The Popeye

By the time Marinda Scott brought my wife and me the second pizza, I was completely overwhelmed.  I had moved into my second page of notes and was losing track of what I had written for each item.  I had to move my notebook to another table to find room to write.  Appetizers, salad, pizzas, beer, and wine all covered the tabletop.  I had started to feel lost. Was it Juicy’s Favorite or Nancy’s Favorite that had the cream sauce? And which cream sauce was it again?  I couldn’t remember.  Then Marinda came out, carrying the third pizza.

“I brought you the Popeye,” she smiled.

But let me back up a bit.

“We’ve got four different cream sauces, Amy Hinson, co-owner of Juicys, told me after we exchanged pleasantries. “Vodka cream, garlic cream, Calabrian chili cream, and, of course, a regular cream sauce.”

“What was that again?” I asked, frantically writing to keep pace.

Maybe I should back up a bit more.

My wife and I pulled into the parking area of Library Park in Lakeport.  Juicy’s sits at a diagonal across from the old Carnegie Library, close to the playground.  The building looks like summertime, with the second story serving as an open-air seating area, perfect for spring days and hot Fridays when live music fills the park.

We stepped out of the rain and through the door. I had no expectations. I love pizza, so I figured it couldn’t turn out so bad. But opening the door I felt a different kind of energy than I usually do when I step into a pizza joint. I can’t hear any arcade game noises, my mind teased me. And there’s no smell of stale beer. It felt tidy, clean, bright, and happy.  The inside of the building underwent a complete renovation before Juicy’s opened in May of 2018.  It’s tastefully designed, with white subway tiles lining the walls, giving it the feel of an Italian Pizzeria. Turquoise and gunmetal chairs sat across each of the tables, and a large counter opened into the immaculate kitchen. That’s where Amy usually hangs out, creating her spectacular pizzas with a tight-knit, focused staff.

We sat at a table next to a wall filled with photos of Amy’s family and Keith Giusto, a.k.a. “Juicy,” co-owner and namesake of Juicy’s pizza. It makes the place feel like one happy memory of the joys of Lake County. Juicy’s got a home in Soda Bay and runs the Artisan Baking Center in Petaluma.  He’s the one who taught Amy how to make sourdough back in Austin, Texas, and she’s transformed her knowledge into tangy, chewy, perfect pizza crusts

“I’ve known Keith since 1990,” Amy told me before the onslaught of food began. After wiping her hands on her cook’s shirt, she shook mine with a kind, firm grip before sitting down next to me on the long bench that ran the length of the front wall. “And that’s how long we’ve kept the starter alive.” She paused. “It’s like we’re more family than friends.” I saw her eyes move to the pictures, as though she were looking at fond childhood memories.

“Keith bought the building and contacted me, asking me if I wanted to start a pizza joint,” Amy continued.  “I had just been certified as a pizzaiola and thought, I’d like to run a pizza place.  So Marinda and I moved up here and started Juicy’s.”

It’s okay.  I had to look it up, too.  A pizzaiola is someone certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana in the Neapolitan pizza tradition. What that means to you and me is that Amy knows her stuff, and can cook a fiercely impressive pizza. We chatted a bit more, then Amy and Marinda began to share some of the details of their pizza ingredients.

“All our tomatoes are organic,” Amy told me, as I began to scribble frantically. “We get them From Jeff Fong, who’s about 50 miles from here.” She took a short breath, as though she had practiced ahead of time, then continued. “And all our grain is organic.  We mill it ourselves.”

I nodded, trying to keep eye contact and write at the same time. I was expecting to choose between Hawaiian and Meat Lover’s tonight. This doesn’t make sense, my mind reeled.

“We use all natural cheese,” she continued.

“And we grind our sausage as well,” Marinda added, her blonde hair framing her face.

“We don’t cook our tomatoes,” Amy quickly said.  “So our sauce is fresh.”

My note taking had turned unintelligible, with a distinct abstract art-like feel to them. I may as well have covered the page in doodles. I was trying to shift into second gear and keep up with the quality of pizza I was about to experience, but it felt like I was grinding the transmission.

“And we’ve got four white sauces.” Amy began to list them off.

But you’ve already heard that part.

Once we had finished chatting, Amy paused, waiting to see if I had any other questions.  I looked at my notes.  They were no help. “Nope.” I wrinkled my forehead, trying to conjure an important question.

“Well, I’ll be off to get some cooking done.” Amy stood up and headed off to the kitchen, while Marinda rounded the counter seconds later with our drinks.  They serve locally, featuring Kelsey Creek and O’Meara Brothers beer, as well as wine from several different local wineries.

“Do you know what you want to order?” Marinda asked after politely waiting for a few minutes.

“You pick,” my wife said. “We’re here to enjoy what you want to share with us.”

Marinda’s blue eyes shone as she began to think of our order, and she headed back to the kitchen. Little did we know the Shangri-La of food that awaited us. A few minutes later, she brought out the appetizers: Coccoli Fritta, hand-sized bread that we ripped in half and stuffed with prosciutto and burrata cheese.  It’s a perfect finger food; the texture of the prosciutto combined with the creaminess of the burrata, all stuffed in a pocket of chewy, parmesan dusted bread delighted my tastebuds. Such tasty food, my mind tittled. Little did I know what lay ahead.

We had just started to settle into the tactile pleasures known as Coccoli Frita when Marinda came out with two salads and a huge smile on her face. She and Amy had figured out what to feed us: their Chopped Italian and Caesar. Both salads showed Amy’s attention to detail.  The Caesar was tossed in her homemade dressing and topped with sourdough croutons.  I’ve always thought of Caesar as a heavier salad, but Juicy’s is light, with a pleasant tang of lemon and a gentle olive oil flavor.  The Chopped Italian would do any authentic Italian salad proud.  Filled with cherry tomatoes, provolone, salami, soppressata, mortadella, red onion, and pepperoncinis and topped with their house red wine vinaigrette, it’s an explosion of flavors, combining the earthiness of the greens with the tang of the red wine vinegar and the gentle bite of the pepperoncini.

Chopped Italian Salad

As I chased the last piece of mortadella across the plate, Marinda showed up with a pizza on each arm.

“What?” my wife cried.

“This one is half Brussel Sprout with Calabrian Sausage, and half Nancy’s Favorite,” Marinda said, setting one pizza on the rack. “And this one,” she shuffled some more plates around, “Is half Juicy’s favorite and half Mario.”

“What was that again?” I asked, trying to find room in my notebook to write.  She patiently explained.

“We’re never going to finish this,” I said.

“It’s okay,” Marinda replied, knowing what was still to come.  “You can take it home.”

This is where the story begins to get complicated.  Each pizza had a distinct flavor profile that drew out different tastes and created a different sensation.  I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m going to write down each pizza as I would tasting notes for a wine.  Yes, they’re that complex.

Juicy’s Favorite: Tomato sauce with aged mozzarella, house-made Calabrese sausage, zesty pepperoni, chili oil, ricotta cream, and oregano.

There’s a dance going on in this pizza: the creaminess of the ricotta balances the spice of the chili oil, while the earthiness of the oregano moves with the Calabrese and pepperoni, all frolicking on a bright tomato sauce and perfect crust.

Mario: Vodka cream sauce, mozzarella, bacon, fennel, sausage, light chili oil, and pesto

The vodka cream sauce brings pleasant high notes that balance the chili oil and strong basil notes of the pesto. It’s a pizza that I tasted once, then couldn’t wait to taste again.

Nancy’s Favorite: House fennel sausage, scallion, Panna cream, fresh mozzarella, red onion, and fennel pollen

This pizza has delicate flavors that work together to create a smooth, balanced profile. It tasted like springtime to me.  The red onion and sausage complement well, and the fennel glides along top of the whole pizza, gentle and lingering.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts: Calabrian chili cream, aged mozzarella, and lemon.

Marinda added Calabrian sausage to this pizza, which I highly recommend.  Brussel sprouts have never been high on my list of pizza toppings, or something I would ever even think about putting on pizza, but  Amy knows her flavors.  One of my favorite pizzas I tasted, the lemon brings a tang which works well with the earthy cabbage flavors of the brussel sprout. The Calabrian sausage draws out a significant depth, adding pleasant spice notes.


Juicy’s Favorite in front, The Mario Special in back

Then Marinda brought out the third pizza.

“Oh my gosh!” I said, my eyes widening.

“There is no way we are going to finish this!” my wife exclaimed.

 “It’s okay.” Marinda’s voice came soothingly through the ether. “You can take it home with you.”

A couple sitting across from us began to eyeball our table.  The woman’s eye’s bulged.  They must really love pizza, I could see run across her face.  My eyes pleaded with her: I can’t help it. I’m achieving food enlightenment. She sniffed, then went back to her wine.

Thus came the final pizza of the night, and it was one of the best vegetarian pizzas I’ve tasted.

The Popeye: Roasted garlic cream, aged mozzarella, parmesan, spinach, and marinated artichokes

Large chunks of sliced garlic lay unapologetically on the pizza, and, along with the roasted garlic cream, set a base for the creaminess of mozzarella and tang of parmesan.  The earth flavors of spinach sit in the middle, with the zing of marinated artichokes adding additional depth to the pizza.

I ate until full, then went and tasted all the pizzas again, you know, just to make sure.  Once we had finished picking at pieces of crust, Amy came back out to see how dinner had gone for us. She stood next to us, rubbing flour off her hands.

I was at a loss for words. “There were so many,” I said, “and then the last pizza came out!” I paused, trying to figure out what to say. “I’m overwhelmed.”

“Sorry about the last one,” Amy quickly added.  I had the feeling that she couldn’t help it, as if she knew it would be the one pizza to push me into food samadhi.

“Oh, don’t apologize for anything!” I effused.  “Your pizza is. . .” I lacked the proper word.  “Spectacular!” No. that wasn’t it.  But how could I describe what had happened to me in the past hour?

“Thank you,” Amy smiled.

While we exchanged pleasantries and final thank you’s, Marinda boxed up our pizzas and leftovers.  “Here you go,” she said, handing us a tower of pizza.  I couldn’t figure out how to carry it alone, so my wife and I split them up so we could manage our way out the door.

As we stepped outside, I noticed a sign sitting on the sidewalk.  “When life gives you pizza,” it said, “eat it fast before anyone knows you have it.” I smiled, then staggered my way to the car, full of pizza and joy.

Juicy’s Pizza:

155 Park St. Lakeport, CA,

(707)-413-3080

juicyspizza.com

Source: https://www.lakecountybloom.com/experiencing-food-nirvana-juicys-pizza-in-lakeport/