Getting Saucy

When I lived in San Francisco, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge felt like arriving in the real Northern California. But now that I live in the North Bay, I don’t get that same over-the-bridge feeling. The North Bay is my new normal.

I can still get that wide-open, Norcal experience when I head north on 101 and climb grade along the Russian River canyon. Then I drop into Mendocino County and come to a stop in Ukiah. Now that’s Northern California.

But what’s there to eat?

This stretch of 101 for a long time held few high-quality options, but that’s changing, and downtown Ukiah’s Saucy is leading the pack. Opened by expat New Yorker Cynthia Ariosta in 2012, the 80-seat restaurant transcends the typical pizza parlor.

The two-story restaurant has a cozy but modern vibe. The pies come out of a sexy-looking wood-fired oven right next to the always-crowded bar. While there are various pasta dishes (squid ink pasta with shrimp, $15; lasagna, $14; pasta carbonara, $16) and even a ridiculous “triple bypass” burger (a beef patty stuffed with macaroni and shingled with bacon, cheddar, fried pickled red onions, $14.50), thin-crust pizza is the star here.

I asked to add tomato sauce to the Di Capra pesto and goat cheese covered pizza ($16) and was told no because it would “compromise the integrity of the pizza.” I liked that. The whimsically named pizzas (Run with the Bulls, the Befuddled) are indeed made with integrity. Most of Saucy’s produce is sourced from Covelo Organics, up the road in the cannabis and organic produce kingdom of Covelo.

The NYC Diesel is a textbook execution of a classic—Zoe’s pepperoni, tomato sauce and mozzarella ($12.75). The toppings are applied with restraint, and the light, tangy crust holds up well. My favorite was the Farmer’s Daughter, with Gypsy Girl Calabrian sausage, panna (cooked cream), fontina, roasted asparagus, garlic and chile flakes ($17.50). This could have been a sloppy mess, but the toppings were applied in just the right portions and held up well under the slight but resilient crust.

Salads are standouts too. The caesar ($8/$12) comes with three options: black kale, spinach and bacon or wood-fired romaine. I chose the latter and loved the interplay of smoke, garlic, lemon and anchovy.

The one dud was the deep-fried Brussels sprouts tossed in a lemon-caper anchovy vinaigrette ($8.50). The were so salty I thought my tongue was going to shrivel into a piece of beef jerky.

As good as the pizza is, the drink menu is a real draw too. From the beer side, look for a great lineup of craft brews.

The wine list is no slouch either. It’s the work of former Iron Horse owner and winemaker Forrest Tancer and sommelier James Wasson. They’ve created a smallish but well curated and affordable list of California-centric wine.

I suppose if I spend more time in Ukiah I’ll have to venture farther north to renew that sense of Northern California discovery. I wonder if there’s any food in Willits is as good as Saucy?

Saucy, 108 W. Standley St., Ukiah. 707.462.7007.