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A Pizza Crawl of Rome

11 pizzas. 13 hours. Are you up for the challenge?

“By the end of this, we may hate each other,” Lucky Peach photographer Gabriele Stabile declared as we planned our pizza crawl of Rome.

This was a real possibility. Over the course of thirteen hours, we planned on putting away eleven pizzas of varying toppings, styles and dimensions, in nearly as many neighborhoods. Would the onslaught of carbs and calories leave us bloated and exhausted? Would we crash from a pizza-induced high, unable to carry on?

No. Gabri and I are both extremely happy when we eat pizza, and nothing but good vibes flowed from Forno Campo de’ Fiori’s bakery counter at 9:30 a.m. to Pizzeria Ostiense’s brightly lit dining room at 10:30 p.m. Devouring nearly a dozen pizzas hurt a little, mainly because it was just the two of us. So if you’re up for the Rome pizza crawl challenge, find a few friends to join you. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Assign a navigator. Google Maps (or similar) is crucial when walking from place to place or plotting public transport options. You can theoretically use public transport to move around but the Metro coverage is limited and buses are inefficient and unreliable. We used Uber and cabs to cover long distances.
  2. Bring cash for the bakeries. Visa is accepted everywhere else.
  3. Go Wednesday to Saturday when all venues are open.

9:30 a.m.: Forno Campo de’ Fiori

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A bronze statue of Giordano Bruno looms over Campo de’ Fiori, marking the place where he was burned at the stake in 1600. Over the centuries, the area has been known for its heat-driven, flame-based businesses: first foundries, then coffee roasters, and now bakeries. Today, most of the market stalls surrounding Bruno’s granite podium are the worst kind of tourist traps, while the surrounding cafes serve food and drink stripped of any local character. If it weren’t for Forno Campo de’ Fiori, a historic bakery on the northwestern corner of the square, the whole area would be unbearably sad.

Gabri and I met outside the bakery at an hour when most Romans were reaching for a cornetto and cappuccino at nearby cafes. Before entering Forno for our first slice, we paused at the closed glass doors beside the main entrance to admire the baker as he massaged blobs of dough into long, oblong slabs, brushing some with olive oil and others with raw tomato puree, before depositing them in the deep electric oven.

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Forno bakes simple, crispy pizza al taglio all day long, but in the morning focuses on the simplest versions of this ubiquitous Roman snack: pizza rossa and pizza bianca. We wanted the former, so we entered Forno’s busy retail space, and headed to the back to order two pieces of rossa, a crisp base brightened by a slick of tomato sauce. The clerk cut our slices from a long slab, weighed them, then wrapped them in paper. We ate our savory breakfast on the cobblestones outside under Bruno’s persistent gaze.

Address: Campo de’ Fiori 22. +39 06 6880 6662
What to Order: Pizza bianca (around €0.50 a slice)
Alternate Order: Pizza rossa (around €0.50 a slice)
Closed on Sundays

9:45 a.m.: Antico Forno Roscioli

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Not far from Campo de’ Fiori is Antico Forno Roscioli, another historic bakery that has resisted central Rome’s plunge into tourist hell. To get there, Gabri and I followed the gently curving Via dei Giubbonari—the old jacket makers’ street—to Via dei Chiavari, where iron keys were once forged. At number 34, the storefront bears the name Marco Roscioli, patriarch of a small gourmet food empire that got its start in the baking trade. Antico Forno Roscioli opened in the early 1970s—the 1824 date at the entrance references another bakery that was on the site—and many of the baked goods, pizza bianca among them, have survived unchanged.

Navigating Forno Roscioli requires some guidance: for pizza bianca, head to the bread counter on the right (for pizza rossa, visit the pizza-by-the-slice counter instead). I asked for two slices of bianca and the clerk held up a two-foot-long piece of pizza and rested his knife a few inches from one end. I approved the portion and he cut us a long strip of the sea salt-seasoned pizza, then halved it. Like most pizza bianca, Roscioli’s is thicker than pizza rossa; the flatbread does double duty as a snack eaten on the fly and as sandwich bread (more on that later).

Pizza bianca varies from bakery to bakery, but Roscioli’s is chewy, not crispy, with crunchy bits around the edges. The bianca style at our next stop was completely different, but before Ubering across the river, we grabbed a quick espresso at the new Roscioli Caffè nearby. In the interest of our appetites, we skipped the breakfast pastries, but missing coffee was not an option.

Address: Via dei Chiavari 34. +39 06 686 4045
What to Order: Pizza bianca (around €0.50 a slice)
Alternate Order: Pizza rossa (around €0.50 a slice)
Closed on Sundays

10:20 a.m.: Panificio Bonci

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Following the success of Pizzarium, his landmark pizza-by-the-slice joint, Gabriele Bonci opened this bakery in a residential neighborhood just a short walk from the Vatican walls. (You’ll recognize Rome’s most famous baker from this video Gabri made last year.) While Pizzarium is creative and contemporary by Roman standards, Panificio Bonci is a straightforward bakery selling breads, prepared foods, and (some days) porchetta. We visited for pizza con la porchetta, a sandwich that uses Bonci’s crispy and liberally salted pizza bianca as a vessel for sliced roasted pork made by pork master Vito Bernabei. Porchetta is a common sandwich filling in Rome, but Bernabei’s version, made with pigs from Le Marche and finished at his shop in nearby Marino, is the finest expression of this simple food.

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The clerk sliced open pizza bianca and layered one side with pieces from a porchetta trunk displayed on the counter, each slice trimmed with fat and spices. She warmed our pork-filled pizza bianca in the oven until the bread was crisp and the porchetta fat had begun to melt into its crevices. The bakery was cramped, so we took our pizza con la porchetta outside and exchanged ecstatic looks as we enjoyed the most perfect Roman sandwich. If you’re not lucky enough to find porchetta at Panificio—Bernabei doesn’t produce a huge number of them, so supply is limited—mortadella makes a fine substitute.

Address: Via Trionfale 36. +39 06 3973 4457
What to Order: Pizza con la porchetta (€5.00 for two)
Alternate Order: Pizza con la mortazza (mortadella; €3.50 for two)
Closed on Sundays

10:59 a.m.: Pizzarium

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We walked from Panificio Bonci to Pizzarium. As the shutters rose, a small crowd shuffled into the storefront. The shop is small—not much more than a counter displaying a dozen and a half pizzas in rectangular sheet pans. At Pizzarium, many toppings change with the seasons—and even from one hour to the next—but pizza con le patate, a surprisingly light slice topped with bright yellow potatoes and mozzarella, is a constant.

Unless you have encountered potato pizza elsewhere in town, it’s hard to fully comprehend how exceptional Bonci’s version is. There’s none of the sogginess or chronic under-seasoning or oiliness that plagues so many competitors. The toppings and base are in perfect proportion and the cold-fermented dough stays light.

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To accompany our pizza con le patate, we got a piece with shredded potatoes and sausage, pizza con la mortazza (pizza bianca filled with thinly sliced mortadella), and rounded out the order with a winter classic: pumpkin puree, guanciale, and pecorino Romano.

There’s no table service or seating at Pizzarium, so we took our slices to the stainless steel counter, polished off the four flavors, then hopped in a Testaccio-bound Uber. We could have taken the Metro—the Cipro stop is 500 feet from Pizzarium—but by this point we were reserving excess energy for digestion.

Address: Via della Meloria 43. +39 06 3974 5416
What to Order: Pizza con le patate (around €2.50 a slice)

11:40 a.m.: Da Artenio 

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The Mercato di Testaccio, like most of Rome’s municipal markets, houses stalls of wildly varying quality. Most of the baked goods are uninspiring, but Artenio Fanella’s products far surpass anything else for sale in the market. His sourdough, which he bakes in his hometown outside Rome and drives into town daily, is delicious, but Gabri and I were there for the pizzette that he makes in his stall. These hand-formed, irregularly shaped little pizzas come brushed with tomato sauce (pizzette rosse) or blanketed with potato slices (pizzette con le patate). We have encountered both types of pizza before, but in classic Roman fashion, the final products vary from place to place. Artenio’s pizzette are rustic snacks, ideal fuel for market shopping. We ordered one of each and ate them in four bites.

Address: Mercato di Testaccio, Box 90. Via Galvani & Via Alessandro Volta
What to Order: Pizzetta rosse (around €0.50 per pizzetta)
Alternate Order: Pizzetta con le patate (around €0.50 per pizzetta)
Closed on Sundays

12:00 p.m.: Trapizzino

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A short walk from the market, Stefano Callegari’s Trapizzino sells triangular potions of pizza bianca (far thicker and with a much fluffier crumb than Roscioli’s or Bonci’s versions) stuffed with savory dishes like pollo alla cacciatora, doppio panna, and polpetta al sugo. These trapizzini, so-called because they are made from pizza dough yet resemble the tri-cornered tramezzino sandwich, were invented by Callegari in 2008 to deliver southern Italian flavors in an economical, portable form. They are toasted before filling, creating a crispy exterior to contain the fillings’ sauces and juices. Pro tip: Tonda (see evening itinerary), Callegari’s Neapolitan-style pizzeria also serves trapizzini.

Address: Via Giovanni Branca 88. +39 06 4341 9624
What to Order: Pollo alla cacciatora (chicken cacciatore; €3.50)
Alternate Order: Doppio panna (burrata and anchovies) or Polpetta al sugo (meatballs; €3.50 each)
Closed on Mondays

12:25 p.m.: Emma Pizzeria con Cucina

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Our final stop during daylight hours was Emma Pizzeria con Cucina, one of the few joints serving quality personal pizzas at both lunch and dinner. (Most of the city’s respectable wood-fired Roman- or Neapolitan-style pizzerias are open in the evenings only.) You could feasibly walk from Trapizzino in Testaccio to Emma in the Centro Storico in thirty minutes, but we took a cab.

Until now, Gabri and I had been enjoying the myriad Roman styles of pizza that are eaten standing up. From here on out, we stuck to personal pies, each a minimum of twelve inches in diameter.

When it opened two years ago, Emma was the first pizzeria to make thin-crust Roman-style pizza with high-quality ingredients. The classic Roman pizza is supposed to be simple and cheap. To keep prices low and margins high, most pizzerias use average ingredients. Instead, Emma uses locally milled flour from Molino Iaquone, artisanal mozzarella, and, in the case of my pie, Sicilian anchovies. Even the wood selection used in the domed oven is thought through; a mix of hornbeam, turkey oak, holly oak, European beech keeps the oven burning at a hot 350 C.

At Emma, the dough is fermented for forty-eight hours, stretched by hand into a flat disk, then rolled to ensure a thin, crisp final product. The pizza’s flimsy interior (not a drawback, but a feature of this style) is covered in a thin layer of tomato and cheese and studded with bits of cured anchovies for a salty, flavor-packed finish.

Address: Via Monte della Farina 28/29. +39 06 6476 0475
What to Order: Pizza Napoli (around €9.50 per pizzetta)
Alternate Order: starters, burrata, mozzarella, supplì

Naptime!

7:00 p.m.: La Pratolina

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After a six-hour break, Gabri and I reconvened at La Pratolina in Prati, a residential district northeast of the Vatican packed with pizzerias. We were there for pinsa, an oblong flatbread with ancient origins that pinse practitioners claim is a precursor to modern pizza. La Pratolina’s pinsa is made from a blend of flours, with a dough that ferments for forty-eight hours, before being shaped into an oblong slab and garnished with toppings.

La Pratolina’s pinsa bases are riddled with air bubbles and, unlike round, thin-crusted Roman-style pizzas, have a structure that can support heavy toppings. We went for artichoke and gorgonzola. The gorgonzola almost overpowered the sweet and delicate artichoke hearts, but the bubbly crust delivered yeasty balance. We let our palates reset during the long cab ride to the Nomentana district for another cheese-driven pie.

Address: Via degli Scipioni 248. +39 06 36 00 44 09
What to Order: Pizza con carciofo e gorgonzola (€9.50)
Closed on Sundays

7:45 p.m.: Tonda

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When it comes to pizza innovation in Rome, Stefano Callegari stands out: he was among the first to bring a touch of creativity to thick-rimmed Neapolitan pizzas at Sforno, a pizza institution in the city’s eastern periphery. He also invented the aforementioned trapizzino. At Tonda, which opened in 2011, he merges his two specialties.

Tonda is a warm neighborhood spot and one of the few pizzerias in town with wines meant to pair to the pizzeria’s pies. (The selection is mostly champagne and other méthode champenoise sparkling wines.) I was eager to share the cacio e pepe pizza with Gabri, both because it’s a clever twist on Roman forms and flavors and because, whether or not I had eaten lots of pizza that day, it would be physically painful to eat a whole one on my own (So. Much. Salty. Cheese.). It’s a fun pie that is best shared.

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The pizza cacio e pepe is made by shaping the dough, then laying ice on it before putting it in the oven. The ice melts, slowing the cooking process of the top of the dough, leaving it moist, while the bottom becomes crisp. When it comes out of Tonda’s blue-tile domed oven, it’s garnished with a liberal amount of finely grated pecorino Romano (cacio), which sticks to the moist top layer, then seasoned with freshly ground black pepper (pepe). It’s served pre-sliced—a novelty for Rome where pizzas are served un-cut—and comes to the table with a pepper mill for additional seasoning.

Tonda’s pizza cacio e pepe wasn’t in stellar form that night, so we didn’t feel compelled to finish it off. I called a cab and, in the end, the trip to Tonda was worth it if only for the conversation with the cab driver, who charmed us with his colorful anecdotes recounted in the city’s spectacularly vulgar dialect.

Address: Via Valle Corteno 31. +39 06 818 0960
What to Order: Pizza cacio e pepe (€9.00)
Alternate Order: Pizza Greenwich (with stilton and port reduction)

8:50 p.m.: La Gatta Mangiona

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Sufficiently entertained, we hopped out of the cab beside the darkened market stalls in Piazza San Giovanni di Dio, then walked a block up to La Gatta Mangiona. At first inspection, the puffy-crusted pies at Giancarlo Casa’s pizzeria seem to be Neapolitan. But Giancarlo engineered his dough recipe to have a hydration and composition that imparts a crispiness unknown to Naples’s style that satisfies the Roman need for crunch. I ordered the capricciosa “capricious” topped with a hard-boiled egg, olives, mushrooms, and prosciutto. It was the best pizza of the night for its lightness, balance, and flavor.

By this point we had one stop left and were feeling bold so we ordered some fried artichokes and a couple of beers, too. This would be the nail in Gabri’s appetite coffin, but I powered through and by 10:30 we were walking into Pizzeria Ostiense for a final round.

Address: Via F. Ozanam 30-32. +39 06 534 6702
What to order: Fritti (€2-7.50) and Pizza Capricciosa (€11)

10:30 p.m.: Pizzeria Ostiense

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Pizzeria Ostiense is the quintessential Roman pizzeria: bright lights, jocular service, and super thin pizzas with a slightly chewy, barely raised rim. It might not be the kind of pizza pilgrimage destination that Pizzarium has become, but this is the type of place that comes to mind when Romans think of a pizzeria. It’s a neighborhood joint and most clients eat here for the convenience, atmosphere, and value, while I cross the river regularly to visit Pizzeria Ostiense, which I think is one of the best spots in town for thin-crusted Roman-style pies. Two of its owners previously worked at Da Remo in Testaccio, a beloved venue serving the classic local pizza style, so in spite of only being two years old, Ostiense has the street cred of a Roman institution.

To close out the night, I ordered a margherita and in a little under two minutes, I was slicing into one of my favorite Roman pies as if it were the first of the night. In a few more minutes it was gone. Sufficiently sated, we paid the check and called a cab, which delivered our bloated bodies to our respective homes across the Tiber.

Address: Via Ostiense 56. +39 06 57 30 50 81
What to Order: Margherita (€6.00)
Closed on Tuesdays (ending April 1)