I’m not really a pizza person. I know, I know, how can I be a food writer and not have an opinion on every pizza around the Bay? Well….that is a story for another time. Recently, I stopped in at Il Fuoco in the Boyes Hot Springs neighborhood of Sonoma. Owner Rob Larman sent me a Bill pizza. Do you know it? It’s the one with Taleggio, Calabrian chile, dates, and a hit of salty crunch from guanciale. It’s a pizza worth writing about.
It’s Little More than Flour, Salt and Water – Ha!
The scratch made dough, little more than flour, salt and water is courtesy of Mike Zakowski, a.k.a Mike the Bejkr, a local Sonoma legend for his gifts at transformaing “little more than flour” into life-affirming bread. After a 24-hour ferment, the dough (00 flour from Petaluam’s Central Milling, pink Utahan salt and Sonoma water) is soft and supple, ready to be fired with local oak at 700F in the Forno Bravo oven. Larman swears by the oven’s perfect dome, the secret to an evenly heated, crust bubbling just so pizza.
As the pizza arrived at my table, the Taleggio’s funk– slightly fruity with a hint of brine and milky ferment – wafted over the table, the guanciale’s charred bits curling up and out of the cheese. I waited a moment to allow the heat to settle (the better to not burn the roof of my mouth, my dear). At first bite: the Taleggio’s funk smoothed by the date’s sweetness, the Calabrian chile crackling against the guanciale’s fat and crunch. Savory-sweet, delicious. Second bite, too. All the way through to the crust, this is a pizza impossible to stop eating. The crust, thinner than New York but thicker than Detroit, puffs towards the ends. I did not feel weighed down by it.
Il Fuoco’s team keeps a specials board near the front entrance – it’s under the flying pig, an homage to the space’s former iteration as Cochon Volant. There’s typically a few special pizzas, like clam and shrimp with red sauce (so Rhode Island) or squash with bacon and Gruyere and the like. And the old BBQ joint flavor comes back in dishes of rigatoni al forno with braised pork sugo, a hamburger, and plates of baby back ribs.
Be sure to try one of the salads, too. The farm to pizza ethos extends into plates of artichokes or carrots roasted in the Forno Bravo. And, since tomatoes are still going, why not a plate of them with burrata? There’s an Italian kitchen hiding behind the Formosa Bravo oven!
Eating a pizza doesn’t take long but you can linger over a glass of tap Maui Wowi or an Etna Rosso. There’s a few tables inside and a sun-splashed patio that is practically built for Moms (they love the washed yellow talls and red shutters. I envision mine saying “this place is adorable!)
Is it the best pizza in Sonoma?Discuss amongst yourselves. Il Fuoco is a hidden gem, hiding in plain sight.