SN&R ranks Sacramento’s 10 best pizzas
It’s all part of The Pizza Issue
Stop. Hold the cheese. This country's pizza obsession has far exceeded culinary necessity. Pizza-for-breakfast as acceptable dietary option is the least of our worries. America has pizza problems!
This year, for instance, pizza became pret-a-porter: “Singer” Katy Perry was seen waltzing about in a pizza-themed onesie. And people thought it was cool!
Pizza is now lurky, too: National chain Pizza Hut got all high-tech and, on Monday, announced its “Subconscious Menu,” which literally scans your eyes and figures out what pizza you want to order before you ever open your pie hole (98 percent accurate, they say).
Sadly, it's a New Pizza World Order. There's even the Pizzaminati, a popular Tumblr account dedicated to all things dough, cheese, sauce and conspiracy. Pizza is always watching. (And I hear Round Table now delivers to Bohemian Grove.)
Needless to say, I am freaked the hell out.
I get the pizza shakes.
I feel like Domino's delivery drivers are following me all around Midtown. (They are!)
All of this is why the editorial team at SN&R decided to take pizza back. We couldn't stand to watch this country diss pizza any longer. We had to, as they say at Pizza Rock, “respect the craft.” We don't want to see local musician Autumn Sky donning pizza-core fashions at her next gig. I personally don't want to end up dead at Pieology, the new Chipotleization-of-pizza spot on L and 15th streets, because some clairvoyant menu blistered my dome.
Enter SN&R's Pizza Issue: We're going back to America's pizza roots. What makes a good crust? Is that trendy, Neapolitan-style dough really the shizz? Or does thin-crust still prevail?
We visited Yelp for help. We looked up all of the area's top pizza joints, from Colfax to Davis. We cribbed the notes of local food writers. We sampled dozens of pies and slices. We even got into oven-baked debates with Capital Public Radio host Beth Ruyak, over whether dough or tomato sauce is paramount.
We asked friends for toppings tips. We consulted grandmas. We shared top-secret pizza notes on Snapchat.
And now, we have a list. Ten commanding pizza pies in the Sacramento area. Enjoy!
‘The Doritos pizza’
The Elisa at Masullo Pizza
Naming one of Masullo's Neapolitan-style pies the best in town isn't exactly breaking news. And The Elisa ($14) is quite simple, but every element hits the mark. Chef-owner Bob Masullo's perfected dough—sourdough fermented for two days that gets wonderfully charred and chewy in a wood-burning oven—meets tomato sauce, salami, fennel, oregano, mozzarella and pecorino romano. The crust is unbeatable—what you'd expect from a former baker. And the meaty, peppery Fra'Mani Toscano salami balances beautifully against the fennel.
With the exception of some salty, hard cheeses imported from Italy, Masullo sources all of his ingredients locally. A fun, related fact: that romano apparently causes the Elisa to carry a most distinctive aroma.
“The staff calls it ‘The Dorito Pizza,' I guess because it smells like Doritos when it comes out of the oven,” Masullo says.
Plenty of other Masullo pizzas could lead this list, though, as they all share the same amazing crust and the same restrained, minimalist approach. The Triana ($13)—Masullo's favorite sauceless pie—packs a punch with dry chorizo, garlic, chili oil and fresh arugula. The Gilda ($13) is another fave—briny, salty and acidic with whole olives, raw red onion and a bright green swirl of anchovy, garlic and parsley sauce.
What's Masullo's secret? “There's no secret,” Masullo says, laughing. “It's the roller, not the ball.” 2711 Riverside Boulevard, (916) 443-8929, www.masullopizza.com. (Janelle Bitker)
American but refined
Rick’s Pie at OneSpeed
The self-titled Rick's Pie is not chef-owner Rick Mahan's favorite OneSpeed pizza. But that's because he can't choose a favorite—he just loves pizza, and all of his pizzas, way too much.
Well, Rick's Pie ($16) is our favorite at OneSpeed. Tangy goat cheese, rich fontina, cubes of gold potato, thin slices of mortadella, sweet caramelized onions, salty olives and a brilliantly herby salsa verde all on one slice? It sounds potentially overwhelming, or even conflicting, but just trust that it induces bite-after-bite excitement. The Rick's Pie does change every so often, but the vitals always remain: chevre, potato, olives, caramelized onions and something porky.
Mahan's style is American but refined—reminiscent of legendary Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse's pizzas that he ate and adored as a kid. The crust is thin but sturdy, with a nice crunch but less chew than you might expect. Mahan says he's always tweaking his dough recipe—ingredients change, people change—but he's never been happier with it.
“What I love about OneSpeed pizza is that I think you just know when you're having a OneSpeed pizza,” he says. “Lots of pizzas taste the same. Something about ours is distinct.” 4818 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 706-1748, www.onespeedpizza.com. (J.B.)
Redemption by pizza
The Trick Pony at Trick Pony
Oh, Trick Pony. Your owners told us that there were no good pizzas in Sacramento. That whole “two-hour drive” to find good pizza controversy earlier this year. And then, yeah, your pizza was not so hot. That was rough. But you brought in a new team to run the spot. And Masullo alums Matteo Bonezzi and Andrea Vedovato to help. And now your pies are some of the best in the region.
Your eponymous pie, the Trick Pony ($16), is a classic and flawlessly executed prosciutto and arugula Neopolitan pizza, with three cheeses and red sauce. The dough is blistered nicely in Tuli Bistro's old heater, with just a hint of char and wood on the equally chewy and crisp crust. The ingredients are top-level. There's even a gentle sweetness via balsamic reduction. Great house pie!
Ditto the sauceless Patate Pancetta Grana ($14). And let's not forget your bold tuna and anchovy pizzas, respectively—offerings you just don't see around town often enough.
You tricked us!
2031 S Street, (916) 706-1025, www.trickponypizza.com. (N.M.)
Prosciutto at Selland’s Market Cafe
The thin coating of ham on this Prosciutto pie ($14.95) should be considered a bonus. Rich, jammy caramelized onions and fresh sage are the true stars, mingled with fontina and parmesan. But all of the American-style pizza crusts are unusually chewy, thin yet sturdy. That's the work of physical folding—think croissant dough—done long before you place an order.
“It's got a pop and separation to it,” says Selland's Josh Nelson. “When it goes into the wood-burning oven, it bubbles and creates layers within the crust.” Don't worry, it tastes less high-brow than it sounds. 5340 H Street, (916) 736-3333, www.sellands.com. (J.B.)
Margherita Special at Roma’s II
The Giuseppe family owns three Roma's in the Sacramento area. But the old-school, no-frills Folsom Boulevard location is the only one with the Margherita Special ($22.50 for a medium). This is a sauceless pizza garnished with chunks of raw tomato, creamy artichokes, tender bites of chicken, a drizzle of olive oil and a generous helping of torn basil. The crust stays crispy on the bottom—holding its shape despite the heavy weight of cheese—with fat, fluffy ends. Golden brown, crunchy but chewy and light—it's almost like a few bites of delicious baguette at the end of each slice. 8491 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 383-9264, www.roma2pizza.com. (J.B.)
Truffle at Pizza Rock
It's easy to dismiss Pizza Rock. The noise, the gimmicks, the too-long menu, the name itself. A shame, because its Naples-style crusts exhibit pretty decent craft. Seriously, the chef in charge of the menu, Tony Gemignani, is a World Pizza Cup winner—the first-ever American to take home gold in the Neopolitan category for his Margherita. But we crave the extreme decadence of the Truffle ($17). It uses mozzarella and burrata, fresh mozzarella made even richer with extra cream. And Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam, a powerful, buttery triple cream that's totally unheard of to melt onto a pizza. Then throw on some earthy wild mushrooms, Parmigiano-Reggiano and arugula. And truffle oil, because why not? 1020 K Street, (916) 737-5777, www.pizzarocksacramento.com. (J.B.)
Best Neopolitan-style pie under $10
Cinque Terre at Il Pizzaiolo
You will eat your anchovy pizza. In Rocklin. And you will like it!
Everything in the 'burbs near the Galleria of Roseville mall is Michael Bay big. And that's why Il Pizzaiolo's charms: It's a narrow, quiet storefront tucked away at the eastern end of one of the largest strip malls I've ever seen in the Sacramento area. Inside, teenagers deliver simple but flavorful pies into a 900-degree oven, heated by burning oak. These employees aren't seasoned pizzaiolo masters, but the end product is tasty—and easy on the wallet; every Napolatena-style pie at the place is only $9.
I was a sucker for the anchovy and capers, which they call Cinqe Terre. The crust is nicely blistered, albeit a bit too doughy, and the ingredients (a tart crushed tomato sauce, extra virgin olive oil and mozzarella) are of a higher quality than most places where young kids are making the food.
Which begs this: Hey suburbia, why would you ever frequent a place like Pieology, one of those new “Chipotle of pizza”-style places that puts Subway toppings on cardboard dough, when Il Pizzaiolo exists? 6696 Lonetree Boulevard in Rocklin, (916) 899-6944, www.ilpizzaiolowoodfiredpizza.com. (N.M.)
Put an egg on it
Stella at Hot Italian
The boss of all things pizza at Hot Italian, Fabrizio Cercatore, has come up with a pretty unique dough. At least for Sacramento. It's not Napolatena in style, but it's very much Italian in that it's lighter, flatter and crispier than what you'll find at American joints. This is because Hot Italian allows the dough to leaven for up to a couple of days—that gives it its airiness—and then puts it in a really damn hot (800-degrees plus) oven, which gives it that outside crunch.
Stella ($17, $19 with egg) is superior: thin prosciutto with fat that melts in the mouth, delicate mushrooms, salty Italian cows-milk cheese, mozzarella, and, if you're a badass, an egg on top. 1627 16th Street, (916) 444-3000, www.hotitalian.net. (N.M.)
Classic Chicago import
Spinoccoli at Zelda’s Gourmet Pizza
Zelda's—its pizza is more divisive than Strong Mayor, right? But you can't leave Zelda's off any Sacramento top-10 pizza list. (Or can you?)
SN&R won't. So, allow me to defend the Spinoccoli ($7.75-$23.75), which I consider one of the top pizzas in town. It's a classic. It's got history on its side. Nearly four decades ago, it was one of the original recipes that Zelda Breslin herself brought from Chicago to the 916. It's served sans tomato sauce (you can add it, and many people do, but that's like colorizing Casablanca). Slices of cheese are the foundation, layered atop Zelda's admittedly Bisquick-y—yet inimitable and tasty—crust. Spinach and broccoli are the next layer, topped off with laughably generous amounts of cheddar, feta and mozzarella. The chefs cook this one until the top layer of cheese browns and gives a crunch upon biting. Add hot sauce for the win. 1415 21st Street, (916) 447-1400, www.zeldasgourmetpizza.com. (N.M.)
Not a crummy afterthought
Burrata di Pana at Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co.
There's a reason restaurants that force pizza onto their menus don't get a lot of respect: That pizza is usually a crummy afterthought. But not at Hook & Ladder. They churn out generously sized, thin-crust pies with high-quality ingredients, such as the burrata and San Marzano tomatoes on its cheese pizza ($15). Chef Brian Mizner says he wants a pizza with a “kind of chewy, crisp crust, but that actually holds the toppings.” Hook's passes the test. And the process is simple: Yeast, salt, flour. Stretch the dough by hand. Put it in a 575-degree oven. There you go.
Mizner says he prefers a regular cheese pizza, with a little spice and garlic on it. Buy my pro tip is to choose the special; there is a new one each day.
1630 S Street, (916) 442-4885, www.hookandladder916.com. (N.M.)