Those familiar with Pacific Grove’s farmers market are happy to smell a familiar cheesy char descending upon Lighthouse at the border of P.G. and New Monterey.
Tricycle Pizza, a “new” local joint, got its start as a food truck in 2012. It was so famously yummy chef/owner Danica Alvarado grew a following and opened her own place four years later. The market feel lives on, as each order is taken by a smiling face in the updated truck window, selected from just a few tempting choices. Regular features include sausage and mushroom ($12), chicken pesto ($13) and classics like cheese ($11) and pepperoni ($12). Every week brings a new special, like the pesto, olives and feta, or the bacon and arugula, and it’s all cooked inside an enormous 900-degree wood-fire oven within the slick and shiny glass-walled vehicle.
Despite the window service and kitchen on wheels, comforts of a regular restaurant are present. The giant one-room building that once housed a smog check facility has been cleaned up and turned into a rustic, modern dining room. The high ceilings and large garage-style doors lend an airy, relaxed and welcoming attitude that makes you feel at home – or rather, the industrial design makes you wish it was your home.
Out back, a spacious pebbled yard with picnic tables, umbrellas and a pingpong table offers a great spot to lounge. Restrooms and ample parking complete the picture.
On a late Thursday afternoon, three menu items – one meat, one veggie, one special – seemed a fair bet. At 10 inches each, about one per person (with some mixing and matching) left us full and happy.
Each pizza had the fundamentals down to an art. Pie after pie, the relatively thin and yeasty crust gently gave way to a smoky wood aroma with a lively, fragrant balance of organic tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and Parmesan. All ’zas are made to order, and it shows.
The pepperoni jalapeño ($13) delivered a small jolt of spice; the jalapeños were cooked slowly because they brought a zesty touch without being too intense. Thin, dainty squares of artisan pepperoni imparted some class, and blended beautifully with the peppers. No mystery why this special made it to the permanent menu.
The vegetarian ($12) revealed an assortment of spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes. The hot-off-the-press spinach almost crunched, but the tomatoes were a little bland. The tang of the artichokes attempted to bring the toppings together (along with the tableside chili-infused extra virgin olive oil), but overall a little more of a kick would have taken it to the next level – some kalamata olives or banana peppers, maybe.
The arugula-and-bacon special ($13) was an interesting combo. A mix of their tomato and pesto sauces made up the base layer, and although the bacon was deliciously supple and salty, the mustardy lettuce and lemon balsamic dressing on top of fresh tomatoes, scallions, Parmesan and provolone outshouted nuance.
A few groups came in and out to eat as we sat in the breezy cafeteria-like hall. Because of Tricycle’s limited hours and all the good word on the street, I was expecting the place to be packed. I took into account that it was barely 4pm; the amount of people was pretty impressive.
If I held any doubts about Tricycle’s popularity, they were quelled on a recent Saturday lunch. The patio was bustling.
Though the weekly feature was a tempting prosciutto, blue cheese and caramelized pear, I was determined to satisfy my purist desires and went with one cheese, one pepperoni.
Tricycle’s take on tradition did not disappoint: Both options were excellent. The pepperoni will be memorable, thanks to those tasty little meat slices. The mozzarella, Parmesan and light red sauce with just a dash of oregano on the cheese proved less is more. Molto bene!
My only deviation on these time-honored favorites was that I decided to try the cheese on gluten-free crust (an additional $2). Though it may have been easier on my stomach, my taste buds felt it was a mistake. If you’ve ever had gluten-free pizza from the frozen aisle, you will instantly recognize the starchy, rice-y recipe. It’s not fair to compare GF to regular fluffy white though and, for what it was, this was good. For those who can’t stomach wheaty grains, it’s nice to have that option.
Speaking of nice: Kind vibes emanate all around this place. There is a corner for kids to pretend-bake pizza in a faux oven, and a couple flat-screen TVs await anyone wanting to catch a game. If you pass on getting drinks at the truck, you can grab one inside from the honor-system soda cooler, an old-timey gesture that warms the heart.
You can’t order delivery, but Tricycle Pizza is worth the trip. Being there in person ensures you take in the whole experience, from the quirky set-up and dining areas to the moment when you smell your pie coming hot out of the oven to the moment it hits your lips.
TRICYCLE PIZZA 3-9pm Wed-Fri; noon-9pm Sat. 899 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey. www.tricyclepizza.com