A surprising pie
Il Pizzaiolo Wood-Fired Pizza
Rocklin, CA 95765
Restaurants that deliver a consistently great experience every time are a rare find. Even the finest restaurants have off nights; cooks quit, equipment breaks, servers call in sick, delivery companies fail to deliver. These factors and many others threaten to topple a kitchen’s best laid plans.
Every once in a while, though, I find an eatery that defies the odds and fails to fail, as it were. One such place is a hole-in-the-wall pizza shop in Loomis, just past Roseville: Il Pizzaiolo Wood-Fired Grill, which serves surprisingly good pizza in an equally surprising location. I’ve eaten at Il Pizzaiolo countless times on my way up Highway 80 towards Grass Valley, both at the Loomis location and their original spot in Colfax. They have never once failed me on quality.
Neither tiny town is known as a culinary hot spot—far from it—so finding a pizza that rivals even the best pie in Midtown (at half the price) is improbable. Thin, blistery crust? Check. An appropriate amount fresh mozzarella and basil on the pizza Margherita? Check. Red-tiled, wood-fire oven nicknamed Vesuvio that bakes your pizza at 800 degrees Fahrenheit? CHECK!
Even more satisfying than the quality of the food is the price. When was the last time $7 rewarded you with a pizza Margherita ($6.95) that rivaled those served in Naples? Likely never, that’s when. Given the time it takes to make a superlative crust and the quality of their other ingredients, Il Pizzaiolo could easily charge 50 percent more for their pizzas, but that would go against owners Pete and Jacqueline Lostritto’s philosophy, which is clearly outlined on their website: “In Italy, pizza was a peasant food, not something just for the rich. So where did the idea of a $25 pizza come from?”
Even the most expensive pizza on the menu, the Napoli Bianco, never crosses the $10 mark. Cashing in at $9.95, it’s a white pie covered with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, arugula and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. I briefly wondered how they pull it off, but the fact that Il Pizzaiolo keeps churning out great pizza at such low prices is a mystery I’m content to live with.
It’s not only the pizza that keeps bringing me back to Il Pizzaiolo. The menu is short but sweet, and other offerings are equally well executed. The meatballs with red sauce ($6.95) are tender and savory, packing more satisfaction into every bite than most places pack into an entire burger. The bread sticks ($3.95), finger-sized strips of their wonderfully flavorful pizza crust slathered with olive oil and sprinkled with garlic, were so addicting my normally garlic-wary dining partner finished the entire plate. Even the desserts—ricotta-filled cannoli ($2.75) and Nonna-quality tiramisu ($3.95), all made in-house—impress at every nibble.
While I could happily survive solely on Il Pizzaiolo’s pizza for the rest of my days, one of their lesser-known menu items may push it into second place: the wood-fired bread ($5). Every morning the staff churns out a handful of freshly baked loaves, deeply brown and perfectly crusty. Good luck grabbing a loaf with dinner, though; the bread goes super fast, so get there before lunch ends if you’re hoping to snag some.
I’ve eaten at almost every pizza place in Sacramento, hoping for an experience that comes even remotely close to the pizza I’ve had in Naples. While there are some good options around town, it’s my overwhelmingly enthusiastic opinion that the best pizza in the region is to be found not in Sac, but 25 miles up Highway 80.