Sacramento: Toppings Save the Day at Hot Italian
The Sacramento dining scene is in the grips of a weird trend in which restaurateurs pair a food with a mode of transportation. We have OneSpeed, which draws a connection between bicycles and pizza, Spin Burger bar, which pairs burgers and stationary racing bikes, and Hot Italian, a stridently Italian pizzeria where you can snack on a slice and buy a Vespa. That's right, Hot Italian is a Vespa sales outlet and clothing boutique that also sells pizza. Or is it a pizzeria that also sells T-shirts emblazoned with the words passione and veloce? The answer is that it's an unholy marriage of the two, but one that just about works.
The pizzaiolo, Fabrizio Cercatore, hails from Verbania, Italy, and still owns a restaurant in La Spezia. At times, Hot Italian feels like almost a caricature of Italianness. You halfway expect the servers to coo bellisima in your ear while you're ordering.
Cercatore's crusts are crisp and tasty, but a bit one-dimensional. He uses regular all-purpose flour with a two-day proof in the fridge. The pies emerge from the oak-fired oven with no puffed rim, no char, none of the bells and whistles of a Neapolitan pie, just a heavy semolina flavor. The dough for each pizza is dredged in a veritable semolina snowdrift, and it overwhelms any more complex flavors that develop during the proof.
The Cannavaro pizza, named after the Italian footballer, is topped with mozzarella, basil, and tomato sauce. The basil was a bit wan, with a telltale dark edge, and the tomato sauce offered a rush of sweetness—it was nearly insipid.
Luckily, the first bite of the Neri (named after...you get the idea) with its still-crisp, deep-green broccoli rabe and paper-thin coppa obliterated all memories of the disappointing first pie. This pizza was very lightly sauced, so the sweetness was welcome, and it was heavily dusted with shreds of pecorino Romano. The piggy flavors of the coppa, the salty cheese, and the wonderfully bitter broccoli rabe melded together to make a delicious slice, and I inhaled at least four.
Though Hot Italian can't compete with the amazing crusts and toppings at Masullo (Slice review here) it's a good wood-fired pizza option on Sacramento's main grid. Especially if you're looking to buy a Vespa with your dinner.