisan pizza isn’t new, but it’s become trendy among foodies this past year. In fact, S.F. artisan-pizza restaurant Flour + Water was a James Beard Foundation nominee for best new restaurant in 2010.

I was immediately drawn to the Spudzola—a pie with caramelized onions, heirloom spuds, gorgonzola and thyme—but I knew my date’s mouth was already watering over the choice of gourmet meats. So, we went with the Good Pig (sauce, mozzarella, broccolini, pork sausage and chili flakes for a nice, even $14)—and a Green Goddess salad (little gem lettuce, garlic croutons and shaved parmesan for $7), one of three salads listed on the board.

We pivoted frsaom the cash register and surveyed the cozy space for an open table. We considered the other room—a larger one through a doorway with a more casual feel (including a foosball table), but I didn’t want to sit so far away from the energy of the group.

I poured some water and noticed a few Red Tavern-esque touches—not a water cooler, but two stainless-steel pitchers resting on a porcelain tray, and not a plastic cup, but two sturdy glass tumblers. My date was mesmerized by the light bouncing off of a neat row of specialty beers—Arrogant Bastard, Brother Thelonious and Trumer Pils, to name a few, as well as a few beers on tap—including Lagunitas IPA, one of his favorites. A few tidy rows of wine bottles, mostly red, also rested on the counter.

Our cashier became a waiter and brought our food to our table. The long, uncut pieces of lettuce in the salad were lovely, and the crunchy, buttery croutons contrasted nicely with the crisp lettuce. The mild Green Goddess dressing was a light-green color with a lemony, herby bite.

Our 12-inch pizza was served atop a silver tray, and we dived into the perfectly fired pie. It had a soft crust with crispness underneath (not too floppy to eat with your hands). The sausage was real homemade fennel-pork sausage—not the normal gray chunks at most pizza parlors—and the fresh tomato sauce was spread thin, blending well with the other flavors. The broccolini was browned from the oven, and was fresh and potent, and delicious.

On a return visit a few days later, I ordered a Mr. Green Jeans (pesto, mozzarella, herb ricotta and oven-dried cherry tomatoes for $12) and an Autumn Glory salad (fall greens, arugula, Comice pears, Fuyu persimmons, candied walnuts and Point Reyes blue cheese for $8) for take-out. It was ready in 15 minutes. The restaurant was bustling with a small group of friends when I arrived, and I envisioned bringing my own friends—perhaps we’d each order a different pizza and share. Good idea.

I was struck by the presentation of the salad—three thinly sliced pieces of pear and persimmon laid side-by-side, displaying their warm colors. Small chunks of blue cheese stuck to crevices in the sweetened walnuts, and the greens were coated with lemony, balsamic vinaigrette that didn’t overshadow the sweetness of other ingredients.

On the pizza, dollops of ricotta rested atop mozzarella cheese, and a thin layer of pesto peeked through. (However, the tomatoes were scant and I found myself wanting more.)

A hip, fun artisan pizza joint where you can wear a T-shirt and draw on tabletops with chalk without skipping out on quality ingredients or farm-fresh taste is a welcome addition to Chico’s culinary scene. As the months go on, Farm Star seems likely to join its big brother Red Tavern as a local mainstay.