Like a big pizza pie?
Is there any restaurant experience more fraught and poignant than visiting an empty and excellent family-owned place, eating all alone while the owner hovers nervously in the background? I think not, and I can say from experience that the emotional pain only increases when you have the secret knowledge that you are reviewing the place. That kind of thing always makes me glad that I maintain my anonymity when I’m doing reviews, though I don’t go to the lengths Ruth Reichl did. (When Reichl, now the editor in chief of Gourmet, was reviewing for The New York Times, she created entire personae, complete with wigs and makeup, and visited restaurants in disguise.)
Still, I always hope that I can help such worthy but undiscovered places survive. After all, my job isn’t just to be snarky about things I don’t like: I’m actually hoping to point people to places I do enjoy and that they might enjoy, too. I therefore recently was intrigued by a suggestion from a reader who wrote in to say that she had tried a new pizza joint in Fair Oaks called Andy B’s. She and her husband thought it was the best pizza they’d ever tried, but that the place seemed like it wasn’t very busy. She had become so addicted to the pizza, she said, that she would be devastated to see it go out of business.
I felt I had to try it. Honestly, I doubt I ever would have seen Andy B’s had this reader not pointed it out. It’s at the corner of San Juan Avenue and Sunset Avenue, in the Raley’s shopping center—not a spot you’re likely to notice if you don’t live and shop nearby. As the reader’s e-mail had foretold, the place was pretty much empty when we arrived at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday, though they seemed to be doing some takeout business. The restaurant’s atmosphere is more storefront than sit-down, though. Although it is outfitted with tables, chairs, and a salad bar, there are some odd touches, like an industrial-looking sink in the putative dining room.
We sat ourselves down before we realized that the menus were at the counter, right under the sign directing us where to order. The jovial owner, however, quickly came over to chat us up and offered to take our order tableside. This owner was hardly the nervous, cowering-in-the-kitchen type that I sometimes dread, but he was eager and willing to please. He offered us a bigger table, bottled water he didn’t charge us for, and lots of bonhomie.
The menu is as bare-bones as the dining room—it’s basically pizza, more pizza, and a couple of sides, plus the salad bar, which was slightly paltry in its offerings. Drinks are your basic collection of sodas. There’s no beer yet, though they’re working on a license.
Everything is well-priced and bigger and more filling than we realized. We ordered a large pizza and it arrived so loaded with toppings that, as it turned out, it provided not just dinner but two days’ worth of lunch for the two of us. The offerings are mainly specialty pizzas with distinctive combos. Classics—cheese, pepperoni, and Hawaiian—also are available.
We split our pizza between that week’s special, the Bella Rose, and a regular menu offering, the Roman Feast. The Bella Rose had a sun-dried tomato-and-basil pesto, mozzarella, tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, and artichokes. The Roman Feast, with its combination of pepperoni, bacon, sausage, spinach, red onions, and tomatoes, did not resemble anything I have ever eaten in Rome, but its spirit of wanton, meaty excess was certainly in accordance with its name.
Both kinds of pizza were very good, and they were about as thick and generously topped as they could be without verging into the territory staked out by deep-dish pizza. We liked the crunchy and yeasty bottom crust, copious stringy cheese and fresh toppings, and a generous sprinkling of fresh-grated parmesan applied before the pizza arrived at the table.
A big family group that came in after we did ordered theirs’ “extra crispy,” with the crust well browned—something I might do on a subsequent visit. I want to try one of the other vegetable combos, such as the garden veggie, with mushrooms, bell peppers, olives, tomatoes, artichokes, onions, and feta cheese. Some of the menu’s pizza combos sounded even more over-the-top than what we ordered, like the Buffalo-wings pizza, with boneless wings, ranch sauce, onions, and pepper-jack cheese; or the Mediterranean, with beef, spinach, onions, two kinds of olives, pepperoncini, tomatoes, feta, and oregano.
This is not pizza for the faint of heart or stomach, but if you’re looking for a big, hearty pie and a friendly welcome, you might venture out to Fair Oaks. Andy B’s also sells take-and-bake pizzas, which are real bargains at $14 for a large specialty combo. I’m not sure I can say it’s the best pizza I’ve ever had—there is too much good pizza in the world to be so categorical—but it’s well made, inventively topped, and a good value. For those reasons, Andy B’s is a place that deserves to be discovered.