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CITY SLICKER CAFE | cheap eats

Pizza's upper crust

"I openly wept at the sight of it."

No, it wasn't a religious apparition. It wasn't the birth of a child. It wasn't even a glorious sunrise.

It was the City Slicker Cafe's Surf & Turf pizza, a cheese-draped pie dotted with shrimp and bacon, that had moved the blogger to tears of joy.

"The taste was just as I remembered," he wrote. "If there is a God, and he ordered a pizza, it would be this."

Yowza! Don't underestimate the elation people feel when a favorite restaurant rises from the dead. The Urban Gourmet, formerly in Somerville's Ball Square, recently enjoyed such a resurrection; after closing last year due to landlord troubles, its owner started a similar restaurant about a mile away.

Open since January, City Slicker serves the same terrific thin-crust pizzas that made Urban Gourmet locally beloved. They're baked in a pan drizzled with olive oil, giving the crust a buttery taste, and slow-baked at a relatively low temperature. That means you'll wait at least 25 minutes for your pie - but, as a sign by the register promises, patience will be rewarded. That's no lie; our "Tree Hugger" ($9 small/$14 large) - an all-veggie melange of roasted eggplant, baby spinach, roasted tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella - was the best pizza I've had in recent memory thanks to its standout crust and vibrant flavors.

And although you can order a pepperoni pie, that would be a timid move given the creative combos available. A sampling: Bolognese (ragu, goat cheese, cheddar), City Girl (portobello mushrooms, gorgonzola, caramelized onions); and Steak and Potatoes (garlic steak, roasted potatoes, blue cheese, fried shallots).

But City Slicker isn't content simply to be a pizza joint. It's far more ambitious than that.

"Between Cambridge, Somerville, and Medford, there are probably 75 to 100 different pizzerias with basically the same menu and same quality of food," said owner Richard Warren, "and that's definitely not what we're about."

City Slicker offers lots of hearty, cooked-to-order comfort foods, such as meatloaf ($10.50) and pork chops ($11.95). It balances cardiac-unfriendly choices, like deep-fried Panko crab puffs ($7.25), with healthy ones, like whole wheat pasta, fresh fish, and greens usually not found at sub shops (garlic baby spinach, asparagus, broccolini).

The food has flair, too. Pulled pork ($6.85) is simmered in garlic red wine, Portuguese-style; a Cuban sandwich ($7.75) is brightened with citrus mayo; and baked cod ($12.95) is stuffed with crab and pancetta, then finished with lemon parsley beurre blanc. Every eat-in meal begins with house-made focaccia served in a decorative bread basket with red pepper-parmesan olive oil. You can also customize your food with extras like fried shallots, tomato-avocado salsa, and sauces ranging from sesame wasabi to jalapeno vinaigrette. The menu, Warren says, is "very flexible."

I dressed up my baby spinach salad with a marvelous piece of mahi mahi marinated in paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic, oregano, and olive oil ($5.50, plus $3.75 for fish), which was better than the slightly overcooked salmon ($12.50). Tender, robustly flavorful garlic steak tips ($12.50) were cooked a perfect medium, though, and the baked beef-pork meatballs ($9.75) were wonderfully moist.

Chicken-shrimp paella ($12.95) suffered from bland shellfish, but it's a lot of food for the money, and the mixture of brown rice, roasted red peppers, peas, shallots, pink beans, parsley, and garlic had bold taste. Chicken piccata ($11.50) was excellent; the egg batter became a thin golden-brown skin, and lemon-caper butter added nice zing. Roasted eggplant/fresh mozzarella pasta sounded dull ($10.75), but we loved its basil-plum tomato sauce sprinkled with rich toasted pine nut crumbs.

For dessert, there are cream cheese brownies from Winter Hill Bakery and ice cream or sorbet from Christina's. Most of City Slicker's business is take-out, but eating in is actually pleasant; the dining room has vivid orange walls and funky photographs of cheese graters, measuring cups, and other curiosities. There's also a poster of a giant avocado in the window - more proof that this is a pizzeria with loftier ambitions.

City Slicker Cafe

588 Somerville Ave., Somerville. 617-625-0700.
Credit cards accepted. Not handicap accessible (one step up).

Prices $5-$15.

Hours Tue-Sun 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Liquor None.

May we suggest
Roasted eggplant and fresh mozzarella pasta, baked meatballs, chicken piccata, garlic steak tips, Tree Hugger pizza.

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