Ask any pizza junkie who has been around the country about regional variants of pizza and you’ll hear about the deep-dish Chicago pizza that is eaten with a fork (unheard of around these parts!), of Californian pies with an array of toppings that are surprisingly delicious, of St. Louis’ bizarre Provel-topped yeast free pizza (horrifying), and of the beloved New York slice, topped with a to-taste dusting of oregano, garlic, crushed red pepper, parmesan, and black pepper.
But what of the differences among pizzas in Italy? Truth be told, most of us, between the New York slice and the standard circular fare from the delivery chains, have almost exclusively eaten Neapolitan-style pizza. In Rome, there is pizza al taglio, which translates as “pizza by the cut.” Pizza Roma prepares its traditional Roman style pizza in a rectangular pan. Owner Andrea Franchini told us that the dough used for the crust is allowed 96 hours to rise. According to Andrea, this gives the dough a soft texture and makes it easier to digest.
Before the pizza, however, as guests of Pizza Roma, we sampled some of their fantastic appetizers. We were served a basket of focaccia bread strips, seasoned only with a kiss of salt and olive oil, lending it a slight crunch. The bread was served with a bottle of olive oil with hot red peppers in the bottom. The infusion of hot peppers, strangely enough, did not make the oil spicy. Rather, the natural flavor of the pepper’s flesh came out, giving it a tart, almost green apple-like zing that made for a great dip. This was complemented nicely by our order of Moretti beer. Chelsea had the regular, while I tried Moretti Rosso (red) for the first time. Regular is a pale lager, while Rosso is a dark lager, comparable to Killian’s, bold and flavorful.
Fans of deep-fried goodies will delight in the stuffed fried olives. They come fresh out of the fryer, so let them cool off before popping one in your mouth! We also had the antipasti platter, consisting of cured meats and cheeses – Andrea assured us all of the items served in his restaurant are imported twice a week from Italy – and he pointed to each cut of meat and each hunk of cheese and told us where they came from. The prosciutto ham is straight from Parma, good enough to be enjoyed by those who don’t usually like prosciutto. The plate also had a delicious mortadella and two regional types of salami, all elegantly spiced; the cheese, which included tart gorgonzola, creamy fontina, and punchy taleggio, was all incredible.
And then came the headlining act: two Roman pizzas, a pizza tartufo and pizza Margherita. The latter is an Italian classic, named after Italy’s Victorian-era Queen, featuring the so-called “holy trinity” of Italian cuisine: basil, mozzarella, and tomatoes. This should be of little surprise, as these three items also make up the colors of the Italian flag. On this particular pizza, the mozzarella was in fact a mozzarella di bufala, made from the milk of water buffalo rather than a cow. The tartufo was a new experience, and one worth every penny: fontina cheese is topped with a splash of black truffle oil, giving the pizza a savory, earthy flavor.
Now, I am a self-professed pizza junkie. I’ve eaten enough of it across the States that I have my favorites, and I certainly have my list of what makes a perfect pizza. Pizza Roma met all the criteria and beyond. The cheeses used were of the finest quality, in perfect proportion with the sauces; the individual toppings (basil and tomato, black truffle oil) were the stars, but by no means were they hogging the show. As for the crust Andrea was touting to us, it was the best I’ve ever had. Allowing it to rise over the course of four days gives it an indescribably perfect texture. Also, Andrea was right: I didn’t have my usual post-meal upset stomach. There’s magic in that dough!
Our pizzas were served with the two house wines, a chardonnay for Chelsea and a merlot for me. Despite their extensive wine list, Andrea assured us that even the house wines were worth a taste. They most certainly were. The entire meal was capped with the traditional Italian espresso and a shared cup of tiramisu. Pizza junkies from all over the five boroughs will not be disappointed, but it is also worth exploring the menu’s other terrific offerings.
259 Bleecker Street
Photos: Chelsea Herman