Going Deep

Midtown place still serves up fork-and-knife pizza

By Greg Sabin
August 2023

Zelda’s Gourmet Pizza opened in 1978. To say it hasn’t changed is false, but close. I mean, they take credit cards now. That’s a change.

To walk into the narrow, shotgun dining room and bar is to step back in time. From the high-backed plywood booths to the stubby laminate bar, the wooden trellis with plastic grapes to the sparkly black cottage-cheese ceilings, the place has a vibe.

And the vibe is perfect. The fact that the pizza is exceptional is a bonus.

When Zelda Breslin arrived from Chicago in the 1970s, she brought years of deep-dish pizza experience. She and husband Eddie opened their joint in Midtown, then a seedy, semi-industrial neighborhood. Eddie poured drinks and Zelda made pies. Her saucy attitude was soon known around town.

Take yourself to 1978. The most popular pizza chain in America is Shakey’s, a Sacramento institution. A magazine article on Zelda’s wall states how refreshing it is to eat at a place (Zelda’s) that serves “pizza for adults… no banjos or obligatory fun.”

It seems risky to have offered Chicago deep-dish in sunny California at a place more bar than pizza parlor. No one without Chicago roots even knew deep-dish pizza existed.

The Breslins almost gave up soon after opening. But a feature on local television spread the word, and Zelda’s has been going ever since.

Here we are, 45 years later, and Zelda’s son Kerry Matthews runs the place. The staff is less cheeky than in the past. The air conditioning works better. But the pizza tastes the same as on opening day.

They start with a deep pan, charred black after 10,000 runs through the oven. Then comes the crust, pastry-flaky and buttery, running up the sides of the pan like it’s trying to escape. Then they drop in a layer of cheese—that’s right, cheese on the bottom—followed by meat and veggies, and finish with sauce and a touch of parm for looks.

It takes 30–60 minutes to cook the beast, so go with friends and don’t hurry. Share stories over a $6 glass of wine or a $5 half-pitcher of Bud. That half-pitcher is the best beer deal anywhere.

If you’re in a rush, call ahead and they’ll have the pie waiting when you sit down. But what’s the fun in that?
The two most popular pies are the combo and the spinoccoli—spinach and broccoli. Both are wonderful. The combo, with its hearty slab of pepperoni, sausage, diced peppers, onions and mushrooms is all I need.

This is fork-and-knife pizza. One piece fills you up. But you’ll start the second piece anyway, thinking you’re still hungry. Luckily, with that crust, it’s even better the next day.

How about we meet at Zelda’s soon, split a few half-pitchers and catch up? We can celebrate nearly 50 years of a local culinary tradition and toast to 50 more. No need to call ahead.

Zelda’s Gourmet Pizza is at 1415 21st St.; (916) 447-1400; zeldasgourmetpizza.com.

Greg Sabin can be reached at gregsabin@hotmail.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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