Allen Pierleoni /

The house special pizza at Matteo's Pizza & Bistro.

Counter Culture: Notes on pizza and doughnuts

Published: Friday, Sep. 14, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 32TICKET

The subject was pizza and which restaurant in Sacramento serves "the best." Not a good starting point to the conversation, as "the best" of any dish is such a subjective concept that the notion is nullified before it even reaches the table.

Of course, there are so many top versions of pizza locally that it's easy to lose count. We recently added one pie in particular to our "favorites" list – the house-special Matteo at Matteo's Pizza & Bistro.

The dough is cured in a two-day rise, meaning it waits patiently in the walk-in for two days before it is hand-stretched, covered with toppings and baked.

Many pizzerias use pre-made, preformed dough for their crusts, which are topped, placed on a conveyor belt and run under a broiler. And most of the pizzerias that do make their own dough use it as soon as it rises, a matter of a few hours.

"We believe that the (extra rise time) adds a lot more character to our dough," said Matteo's co-owner Matt Woolston (with wife Yvette). Agreed. (They also operate the four-star Crocker Cafe by Supper Club at the Crocker Art Museum.)

For that house-special pie, the dough is stretched, topped with Italian sausage, pepperoni, chorizo, bacon, four cheeses and spicy tomato sauce (we added sautéed mushrooms) and cooked in a classic brick-lined pizza oven ($15).

"Our double-decker Baker's Pride oven is at least 20 years old," Matt Woolston said. "The brick helps the texture of the crust, giving it a nice browning at a high temperature without overbaking the toppings."

The pizza arrived at our table in the restaurant's adjoining Cellar wine room. We admired it and then made it disappear. Quickly.

About the Cellar: Bottles of wine are stacked everywhere, from 500 to 650 at any given time, depending on the season. Right now, "we're loading up on 2010 California pinot noirs," Matt Woolston said. Wine is sold by the bottle and the case (ask about discounts).

The Cellar hosts mixer-style 20-flight wine tastings (with appetizers) from 6 to 8 p.m. the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month. Plus family-style dinners, pairing seven wines with small plates.

For details, send an email to matt@supperclub for a weekly newsletter.

Matteo's Pizza & Bistro, 5132 Arden Way, Carmichael; (916) 779-0727,

Small but mighty

"Danny's Mini Donuts, made hot on the spot," is the way Danny Johnson answers the phone. His specialty is four flavors of teeny-weeny doughnuts fried fresh while you watch – chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon-sugar and powdered sugar. His doughnut-making machine can turn out 1,200 minis per hour. They're $4 for eight, $6 for 16. In a word: Yum!

Coming soon: croissants and breakfast sandwiches, a lunchtime sandwich bar with panini, and 12 more flavors of ice cream (for a total of 24) for cones, shakes and floats. P.S.: Check out the karaoke machine.

Danny's Mini Donuts, 900 Second St., Old Sacramento; (916) 498-9255.

Food festival notes

The weather was unseasonably warm at the Northstar-at-Tahoe ski resort last weekend, but that didn't slow down the 2,000-plus foodies who sipped fine wines and sampled delectable small-plate dishes at the 27th annual Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival.

The nine-day fest, which featured food- and wine-related events around the lake and at the ultra-luxurious Ritz Carlton hotel (situated a gondola ride above Northstar), culminated with Sunday's Grand Tasting. It featured 24 area restaurants teamed with 24 wineries to vie for gold, silver and bronze medals in various categories.

A panel of judges had huddled earlier in the day for an extensive tasting. From noon to 4 p.m., crowds of attendees went from tent to tent, tasting samples and sipping wines while bands played on the main stage.

The judges' choice for "best pairing of food and wine" was Granlibakken Resort of Tahoe City for its mushroom stuffed with red lentil hash, chevre, duck and red currant, paired with Morgan 2010 pinot noir.

Second place: Jake's on the Lake of Tahoe City (seared scallop and Wente 2010 chardonnay).

Third place: North Tahoe Catering of Kings Beach (chili smoked beef tender with roasted-peach truffle sauce and Renwood 2010 old-vine zinfandel).

The Hard Rock Cafe chain won for "best pairing of food and beverage other than wine" for its bayou shrimp burger and Indian spice-dusted potato chips, with Charbay blood-orange vodka negroni cocktail.

In the "best food" category, Jake's on the Lake took gold for its seared scallop; Six Peaks Grille of Squaw Valley took silver for its roasted beet salad with goat cheese and fried shallots; and Hawks took bronze for its smoked pork belly with corn pudding and pluots.

Once again, Hawks, of Granite Bay, was the competition's only entry from the Sacramento area. Last year, co-owners Molly Hawks and her husband, Michael Fagnoni, took gold for "best food" and silver for "best food and wine pairing."

As for the people's choice winners, "best food" and "best pairing" both went to the Chocolate Bar of Northstar (turkey crepe teamed with Francis Coppola 2009 petite sirah).

As our group tasted, we found other favorites:

• A delectable smoked Korean pork rib roll from Plumpjack Cafe in Squaw Valley, teamed with our new favorite wine, the grenache D-66 from Orin Swift winery in the Napa Valley.

• A perfect seared scallop with corn-crab pudding from the West Shore Cafe in Homewood.

• A luscious vanilla-saffron mussel from Farm to Belly personal-chef and catering service in Truckee.

• An exceptional pork rib with black bean sauce from Drunken Monkey Sushi in Truckee.

We also ran into an old friend among the dozens of exhibitors and vendors selling goods in the Northstar central plaza. Limerock Orchards of Paso Robles makes a silken walnut oil that we use on everything we grill, from pork roast and ribs, to chicken and corn on the cob. Check them out at

For the complete list of festival winners, visit

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