Pizza without compromise
Fabrizio Cercatore of Hot Italian
Hailing from La Spezia, Italy, Fabrizio Cercatore brings authentic neapolitan pizza to Sacramento at Hot Italian (1627 16th Street). Featuring the same one-size-fits-all thin-crust pizza Cercatore serves at his restaurant in Italy, Hot Italian also offers salads, paninis, gelato and free Wi-Fi. The atmosphere and quality ingredients offer a true taste of Italy in Midtown. Just don’t ask for ranch dressing with your Bellucci pizza.
Why did you come to Sacramento?
I came to Sacramento because I met Andrea [Lepore], my business partner, and we had this idea to open the restaurant. She had all the connections in Sacramento.
She brought you from Italy to open the restaurant?
I already knew Andrea. I met her through [former Monarchs guard] Ruthie Bolton. Andrea spent some time in my restaurant in Italy; she was visiting me over there. We had this idea, like, “Let’s open a restaurant!” It was kind of like a joke at first. I flew over here a couple of times and made some pizza for some investors and they liked it. It happened really fast.
What is your restaurant in Italy like?
It’s different. Hot Italian is more modern, and my restaurant in Italy is more Tuscan style. It’s a really old restaurant. I’ve owned the restaurant 15 years, and the people before me owned it for 35. It was a restaurant before the second world war.
How did you decide you wanted to cook for a living?
In Italy, you have to decide young what you want to do. … I like to connect with people, so I wanted to do something where I could interact with people and not stay in an office. So I decided to go to culinary school. It was really natural for me, cooking.
Well, you cook really good pizzas.
Thank you. When I was a kid, I helped my mom a lot in the kitchen. My mom and grandma stayed home, cooking and preparing food, and I was kind of like their helper. I would be like, “I can do this!” I really liked to make gnocchi.
Have you ever delivered pizza?
Yeah, when I was in Italy. We delivered it with a Vespa. One day at my restaurant in Italy we ran out of delivery guys, and I delivered pizza. It was fun! We also do delivery at Hot Italian for downtown and Midtown customers.
What’s with the bike-shop part of the restaurant? I’ve had friends who thought Hot Italian was just a motorcycle shop.
Yeah, many people think it’s only a bicycle or motorcycle or Vespa store. That side of the restaurant is a boutique area that we also use for private events. People can rent the space. We have a partnership with Public [Bikes], a company from San Francisco that makes bicycles. If someone wants to buy their bikes, they can come here and get the rep’s name and they can call and build a bike how they want it.
How do you bring Italian culture to Sacramento?
We bring the atmosphere of what an Italian restaurant is. The food, the atmosphere. … Our wine is 70 percent Italian and 30 percent Californian from Italian families. We have aperitivo cocktails—this is really typical in Italy. We’re also organizing a tour of Italy in May where we’ll stay for two weeks in La Spezia, where I grew up, and Tuscany. We’ll visit wineries, eat in my restaurant, and visit Cinque Terre and Florence.
What else were you looking to bring to Sacramento? What was your vision?
First of all, to bring a good pizza. We use all fresh ingredients, like local veggies and tomatoes. We use a lot of ingredients from Italy, because here you can’t find the same prosciutto Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, Gorgonzola cheese, mascarpone cheese. … For those things, I really want Italian ingredients. I give a real combination of ingredients that’s like it is in Italy, like how I make it in my restaurant. I hope people know that we serve really authentic Italian pizza. Sometimes people come, and their vision of pizza is big. People ask me to add ranch sauce, but I don’t do that, because that’s not something we do in Italy. We do it this way.
Do you ever feel like you need to change some things to appeal to people?
Not to change and make totally different, but I can change some combinations. Our Jovanotti is like a big pizza, because there’s prosciutto and pepperoni. It’s good for people who like a meaty pizza, but it’s still really fresh and has high-quality ingredients. The prosciutto is the same prosciutto that comes from Parma; the salami is the same salami that comes from Italy. What I see in many Italian restaurants here is that they are afraid and they change. They compromise authenticity and quality. I use the same wood-burning oven that I use in Italy, and the same dough machine that I use in Italy. … It was a little more expensive to bring here, but I’m sure it’s the quality I want.