The sting of Calabrian chili rides in like invisible lightning behind peaceful cumulus clouds of creamy house-made stracciatella cheese. Knobby crumbles of n’duja sausage perch on crispy cusps of house-made salumi, and glistening cherry tomatoes sweat before bursting like the afternoon sun.
The piled ingredients rest on firm, tawny dough made from a variety of grains milled at local Barton Springs Mill. The bottom of the crust is spotted and streaked, puffed and crackling from the oak-fired oven, not sooty like a young chimney sweep’s cheeks. A saltiness lingers in the dough cooked at a temperature low enough to let the hybrid flour cook all the way through until it reaches a resiliency that stops short of rigidity. There’s a slight pull to the bite, but the $18 pie doesn’t slouch and surrender its bounty.
This is some great pizza, you think, as you return to fully appreciate your surroundings. You’re not in a sleek downtown restaurant that struts with high design. Not in a minimalist art studio space listening to a playlist stacked with Brooklyn bands. You’re sitting at a picnic table. Outside. Under a Hill Country sky. The only sound comes from a few chickens — the country, not backyard, variety — the occasional half-muted whoosh of an unseen car on Texas 71, and some laughter.
Chef-owner Taylor Hall and chef Adam Brick taught us to expect the unexpected when they opened fine dining restaurant Apis in Spicewood in 2015, and with Pizzeria Sorellina they’ve added another culinary roadside attraction on the serpentine highway west of Austin. The pizzeria’s name means “little sister” in Italian, and she shares much of the same DNA as her big brother just a few dozen yards away. Namely, the attention to sourcing fresh ingredients and commitment to craft.
Sorellina, the dining room and open kitchen of which reside in a stone building that resembles a model home or pro shop at a semi-private golf club, takes a more casual approach than Apis, offering counter service and a more narrowly focused menu, but the kitchen remains serious.
Sorellina serves several signature pizzas, with thoughtful flavor combinations that deliver depth and complexity. Maitake mushrooms and fermented and dried shiitake cream layer an earthy baseline on a pizza rich with wild boar ham and the perfumed texture of fried rosemary ($17). Another pie overflows with a harmonious onslaught of ingredients, from the licorice tingle of roasted fennel and zip of grilled green chilies to the sweetheart pop of honey and lemon and salty rumble of wild boar pancetta — all of it showered with bright herbs ($17).
You can take your own swing at a chefy creation by adding any of almost 20 toppings to a trio of base pies. Mozzarella with more stretch than ooze dots the very good Margherita colored with sweet tomatoes and Thai basil ($13), and smoked ricotta and lardo give lusty appeal to the bianco ($14). I added a pungent and sweet mix of cured anchovies ($1), roasted garlic ($1) and red peppers ($3) to one Margherita and probably should have added a flourish to the verde ($12), its kale-walnut pesto buried beneath a bitter blanket of spinach.
The greens off the pizza did more to impress. At opposite ends of the flavor spectrum, there was the savory grilled escarole salad full of pecans and pecorino and centered by the mineral richness of a golden soft egg ($10), and the electric and puckering garden-fresh salad of chicory, watermelon radishes, dill pollen and a smoked swordfish-infused spread ($9).
That salad had such vibrancy, you would have thought most of the ingredients had been plucked just minutes earlier from the restaurant’s garden. While Apis and Sorellina are not completely self-sustaining restaurants, the chefs have created a model that makes for a fairly comprehensive supply chain. Those who have dined at Apis will recognize the selection of salumi, made with wild boar cultivated for the restaurant at Hapgood Ranch. The cured meat appears on a couple of the signature pizzas and can be ordered individually in $5 tastings. I recommend the fennel-perfumed finocchiona, lonza piqued with black pepper, and the mild smoke of velvety culatello (which will cost you an extra $4).
The Apis property features an apiary, with honey from the bees finding its way into cocktails and savory and sweet menu items at the fine dining restaurant, and the chefs also find ways to maximize their product at Sorellina.
Apis’ trademark honey sweetens a ricotta tart ($7), crumbly and light like a sugar cookie, topped with technicolor strawberry-juice-marinated strawberries and rose hip sorbet. Puffed grains tossed with honey syrup add an extra element of crunch and remind you of exactly where you are. It’s a meticulous and considered dessert — one that’s not just good for a pizzeria in Spicewood but for a restaurant anywhere.
23526 Texas 71 West, Spicewood. 737-222-6061, pizzeriasorellina.com
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Hours: Wednesday and Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday, noon to 8 p.m.
Prices: Salads, $8-$10. Salumi, $5 per style. Pizzas, $12-$18.
What the rating means: The 10-point scale is an average of weighted scores for food, service, value, ambience and overall dining experience, with 10 being the best.
The Bottom Line: Attention to craft, quality ingredients and al fresco Hill Country dining set Pizzeria Sorellina apart.