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The pizza oven is fired up once again on the corner of 21st and S streets. Trick Pony takes over the space formerly occupied by Tuli Bistro, the celebrated midtown eatery that shut down suddenly in February.
The eatery’s undergone a slight remodel, and the menu streamlined significantly compared to Tuli, and now focuses almost exclusively on pizza. Trick Pony’s owners also run Capital Dime, which opened in July at 18th and L streets.
To head Trick Pony’s pizza-oriented kitchen, the owners tapped Paul Caravelli, a former Chicago-area chef who was first brought to Sacramento by former Tuli chef/co-owner Adam Pechal. Caravelli and Pechal were also co-contestants on the ABC cooking show “The Taste” and are roommates in Sacramento.
Like a newborn colt, Trick Pony’s first steps were a little shaky. One of its owners told The Bee in April that he was “tired of driving two hours to get a really good pizza” – a remark that ruffled a few foodie feathers, with many citing such prime local pizza spots as Masullo, OneSpeed and Hot Italian.
But food enthusiasts can be a forgiving bunch if the product is on point. Here’s what you can expect thus far from the newly minted Trick Pony:
Menu: All of the food and drink offerings currently fit on a single page. The small menu includes four pizzas – margherita, arugula, pepperoni, bianca with buffalo mozzarella – plus a chef’s special. Pepperoni, house-smoked mushrooms and sausage can be ordered as add-ons to these pizzas, which are prepared in a Neapolitan style with sparse but tasty toppings and random char on the crust. Diners can also choose between a Caesar or chef’s salad.
And as far as food goes, that’s it for now.
The pizzas are cooked in a wood-fired oven and served unsliced, per Italian tradition. Each pizza order comes with a knife and you’re encouraged to “grip it and rip it” when cutting slices yourself. Pizzas are also served with two housemade dipping sauces – hot oil and pesto – for a touch that’s closer to Pizza Hut than Neapolitan traditions but delicious nonetheless.
Price point: Pizzas cost $13 to $15, with add-ons an extra $3 each. A wedge of Caesar salad with Parmesan crisp costs $6, and the chef’s salad price varies depending on what’s fresh on a given day.
Ambiance: Trick Pony feels airier and brighter than Tuli, given a fresh coat of white paint on the patio and some hanging shutters. Customers can also take a seat at a bar that overlooks the kitchen to watch the pizza-making process. Brown and white colors dominate the new decor, and the overall feeling is clean and streamlined, much like Trick Pony’s menu.
Drinks: Andis Wines of Amador County, a current local favorite of tastemaker and grocer Darrell Corti, provides all four wines on this small wine list (barbera, primitivo, viognier, sauvignon blanc). A trio of beers constitute the current list (Firestone Union Jack IPA, Trumer Pils, Goose Island Honker’s Ale). Non-alcoholic drinks include Mexican Coca-Cola and Italian bottled waters.
Service: On a recent visit, the servers were thoroughly cheery and earnest when running down the menu and explaining the slice-it-yourself concept. A server at another table was asked about the difference between Mexican and American Coca-Cola, and double-checked that the correct answer was cane sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup.
First impressions: Despite some early blowback, Trick Pony is a legitimate entry into Sacramento’s pizza scene. But will its menu grow?
Try it if: You like traditional wood-fired pizza styles in a neighborhood setting, and don’t want to be bogged down by too many choices.
Forget it if: Your idea of gourmet pizza is a Round Table King Arthur’s Supreme, with a side of boneless wings.