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The first bakery in Davis to crank out hearty, artisan-style breads, Village Bakery has become an institution in this vibrant university town. Robust, multishaped and thick-crusted loaves are stacked enticingly behind its tiny counter, and I always agonize over my selection. Ripping my newly purchased bread apart (a knife seems so . . . unnecessary), I consume it gustily, with a primal relish. My favorite for many years has been the dense, sourdough walnut bread, that—when sunk into a bowl of chunky minestrone—comforts you at soul-level.
Village Bakery owner Aziz Fattahi, a talented self-taught baker, has captured the hearts of UC Davis students and localfolks with his New York-style, brick oven-baked pizzas. Sold whole or in massive single slices (displayed in a funky warmer perched on the counter), the pizza is often gobbled appreciatively within feet of the bakery. It is the popularity of these pizzas that recently propelled Fattahi to expand his domain to include a restaurant.
Opened in August 2009, Fattahi’s Village Pizza & Grill is housed in an utterly delightful 1908 two-story Craftsman bungalow in downtown Davis, mere blocks from his flagship bakery. Boasting serious curb appeal, the beautifully renovated building offers a spacious patio area with an outdoor fireplace, the perfect spot for friends to gather for a late afternoon pint of beer. The restaurant’s gleaming wood floors, clean lines and sun-splashed interior create an attractive and convivial space in which to enjoy the kitchen’s pizzas (available in three sizes), sandwiches and salads.
Village Pizza & Grill is less about famished college students and quick shove-it-in-your-mouth meal breaks, and more about university staff and Davis locals. It fills up quickly at lunchtime; savvy diners often arrive by 11:45 a.m. to nab the choicest seats. There is no table service: Customers order at the small counter at the front of the restaurant, and the staff delivers the food when it’s ready. On my three visits, the food came out slowly, but the irritation I felt at waiting (when I had only an hour for lunch) dissolved when the prettily plated food arrived.
The individual-size pizzas I sampled have been predictably good, though they somehow lack the satisfying, awkward sloppiness of Village Bakery’s gargantuan single slices. I was smitten by two in particular: one drizzled with a tangy crème fraîche-basil sauce, dappled with garlic and red onions, sprinkled with fines herbes, then topped, after baking, with soft slices of smoked salmon; and another spread with tomato and pesto sauces, then adorned with mozzarella, baby artichoke halves, an abundance of kalamata olives and creamy splotches of warm goat cheese.
Village Bakery devotees easily could stick with the new restaurant’s pizzas, but I’d suggest an adventurous foray
into Fattahi’s sandwich lineup. Constructed on the bakery’s just-baked breads (the ciabatta roll encasing the turkey breast sandwich made my knees weak), they are some of the best I’ve tried in Davis. The kitchen makes a great Reuben, and the grilled eggplant and goat cheese sandwich with roasted yellow and red peppers is a fabulous option for vegetarians.
The menu also offers several tasty Mediterranean items, including a falafel burger, and a hearty beef and chicken kabob—the best-selling entrées, says Fattahi, after the pizzas. Salads are fresh and appealing: I was recently impressed with the side salad (a menu item often treated dismissively by res-taurant kitchen staff), beautifully prepared with romaine and delicate butter lettuce leaves, feta, tomatoes and thin-sliced cucumber, tossed in a lemon vinaigrette.
Service is often harried, and staff members manning the cash register can suddenly disappear to deliver food to waiting tables, leaving customers at the counter perplexed and annoyed. In time, these kinks may be worked out, but in the meantime it’s best to focus on the quality of the menu items and the attractive surroundings. In a town that appreciates earnestly crafted, wholesome restaurant fare, I predict that Village Pizza & Grill will be enthusiastically embraced.
Attention Beer Lovers: In addition to the 12 beers on draft, Village Pizza & Grill has an impressive selection of bottled beers
Student Advantage: Students who show ID get a free soda with their purchase of a meal
Try a Burger: Feeling carnivorous? The restaurant’s avocado and white cheddar burger is a customer fave
403 G St., Davis; (530) 750-0100
Hours: Monday–Saturday 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sunday noon–9 p.m.