Rome has plenty of chefs, pizzaioli included, who enjoy celebrity status. The city’s two heavyweights, Stefano Callegari of Sforno and 00100, and Gabriele Bonci of Pizzarium, have lots in common, including the same yeasted starter (Bonci’s recipe), top-notch ingredients, and unconventional toppings. But what Callegari turns out of his fryers and ovens at 00100 and Sforno is just better in concept, flavor, and mangiabilita’ (that is, the ease with which it is consumed).
That’s not to say that Gabriele Bonci is not a force to be reckoned with. On the contrary, his dough is perhaps Rome’s best and his dedication to quality toppings combined in novel ways is admirable. But I don’t think he hits the mark every time and he often gets carried away with toppings that just don’t work together (capers/olives/fennel seed/rabbit/scallop pizza comes to mind). Plus, eating many of Pizzarium’s slices is a logistical nightmare. Toppings are too big (on a recent visit strips of tripe slid off the slice onto the ground and on another I lost several chunks of rabbit to gravity) and since there are just a few benches to sit on outside, things can get pretty messy. I have given up wearing white shirts to Pizzarium.
Like most places in Rome, you have to know what to order to be truly satisfied. I recommend the fritti (fried things), pizza rossa (artfully prepared dough topped with an olive oil-rich tomato sauce), and slices with no more that 3 toppings. Any more that that risks masking Bonci’s greatest strength, the pizza dough itself. But order correctly, and you will be dazzled by the chef’s creativity and talent.
Just off Piazza Santa Maria della Liberatrice in Testaccio, Callegari’s 00100 serves pizza by the slice ranging from traditional Roman classics like mozzarella with potato and zucchine romanesche with mozzarella to creative selections like the Greenwich (Stilton, mozzarella and port reduction), and pizza ai ceci (mashed chickpeas and rosemary). The number of toppings is kept to a reasonable height and number, making the slice easier to eat, and permitting the pizzaiolo’s hard work and select ingredients to be enjoyed.
Not everything at 00100 is easy to eat, however. The trapizzini, triangular envelopes of thick pizza bianca stuffed with various sauces, are disastrously messy. I’m not quite sure how many bits of tongue fell out of my trapizzini alla lingua and onto the floor last week. I stopped counting. And I’ve stained more than one shirt trying to navigate the one stuffed with oxtail sauce. Nevertheless, the taste never disappoints.
Across town near Cinecitta’, Callegari’s pizzeria Sforno does some of the planet’s best fritti. The fiori di zucca are fresh and their batter is light to the point of seeming baked. The suppli’, which include novel flavors like porchetta with Frascati wine, and gricia (with pecorino, black pepper and guanciale) are well conceived and tasty.
The pizzas are also very very good. The interesting cacio e pepe is styled after the famous Roman pasta dish. Before cooking, the dough within the pizza rim is covered with ice chips to maintain its moisture. After a few minutes in the oven, the dough is removed and sprinkled with a liberal amount of pecorino romano cheese and black pepper. The first layer of grated cheese unites with the damp dough to create a starchy, almost mashed potato like consistency.
For traditionalists, the margherita with buffalo mozzarella is well executed and flavorful. And if that isn’t enough starch and carbs for you, why not try a baguette stuffed with garofolato (beef spiced with cloves in a tomato sauce) or, better yet, trippa alla romana. Like the trapizzini, these towers of saucy goodness are messy, but a good baguette in Rome??!! I’ll let it slide.
Callegari may pull off better pizza than Bonci and 00100 and Sforno may not get all the hype and press that Pizzarium does, but it’s just as well. It’s hard enough to get a table at Sforno most nights anyway.
Via Giovanni Branca 88
Via Statilio Ottato, 110/116
Via della Meloria, 43