Wood-fire Sicilian pizzerias, take note: The Romans have arrived in Sonoma County, and they’re coming for you.
Not that we don’t love a blistered, burnt-edge pie with a soggy middle, but chewy, crispy, double-baked Roman-style pizza has captured our heart.
We’re sorry New York and Detroit — you’ve been great, and we promise to write. It’s just that the marriage of Roman crusts and California toppings captures the imagination (and taste buds) in a way you never have.
Instead, we’re mooning over the rectangular Roman-style slices at Sonoma County’s newest entrant into the pizza game, Psychic Pie. Think seasonal, farm-fresh toppings like chevre with fresh lemon and herbs; potato with chile oil, mozzarella and crème fraîche; or hot coppa with Estero Gold cheese, mozzarella and hot honey. Traditionalists fear not — pepperoni and plain cheese are always on the menu.
The eight ever-evolving options that owners Nicholi Ludlow and his wife, Leith Leiser-Miller, cook up each week make for never-ending choices. There’s always one vegan selection, several vegetarian choices and a couple of meaty slices. They’re sold by weight, rather than requiring a total commitment to a single pie.
Roman pizza is super-OK if you play the field.
“We’re a slice house, and we want people to have fun, just have a little levity. We want them to come eat good food, hang out, chill and maybe have a drink and just be happy,” Ludlow said. “We’re not fine dining, and we’re not looking to make anyone intimidated.”
Wearing a headband and a cheap pizza-print apron and excitedly explaining the relatively new idea of Roman pizza to customers is Ludlow’s jam.
The width of three fingers — think pointer, index and ring finger pushed together — is the smallest slice you can get, just to give you an idea. If you’re sampling, that’s an excellent place to start, but Ludlow and Leiser-Miller will cut to your request, weighing each slice before popping it into the oven for a quick final bake. Our small portions were about $5.50 to $6 each.
Homemade ranch rich with herbs is encouraged as a dip, along with chile oil, chimichurri and hot honey, if you’re so inclined ($1-$2 each). None of those snobby “no-ranch” rules here, because ranch rules.
“We know people have opinions, but we say indulge in as much ranch as you want,” Ludlow said.
My friend Taylor, a self-described “ranch expert,” dubbed it the best ranch ever.
Ludlow and Leiser-Miller launched Psychic Pie as a side hustle while working full-time jobs at San Francisco’s Del Popolo pizzeria. The couple mixed batches of pizza dough in a shared commercial kitchen on Friday nights, making only 30 pizzas each week based on demand springing from word-of-mouth and Instagram posts. They sold out every week. With nothing quite like their chewy, crunchy, locally sourced, naturally fermented pizzas in the North Bay, eaters went wild for the couple’s par-cooked 9-inch-by-9-inch Roman pizzas that could be baked a final time at home for a better-than-delivery experience.
Ludlow and Leiser-Miller committed to working with local farmers and producers for their ingredients and making “seasonal pizza,” which means plenty of tubers and root vegetables in the winter and no big juicy tomatoes. When they opened in February, one of the biggest questions was how to make squash pizza a hot seller.
“When you’re in Italy and eating pizza there, it’s all about Italy,” Ludlow said. “Our vibe is California and Sonoma. It’s what is available here, right now.”
So why the name Psychic Pie? The couple aren’t psychics or mystics. In fact, in college Ludlow had planned to be a podiatrist, and Leiser-Miller has a doctorate degree in biology. Both walked away for a life in food, using all their brainpower to obsess about things like dough and where to get seasonal tomatoes or sustainable meats.
Leiser-Miller wrote in a message that the name somehow felt right.
“We wanted a name that was fun and a little offbeat, because that’s what Psychic Pie is. As we get into our groove of who we choose to work with (our farmers and wine producers), many of our ideals are in line with theirs (i.e., biodynamic, organic, low-intervention). Some of those ideals are a little more … well, spiritual, I guess you’d say, in tune with nature, sustainable, etc., and we feel it’s even more fitting now. It just kinda made sense to us,” she wrote.
Now that they’re firmly installed in their storefront at 980 Gravenstein Highway S. in Sebastopol, getting an of-the-moment slice, bubbling hot from their pizza oven, is better than ever. And while we love all the incredible local pizzaiolos, Psychic Pie currently has a lock on the tastiest pizza in Sonoma County.
“We want to be mom-and-pop and focus on this community,” Ludlow said. “That’s why we’re happy in Sebastopol and Sonoma County. Everyone is warm and fun, and we want to continue to support the people here.”
Slices: I love nontraditional pizza because, when you break it down, it’s just bread and yummy stuff on top. Our advice is to venture in, trying small slices until you find a favorite. I’ve settled on mushroom as my favorite because the mix of earthy mushrooms and tart chevre are just so right, with bright accents of citrus. If you like spice, the coppa with hot honey will light up your face.
Salads, $16: We were huge fans of the previous tenant, Food Mechanic, for their farm-to-bowl salads. Psychic Pie continues with some deep love for greens. The “soft greens” salad made our heads explode, with a mix of herbs, bitter greens, spinach and lettuces. Studded with pistachios, fried lemon and a light balsamic, it far surpassed the salad-bar disappointments of most pizzerias.
Cookies: The miso cookie, laden with sesame, is a savory-sweet-buttery treat that makes for excellent car eating (if you’re taking home some pizza) or a late-afternoon treat.
Beer/wine/misc: Unique, often natural wines and local beers are available along with Big Spoon Co.’s amazing chili crisp.
980 Gravenstein Highway S., Sebastopol, 707-827-6032, psychicpie.com