One evening, seated precariously on a bar stool at OneSpeed, I shoved a piece of Italian sausage pizza in my mouth and watched as a group of sweaty, red-faced students were disgorged from the yoga studio next door. Drifting languidly toward the restaurant in their Crocs and wrinkled shorts, they stood outside, mopped their slick arms and pates with moist towels, then filed inside for dinner. It was then that I realized how comfortably, and completely, East Sacramento has already embraced this new restaurant.
Packed since opening day in June, OneSpeed is speedily becoming a local dining magnet. Given the horrible economy, I find the restaurant’s instant success marvelous and inspiring. But I’m also not surprised: The respect and admiration that the food-loving community has for chef/owner Rick Mahan is real and solid, and his longtime customers have come out in droves to support him and relish the friendly restaurant’s earthy, Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.
Compact in size, OneSpeed has a more casual vibe and décor than Mahan’s popular midtown restaurant The Waterboy. The congenial bar is a great place to grab a seat (if you’re lucky), sip some wine and nosh on small plates. The dining room, dominated by the open kitchen’s busy line, is filled with heavy, beautiful wood tables. Designed to accommodate six comfortably, the tables are also used communally—meaning couples who don’t know each other consent to be seated at the same table so they can cut down on their wait time—with varying degrees of success. I noticed several of these awkward seating arrangements on a crowded Thursday night. The couples, bodies twisted uncomfortably away from each other, avoided eye contact and pretended (unsuccessfully) that they weren’t sharing a table. “It doesn’t work for everybody,” acknowledged our waitress.
My experience with OneSpeed’s cuisine is that it is lustier and more elemental than the fare at The Waterboy. Chewy, flavorful thin-crust pizzas, pulled out of a multicolor tile oven behind the line, are the main attraction. I loved Rick’s pizza, smothered with teeny yellow potato slices, caramelized onions, bits of salty pancetta and creamy goat cheese, with a satisfyingly bitter pop from arugula leaves. Another winner was the housemade Italian sausage pizza, piled with mozzarella cheese, a silky mass of peperonata and stalky, assertive broccoli rabe.
The menu, which will change seasonally, is built on small plates, although the kitchen does offer several entrées daily. Memorable dishes on my recent visits included a fantastic frito misto: battered, deep-fried shrimp, sweet fennel, whole anchovies and small, deliciously salty olives. Mahan’s love of local produce is evident. I savored a plate of intensely sweet, jewellike cherry tomatoes scattered atop thick slices of buffalo mozzarella, sprinkled with chopped basil, olive oil and sea salt, an exuberant celebration of Sacramento. And a colorful salad of roasted beets with crumbled feta cheese, vivacious pickled onions and fresh mint was a lively palate rouser.
OneSpeed also offers a limited selection of housemade pastas, such as plump ravioli stuffed with roast chicken and sautéed greens. I may not have an Italian grandmother, but I’ve decided Mahan is a great proxy. I look forward to the chilly, blustery February night when I can visit OneSpeed for comforting dishes like those ravioli, or the nubbly gnocchi with its brown-butter sheen and aroma of sage.
Dessert selections were quite limited the days I visited OneSpeed. That may change as time goes on and the pastry chef gets better established. I enjoyed the light, creamy tiramisu but was perplexed by a sharply flavored plum tart whose fruit and accompanying whipped cream topping appeared to be devoid of sugar. On another visit, plums made an appearance in an attractive, individually sized crumble, but again the fruit was very tart and the crumble topping disappointingly sodden. Next time, I’ll try the chocolate pudding, which several OneSpeed fans have recommended to me.
You don’t need sweaty yoga pants to nab a table at OneSpeed, but it certainly doesn’t count against you. Kids and strollers are also OK, as is your Labrador retriever—as long as you tie him to the bike rack out front. If you can deal with the long wait for a table and the clamorous environment, Mahan and his crew will whip you up a pizza and a plateful of carpaccio with arugula, Parmesan cheese and capers that you won’t soon forget.
Deliverance: OneSpeed delivers via bicycle within a 2-mile radius for a $5 charge
Come (really) early or expect to wait: Reservations are accepted only for parties of six or more
Hours: 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Tuesday–Friday, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Saturday–Sunday, closed Monday