On the corner of 16th & Q Streets in Midtown Sacramento, in its very own LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified building, sits a restaurant you have to love if only for its name: Hot Italian. An interesting restaurant-bar-gelato-and-motorcycle shop (yes, motorcycles: beautiful, shiny, Italian motorcycles and their fashionable gear call this restaurant their home) hybrid, Hot Italian has become quite popular in its short time in Sacramento, offering a great spot for dining, meeting, or just having some quality gelato. This was where my little power lunch with some great Sacramento bloggers took place last Friday. After hearing that I’d been to Hot Italian about 4 times already with not a single review to show for it, it was unanimously decided that I write one based on this particular trip.
I have a lot of love for Hot Italian for a variety of reasons that don’t immediately make sense. The first couple of times I went there I was completely torn because I was so into their food and atmosphere, but not so much into their service. Those of you who have gone out to eat with me know how I feel about service – I’m very picky about it and will usually give restaurants (or any business, really) with sub par quality a second chance if their service is stellar. The exact opposite is true if the service sucks and I do let staff know either way if the experience is on either extreme. The thing about Hot Italian’s service is that it isn’t awful, it’s just…. inconsistent. My general impression the few times I’ve gone is that they’re a little unorganized and a tad rushed. The staff is really quite friendly, so that’s never been a problem; it just seems like they could do a better job of tightening things up logistically.
That being said, the rest of the Hot Italian experience is worth checking out. Though they specialize in pizza, most of their menu items are offered in panini, salad and calzone versions as well, so there is quite a bit to choose from. Their pizzas are made with a more traditional Italian-style crust that is thin and crispy but sturdy enough to hold a multitude of rather unconventional toppings. With choices ranging from the Murino (gorgonzola cheese, pears and honey; I have yet to try this but it sounds incredible) to the Gattuso (pumpkin puree, smoked mozzarella, parsley, sage oil and shaved ricotta salata; perfect for this time of year), you’ll surely end up having a unique kind of pizza that you won’t find at any old pizza joint.
This time around we decided to get a few different flavors so that everyone could try a piece of each. Steve gave the Magini a try, which is topped with smoked salmon, mozzarella, mascarpone and fresh dill. I’d never considering ordering it before but after trying it I definitely will; the flavors were fresh and light, complemented beautifully by the signature crust. Alejandro and Steve are also huge fans of the Bellucci, which features slightly more traditional pizza toppings like fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, spicy sausage and ricotta cheese, and this pie definitely didn’t disappoint. Tim definitely had the most interesting pizza of the afternoon. The Stella comes with prosciutto parma, crescenza cheese and a wonderful mushroom medley, but it also comes with the option to order it with egg. Egg on a pizza? Yep. Our server assured us that it was a good combo so Tim decided to go for it. I have to say it was surprisingly good! One solitary egg is added to the center of the pizza before it’s baked, and when the pie comes out the egg is perfectly cooked. Since there is just one egg used on the whole pizza, it adds just a little something extra without overwhelming the flavors of the other toppings. So what did I order? I went with the same pizza I’d ordered when I had my birthday dinner at Hot Italian: the Fiori. Topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh arugula, mushrooms and prosciutto, then drizzled generously with truffle oil, this pizza is beyond amazing to me. The spiciness of the arugula and the earthiness of the mushrooms and truffle oil go so perfectly with the salty prosciutto that I almost wish I’d thought of this combination myself.
But Hot Italian isn’t all about pizza. As I mentioned earlier, they do offer some great salads, and Kari ordered the one I had the first time I visited, which was the Sozzani. A generous amount of baby spinach is topped with dried cranberries, walnuts, pears and gorgonzola dolce cheese, making this a great accompaniment to a pizza or a nice light entrée salad for lunch. They have a nice wine selection at their bar and serve some wonderful Prosseco cocktails, the Peach Bellini being an absolute favorite of mine. I think the use of peach nectar as opposed to some random concentrate makes all the difference in this one. My only complaint about the cocktails is that they’re not very consistent in size or amount filled. When I had these for my birthday I ended up with about 3 different sized glasses, all filled with different amounts of bellini, all in the same night! I am still not sure what size they’re supposed to be, but they sure are tasty.
Lastly, their gelato is not to be missed. Their separate gelato bar (with a window to serve customers outside, for those who want their gelato to go) offers traditional ice cream flavors like chocolate and strawberry, but their specialty flavors are the real stars of the show. I highly recommend the Ferrero Rocher flavor, which is absolutely dead on when it comes to imitating the fabulous little candy. The caramel salato is another sinful confection that puts a lot of dulce de leche ice creams to shame. For those who don’t want to go overboard with the fat & calories, their fresh fruit sorbets are great healthy options too.
So what does all of this cost, Poor Girl? Well, I won’t lie and tell you it’s the best in bargain eating, but the value makes up for what you pay. Most pizzas are in the $12-14 range and are big enough to be shared, but light enough to be enjoyed by one person with a healthy appetite. This is one of those cases where you’re also paying for the general atmosphere and vibe. From the eclectic mix of diners to the simple, modern decor peppered with all those cool motorcycle-inspired details, this is not your typical eatery and that’s a good thing. I’d say Hot Italian is a good place to come with a bigger group so that you can try a couple different kinds and keep your costs down. That is, if you can resist taking home that Vespa that’s in the window….