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But of course pizza proliferates in Davis, home of the Aggies and stamping grounds for more than 35,000 students at the University of California, Davis – a population sustained by a quick slice after class or a pie in the dorms to satiate those Friday night munchies.
Right about now, the pizza competition in Davis couldn’t be more fierce. Blondie’s Pizza & Grill is expected to open shop in the next few weeks on G Street, just about a block away from the student staple Woodstock’s Pizza, which itself recently expanded its beer program and installed a new bar countertop to attract customers. Steve’s Pizza also soon will unveil a remodel. That’s not to mention such longtime pizza options as Uncle Vito’s Slice of N.Y., Lamppost Pizza, Cenario’s Pizza, Village Bakery, plus the usual pizza delivery chains.
And here comes Hot Italian. The Sacramento-born pizzeria recently opened a downtown Davis location, following an outpost in Emeryville that debuted in 2012. Hot Italian also joins the ranks of Sacramento businesses that have opened shop on the west side of the Yolo Causeway, including Tres Hermanas, de Vere’s Irish Pub, Paesano’s, Bistro 33 and Jack’s Urban Eats. Hot Italian’s neighbor in the Davis Commons strip mall is the Aggie outpost for Mikuni Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar.
Hot Italian often makes the short list of favorite pizzarias in Sacramento from those passionate about such matters, given the shop’s emphasis on fresh ingredients and traditional pie-making techniques. But can a fast-casual version of Hot Italian steal market share in a town where pizza might well rank as the city’s official food? Here’s what you can expect at Hot Italian in Davis:
Menu: That would be pizza, of course. This Davis location features a slightly scaled-down number of pizzas (about 14) compared with its flagship location in midtown Sacramento (about 20). Options include the “bellucci” (fennel sausage, mozzarella, ricotta), the vegan “muti” pizza (seasonal vegetables with tomato sauce) and the pesto-laden “ligabue.” Ingredients can change with the seasons, and some pizzas are also available as calzones.
The Davis menu includes a selection of salads and starter plates, including spreads of cheese and cured meats. Think of it all like a “greatest hits” approach to Hot Italian’s Sacramento menu, minus the paninis.
Unlike the wood-fired pizza oven at Hot Italian’s Sacramento location, both the Davis and Emeryville outlets for Hot Italian use a high-tech electric Cuppone oven from Italy.
Price point: A bit on the higher side for Davis pizza. All of the pizzas come as a fairly thin crusted 13-inch pie, and are priced between $12 for a basic margherita-style pizza and $18 for the combolike “jovanotti” with pepperoni, prosciutto, mushrooms and more. Add-ons, which include egg, pine nuts and prosciutto, run between $2 and $3. All pizzas can also be ordered with gluten-free crust for an additional $4.50.
Some rugby bros looking for a bite after practice, and others who are famished, should be able to wolf down one of Hot Italian’s moderately sized pizzas in a single sitting. The tab may start to add up fast compared with some of the cheaper, gut-buster-style pizza options around Davis, especially when combined with a salad ($10.50-$11) or meat and cheese plate ($13-$14) plus a drink. A slice and a drink combo for just a few bucks is not the Hot Italian way.
Ambiance: Hot Italian’s branding is in full effect. The color scheme is dominated by black and white, with the Hot Italian logo in big block letters. Hot Italian’s emphasis on bicycles as a motif, which includes cycling hats worn by staff members, also plays well in Davis, the “Bicycle Capital of America.”
The overall feel strikes as modern and minimalist, with a more-Italian-than-thou vibe given the Italian pop music playing in the background and European soccer matches broadcast on TVs. You don’t just get beverages here, it’s “vino & bevi” on the menu, and pizzas with such names as “murino” (seasonal pear with honey) and “fiori” (prosciutto, mushrooms, truffle oil).
Drinks: Beer and wine with an emphasis on Italian producers are expected to be for sale once the liquor license goes into effect, sometime between Friday, Feb. 5, and Wednesday, Feb. 10. Until then pizzas can be washed down with sparkling San Pellegrino juices and water, River City Root Beer and other small batch sodas.
Service: Counter service. Place your order, get a number, and food runners will deliver your order.
The inside seating options are dominated by high-top wooden tables with small white stools, plus counter-style seating and a couple of traditional tables, which seem to go fast. Some parents of students, and others on the older side or with mobility limitations, might find these small, high stools a bit daunting as a seating option. If the weather is good, more tables are available on an adjacent patio.
First impressions: Hot Italian is an apt addition to Davis’ crowded pizza field, given its quality product in an upbeat, Eurocentric atmosphere. For those craving a pizza option that feels less like a frat house with a pizza oven, Hot Italian works well for couples on date night and a good option when the parents come to town and Mom or Dad is treating for lunch or dinner. Others who simply love pizza might be starting a new Davis debate: Who has the best pizza in town: Hot Italian or Village Bakery?
Try it if: You appreciate a well-prepared pie with fresh ingredients and also have a hankering for Italian pop music.
Forget it if: You’re craving a deep-dish pizza with a bacon-wrapped crust, plus a side of stuffed breadsticks that are marketed under a goofy name; or you just want one slice of pizza.
Where: 500 First St. No. 9, Davis
Information: (530) 792-7015; www.hotitalian.net
Hours: Open daily at 11:30 a.m.