To open another pizzeria on Bleecker Street, home to institutions like John’s, serious newcomers like Keste and enough NYU student-targeting Famous Original Rays to start an army, seems like utter lunacy. Open in Battery Park City, on the Lower East Side, in Sheridan Square, you want to tell these delusional owners. Pretty much anywhere else, save perhaps the three square blocks of Little Italy itself, would be more amenable to your charms.
But Pizza Roma (259 Bleecker St., betw. Cornelia & Jones Sts., pizzaromanewyork.com) wouldn’t be swayed. In a whitewashed storefront that looks more like it ought to be selling slightly twee lingerie than pizza, they have staked their claim. And while it may baffle some window shoppers, they have perfected a crust, the owners say, that uses less yeast but is allowed to rise over 96 hours, making it a “healthier alternative” to traditional pizza.
About that I have my doubts—there’s still plenty of olive oil involved, and really, who besides lingerie models chooses pizza for its healthfulness?—but it is a genuine alternative to the others on the block. There is that room, which eschews the traditional pizzeria design tropes of dark wood, arched brick doorways as if to trompe l’oeil you into thinking you’re eating under the aqueducts and a roaring furnace of an oven in a prominent corner that manages to heat the place to inferno-like levels just to prove they’re not secretly microwaving your pie. Pizza Roma, in making the bold choice to not hit you over the head with its Italianness, actually feels Italian.
Rickety wooden chairs and small tables fill the dining room, whose one red brick wall is covered with slightly goofy art, and spiky-branched floral arrangements and miniature topiaries dot the perimeter. French doors open onto a cinder-block terrace in the back, so common to West Village properties and also, fortuitously, reminiscent of a side-street cafe in Rome. It’s not fancy, it’s not designed to within an inch of its life, it’s just clean, airy and charmingly ramshackle—very Italian.
Then there’s the pizza. Healthy or not, the crust is a thrill for those looking for a break from the tyranny of the Neapolitan charred thin crust that has gripped this city. That 96-hour method produces a base layer that’s much breadier, with a light, airy interior; more focaccia-like than any pizza crust you’ve seen in a long time. Toppings also skew different, and the simpler the better; slices of potato and rosemary spikes were a rich, earthy compliment to the yeasty chew of the crust, while a pizza of the day of whole green olives and deliciously wrinkled roasted cherry tomatoes added the occasional pop of intense flavor, still allowing the crust to shine through. Less successful are those that fall back into standard pizza territories; anything with a marinara base, which tasted tomato paste-y and one-dimensional, is better left alone.
It’s also provided in square slices, cut to order off long planks that are displayed proudly in a glass case that runs the length of the entranceway. This is what’s known as pizza al taglio, pizza by the cut, in the Roman style. It’s not a new innovation—Pie by the Pound, in the East Village, has been pushing an Americanized, more-is-more version of the technique for years—but the execution, and that crust, makes it stand out. It also, apparently, makes it conducive to franchising opportunities; a Pizza Roma counter has just opened up in Whole Foods’ Bowery location.
Though I still worry for the sanity of Pizza Roma’s owners, who decided their first New York City location (the first Pizza Roma is in Barcelona, though the owners are Italians) should be in the city’s pizza ground zero, they may well have bucked the odds and done the impossible: built an original pizzeria on Bleecker Street
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