We review the new Carmichael bistro.
Different families,” I frequently tell my kids, “make different choices.” I’ve found this to be very helpful in addressing questions such as “Why does he get to stay up until 11 on school nights?” and “How come they get candy bars in their lunches?”
The phrase also came in handy years ago, when I visited Sacramento’s Supper Club restaurant with my son. He discovered owners Matt and Yvette Woolston’s sons— Jake, Joey and Tommy—in their own, curtained-in kids’ area in the center of the restaurant, doing homework and playing video games. “Why do they get to play like that—in a restaurant?” asked my son enviously. As he pondered the glamorousness of their young, food service-centered lives, I delivered the “different families” explanation and admired Matt and Yvette, who seemed to be seamlessly handling the work/family challenge.
Fast-forward about seven years to the present, and we find ourselves sitting in the Woolston family’s new restaurant, Matteo’s Pizza & Bistro in the Five Points shopping center at Fair Oaks Boulevard and Arden Way. A well-muscled, handsome teen, more man than boy, sails by the table, tray in hand, face plastered with a grin. I’m shocked to realize that this is Jake Woolston, now 18 years old. All grown up, and a member of Matteo’s staff, Jake seems as enthusiastically poised as his parents to welcome the Arden/Carmichael community into this casual, attractive new eatery.
Unified as ever (sons Joey and Tommy are also at Matteo’s on a daily basis), the Woolstons have designed a restaurant that focuses on value. Matteo’s doesn’t have the swank of Supper Club, nor are the dishes as complex or innovative, but that’s not the goal of this new venture. Offering solid, flavorful food at reasonable prices, the neighborhood spot invites regular folks to drop in when they’re tired and don’t want to cook or simply wish to be well fed without blowing a hole in their budget. After several visits, I think Matt and Yvette are hitting the mark.
When they took over the space (a former Steve’s Pizza), “it was all wood,” says Matt Woolston, rolling his eyes. “Everywhere. It was awful.” Their first impulse was to rip it all down and start fresh. They didn’t, and I’m glad they exercised some restraint. The faded wood panels they compassionately spared add a delicious rusticity to the space. Colorful paintings, including several by Supper Club cook (and local artist) Mark Niemeyer, hang on the walls. Matteo’s is more bistro than pizza parlor, and its ambiance is equally appropriate for families and for couples seeking a comfortable night out.
Longtime local chef Stu Edgcombe is at the helm, overseeing a menu that is compact and approachable. There’s no shirking on first-rate ingredients. The main attraction—pizza—gives newcomers Hot Italian and OneSpeed a run for their money. One night, I happened to catch pizza cook John Adams thoughtfully stretching his dough in the kitchen, and he told me (after some pestering) that he uses a small amount of yeast and ages the dough for two days to develop its flavors. I’m not sure what effect this has, but the pizza crust is damned good, attaining that chewy-crispy-airy trifecta.
Try The Stu, a pizza topped with wild mushrooms, salty slices of prosciutto and sweetly caramelized onions. A perky handful of fresh arugula strewn on top adds a bitter pop, and truffle oil contributes an ineffable earthiness. I also loved The California, slathered with rich garlic cream and topped with chunks of organic chicken, baby artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese.
The Woolstons and Edgcombe offer more than just pizzas. For an appetizer, the kitchen deep-fries calamari along with buttermilk-battered lemon slices. (Not a new combo, I know, but I love the sour burst of flavor.) Pastas include a perfectly balanced farfalle, with judicious amounts of house-smoked chicken, andouille sausage and roasted sweet peppers. Sandwich lovers will have a field day with the Tree Hugger BLT, constructed with housemade portobello mushroom bacon. There’s also an audacious pink-peppercorn and cumin-rubbed Angus sirloin steak, topped with blue cheese butter and served with tufts of garlicky sautéed spinach and a lumpy pile of roasted garlic mashed potatoes. At $15.95, the steak is an unquestionably great value (and it tastes marvelous).
As the Woolston family has grown and matured, so has its modest Sacramento restaurant empire. I’m pleased as punch that Matt and Yvette have brought their talents (and their sons) to the suburbs.
Five Points, 5132 Arden Way, Carmichael; (916) 779-0727; pizzamatteo.com
Hours: Lunch Tuesday–Sunday 11:30 a.m.–5 p.m., dinner Sunday and Tuesday–Thursday 5–9 p.m., Friday–Saturday 5–10 p.m.
For the young’uns: The kids’ menu includes mac ’n’ cheese, popcorn chicken and cheeseburgers
Sweet ending: Order the ice cream sandwich, made with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies
Affordable sip: The wine list is reasonably priced