Masullo Pizza: The Best Neapolitan Pies in Sacramento?

Editor's Note: If you're looking for the best pizza in Sacramento, California, our new contributor Becky Grunewald will be your guide. Take it away, Becky!

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[Photographs: Becky Grunewald]

Masullo Pizza

2711 Riverside Blvd. Sacramento, CA 95818 (map); 916-443-8929; masullopizza.com
Pizza style: Neapolitan–style
Oven type: wood-fired
The skinny: The nicely-charred crust is the key here, but take a chance on the more surprising topping combos; you won't be sorry.
Price: 10-inch pies range from $10 to $15

Before Masullo Pizza opened in Sacramento, the river city had a dearth of Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizza. In the two years since, with the opening of OneSpeed and Hot Italian, our quota has tripled, but I still think that the first is the best.

Masullo is located in an unassuming storefront on Riverside Drive in the ritzy Land Park neighborhood. It's almost too unassuming; at first it was virtually unmarked and many customers searched for it in vain. The proprietor, Bob Masullo, later added an understated awning and a few outside tables to draw the eye.

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The interior is earth-toned and modern, with long communal tables hewn from highly burnished planks of local walnut. It's all one narrow room, with a wood-fired Vesuvio pizza oven at the back wall. The wood fuel comes from a nearby almond orchard.

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Masullo, 39, whippet-thin and sporting his ubiquitous red Rainier beer ballcap, left Sacramento shortly after graduating high school to attend culinary school. Post-CIA, he led a typically peripatetic cook's life, putting in stints as a line cook in North Carolina, and then as a baker, first in Minneapolis, then in Denmark, France, and Italy. At a festa for St. Anthony south of Rome, Masullo tasted a pizza that he says "reset" his mind as to what pizza could be. He was inspired to return to Sacramento to open his own pizzeria.

As you would expect from a former baker, Masullo put a lot of thought into his dough, and after trial and "so much error", he settled on a sourdough with a two day cold ferment. This gives his crust a wonderfully deep flavor and excellent crumb.

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Most of the pizzas have feminine names, including the "Maddy", which was named for Masullo's sister. My standard order is the Elisa, topped with mozzarella, Fra'Mani salami, fennel, red onion, and fresh oregano. The pie starts with a layer of Masullo's sweet and chunky tomato sauce, and is lightly topped with creamy pillows of fresh mozzarella. The intensely piggy salami plays well off of the crunch of the red onion, but on my recent visit, the fennel was mostly M.I.A. The crust in the center inch of the pie sags just a bit.

I love the Elisa, but the pizza that really knocked my socks off recently, both for sheer beauty and intense flavor, was the Gilda (pictured at top), with its swirled, grass-green persillade, rich with anchovy and garlic, and its rough-chopped olive topping. The aroma of the hot anchovies and garlic hits you first, and then the rich fontina and mozzarella tempers the anchovy's intensity. The olives add a bright burst of acid and salt.

There are many more pies to explore at Masullo Pizza—I'm curious about a black garlic pie, and drawn to another with oyster mushrooms, bacon, cream, and sage. There are also an assortment of artfully composed salads featuring ingredients from local farms, as well a few tempting desserts, in case you manage to reserve a little stomach real estate.

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