I really, really love pizza. Deeply. So you can imagine my joy when Lucky Peach asked me to document a pizza crawl of Rome for them, highlighting my favorite pizzas and styles. I was equally excited to collaborate Gabriele Stabile, a photographer whose work I have enjoyed for years. Gabri and I spent many hours traversing the city and ate over a dozen pizzas in the process. It was grueling work, but we powered through. The whole, beautifully illustrated story was published by Lucky Peach in 2016, but the magazine has since shuttered and even their online content has disappeared, so I am posting the text below.
“By the end of this, we may hate each other,” Lucky Peach photographer Gabriele Stabile declared as we planned an 11-pizzeria outing in Rome. This was a possibility, I acknowledged. In my experience, eating 11 pizzas in one place can induce anger, disorientation, and nausea, or worse. But spacing them out over a whole day while crisscrossing the Italian capital high on carbs, I theorized, couldn’t possibly have such grave consequences.
In the end, we were both wrong. 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 9:30a.m. to Pizzeria Ostiense’s brightly lit dining room at 10:30p.m. But putting away nearly a dozen pizzas of varying dimensions over the course of a 13-hour period 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) are 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. Plan to go Wednesday to Saturday when all venues are open.
Photo credit: Gabriele Stabile
9:30 a.m.: Forno Campo de’ Fiori
Address: Campo de’ Fiori 25
What to Order: Pizza bianca (around €0.50 a slice)
Alternate Order: Pizza rossa (around €0.50 a slice)
Closed on Sundays
A bronze statue of Giordano Bruno looms over Renaissance-era Campo de’ Fiori marking the place where this so-called heretic 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 drinks 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 meet outside the bakery on an unusually warm morning last month. While most Romans were reaching for a cornetto and cappuccino at nearby cafes at that hour, we were going the savory route, kicking off our pizza crawl with tomato-topped pizza rossa. Before entering Forno for our first slice, we paused at the closed glass doors beside the main entrance to admire the baker’s methodical movements 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.
Forno bakes simple, crispy pizza by the slice all day long, but in the morning focuses on the simplest versions of this ubiquitous Roman snack: pizza rossa and pizza bianca. Our objective was the former, so we entered Forno’s busy retail space, and headed to the back of the shop 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 handed them over wrapped in paper along and we ate this savory breakfast on the cobblestones outside under Bruno’s persistent gaze.
9:45a.m.: Antico Forno Roscioli
Address: Via dei Chiavari 34
What to Order: Pizza bianca (around €0.50 a slice)
Alternate Order: Pizza rossa (around €0.50 a slice)
Closed on Sundays
Not far from Campo de’ Fiori, another historic bakery 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 direction: for pizza bianca, head, as we did, to the bread counter on the right (for pizza rossa, the alternate order, visit the pizza by the slice counter instead). I asked for 2 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. Roscioli’s pizza bianca, like most, 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 isn’t exactly crispy, more like toasted on the outside with crunchy bits around the edges and chewy insides. The bianca style at our next stop was completely different, but before Ubering across the river, we grabbed a quick espresso at nearby, newly opened Caffè Roscioli. In the interest of our appetites, we skipped the enticing breakfast pastries, but missing coffee was not an option.
10:20 a.m.: Panificio Bonci
Address: Via Trionfale 36
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
Following the success of Pizzarium, his landmark pizza by the slice joint, Gabriele Bonci opened his eponymous bakery in a residential neighborhood 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 Rome standards, Panificio Bonci is a straight-forward 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 to contain sliced roasted pork made by Vito Bernabei. Porchetta may be a ubiquitous sandwhich filling in Rome and its environs but Bernabei’s version, which is made with pigs from Le Marche and prepared by the pork master in his shop in nearby Marino, is the finest known expression of this simple food.
The clerk sliced open some pizza bianca, then 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 a few ecstatic looks as we enjoyed the 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.
10:59 a.m.: Pizzarium
Address: Via della Meloria 43
What to Order: Pizza con le patate (around €2.50 a slice)
We walked from Panificio Bonci to Pizzarium and arrived just before this uber-famous pizza by the slice joint opened. As the shutters raised, the small crowd that had formed on the sidewalk shuffled into the storefront where the counter displayed 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 the place always has pizza con le patate, a surprisingly light slice topped with richly flavored, bright yellow potatoes and mozzarella.
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 nor chronic underseasoning, nor oiliness that plagues so many competitors. The toppings and base are in perfect proportion and the cold-fermented dough uniquely light.
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 100 feet from Pizzarium—but by this point we were reserving excess energy for digestion.
11:40 a.m.: Da Artenio
Address: Mercato di Testaccio, Box 90
What to Order: Pizzetta rossa (around €0.50 per pizzetta)
Alternate Order: Pizzetta con le patate (around €0.50 per pizzetta)
Closed on Sundays
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. Artenio sells loaves of sourdough baked in his hometown outside Rome, which he drives into town daily, but he also makes snacks in his stall, like assorted pizzette, which he cooks in the electric oven. These hand-formed, irregularly shaped little pizzas are brushed with tomato sauce or blanketed with potato slices. We have encountered both types of pizza before, but in classic Roman fashion, the final products vary from place to place and Artenio’s pizzette are pleasantly rustic snacks, ideal fuel for market shopping. We ordered one each of the pizzette rosse and pizzette con le patate and thanks to their small dimensions, they were gone in four bites, so we headed across Testaccio to our penultimate stop before a schedule-imposed break.
Address: Via Giovanni Branca 88 (and several other locations)
What to Order: Pollo alla cacciatora (chicken cacciatore; €3.50)
Alternate Order: Doppio panna (burrata and anchovies) or Polpette (meatballs; €3.50 each)
Closed on Mondays
A short walk from the market, Stefano Callegari’s Trapizzino sells triangular potions of pizza bianca (far thicker and with a way fluffier crumb than Roscioli’s or Bonci’s versions) stuffed with savory dishes like pollo alla cacciatora, doppio panna, and polpette. Trapizzini, so-called because they are made from pizza dough yet resemble the tri-cornered tramezzino sandwich, were invented by Callegari in 2009 and they deliver pure southern Italian flavors in 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.
Our final stop during daylight hours was Pizzeria Emma, 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 40 minutes, but we took a cab.
12:25p.m.: Pizzeria Emma
Address: Via Monte della Farina 29
What to Order: Pizza Napoli (around €8.50 per pizza)
Alternate Order: starters, burrata, mozzarella, suppli’
Until now, Gabri and I had been enjoying the myriad Roman styles of pizza that are consumed on your feet without the option of table service. From now on, it’s all personal pies, each a minimum of 12 inches in diameter. The post-Emma afternoon break was a welcome respite.
When it opened 2 years ago, Emma was the first pizzeria to serve the local thin crusted-Roman style pizza crafted with sought-after ingredients. The classic Roman pizza, like what we encountered later at Pizzeria Ostiense, 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 Mulino Iacquone, artisanal mozzarella, and, in the case of my Napoli, all of the above along with Sicilian anchovies. Even the wood selection used in the domed oven is curated; a mixture of hornbeam, Turkey oak, holly oak, European beech keeps the oven burning at a hot 350C.
At Emma, the dough is fermented for 48 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) was covered in a thin layer of tomato and cheese and studded with bits of cured anchovies for a salty, flavor-packed finish.
7:00p.m.: La Pratolina
Address: Via degli Scipioni 248.
What to Order: Pizza con carciofo e gorgonzola (€9.00)
Closed on Sundays
After a six-hour break, Gabri and I reconvened at La Pratolina in Prati, the district northeast of the Vatican. It’s a residential hood and one packed with pizzerias. We haven’t come for pizza exactly, but rather pinse. Practitioners of pinse claim their oblong flatbread has ancient origins and is a precursor to modern pizza. La Pratolina’s pinsa is made from a blend of flours, the dough is fermented 50 to 60 hours, then shaped into an oblong slab and garnished with toppings.
La Pratolina’s pinse bases are riddled with air bubbles and—unlike the round, thin crusted Roman style—have a structure that can support heavy toppings. We went for artichoke and gorgonzola, a pairing that broke from the local tradition of letting the artichoke be the protagonist by pairing Rome’s prized thistle with a strong, tangy cheese. Indeed, the gorgonzola nearly overpowered the sweet and delicate artichoke hearts, but the bubbly crust. We let our palates reset during the long cab ride to the Nomentana district for another cheese-driven pie.
Address: Via Valle Corteno 31.
What to Order: Pizza cacio e pepe (€9.00)
Alternate Order: Pizza Greenwich (with Stilton and port reduction)
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 style pizzas at Sforno, a pizza institution in the city’s eastern periphery. He also invented the aforementioned trapizzino. At Tonda, he merges his two specialties.
Tonda, which opened in 2011, is a warm and homey neighborhood spot and its one of the few pizzerias in town where the wine list is thoughtfully composed of Champagne and classical method sparkling wines chosen for their ability to pair to the pizzeria’s pies. I was eager to share the cacio e pepe pizza with Gabri, both because I think it’s a pretty clever twist on Roman forms and flavors and because it is physically painful to eat a whole one on my own (so.much.salty.cheese.).
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-tiled 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 that night wasn’t in stellar form, 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.
8:50p.m.: La Gatta Mangiona
Address: Via Ozanam 30
What to order: Fritti and Pizza Capriciosa (€8.50)
Sufficiently entertained, we hopped out of the cab beside the shadow-laden market stalls in Piazza San Giovanni di Dio, then walked a block up via Ozanam to La Gatta Mangiona. At first inspection, the thick-rimmed pies at Giancarlo Casa’s pizzeria appear to be of thick-rimmed Neapolitan style. But Giancarlo has engineered his dough recipe to have a hydration and composition that imparts a crispiness (unknown to Naples’ style) that satisfies the Roman need for crunch. I order the Capricciosa “capriciously” topped with a hard boiled egg, olives, mushrooms, and prosciutto. This would be 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 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 Ostiense 56. +39 06 5730 5081
What to Order: Margherita (€6.00)
Closed on Tuesdays
Pizzeria Ostiense is the quintessential Roman pizzeria: bright lights, jocular service, and super thin-crusted pizzas with a slightly chewy, barely raised rim. Its trio of 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.
Recreate our pizza crawl using this google map as your guide!
And check out the video Gabri made here: