Get in touch with your inner pizzaiola! That’s the challenge printed on the backs of the t-shirts worn by the staff at Pizza Romana, the newish restaurant by Alex Palermo at 615 North La Brea Avenue, formerly Cube Cafe & Marketplace.
“Pizzaiola” means pizza maker. Last week, Emanuele Rizzo, manager of Pizza Romana, ably guided my parents, Anne and Rocci Lombard, on a delicious journey of discovery when he and the staff of Pizza Romana gave us a step-by-step demonstration on how they make their authentic Roman pizza at the restaurant.
A bit of background: Anne and Rocci are first generation Italians who are building an outdoor kitchen with a wood-fired pizza oven…so thanks to Palermo and his staff, this was a timely opportunity to get in touch with their inner pizzaiola and learn how it’s done from the experts.
Palermo, who is committed to bringing the flavors and incredible products of his beloved Italy (where his father was born, and where he spent the first five years of his life) to the broadest possible audience, was game for the special cooking lesson. Palermo’s passion for making Italian food accessible to everyone inspired him to create Divine Pasta (which occupied the same space before becoming Cube in 2006) when he was still in college 23 years ago.
Pizza Romana, with its fast, casual concept is a reflection of that. Everything is priced very affordably, including the wines. The staff and the space create a neighborhood place where people can go on a casual date, bring the family in for pizza, or grab a quick late night bite or solo lunch without it feeling like it an occasion. Or, stop in for a lesson on how to make pizza!
Starting with the highly elastic dough, imported from Italy and fermented for 24 hours in the traditional Roman style, the pizzaiola stretches it out with his hands and then drapes it over a stainless steel bowl, creating a uniform size that fits perfectly on the wooden peel.
From there, toppings are added since each pizza is made to order. Then it’s gently shaken off the peel and placed into the massive wood fired pizza oven with a circulating platform that allows the pizzaiola to watch the pizza revolve around and periodically lift up the bottom of the crust to make sure it doesn’t burn.
Gas maintains the temperature (approximately 350 degrees Celsius, over 660 degrees Fahrenheit) and wood adds the flavor. They only use almond wood at Pizza Romana. After two revolutions, the pizza is done — about 10 minutes.
Since Anne wanted to add Buffalo Mozzarella to her mushroom pizza, Rizzo removed the pizza from the oven, setting it aside so the mozzarella could be added away from the intense heat, allowing it to gently melt. After the pizza cools, it’s cut with a roller and ready to eat.
The pizza dough tastes pretty amazing and it’s very versatile. Rizzo tells us about something he’s been experimenting with called Pizzelle Napalitano, which he thinks might be a good addition to the restaurant’s reverse Happy Hour menu they launched a few weeks ago. Rizzo is a newly minted Sommelier, having just finished a two-year program in Rome, and coordinates the nightly pairings of Italian wines with pizza and baked pasta entrees inspired by Palermo’s family recipes. The $6 pours are served from 9 pm until closing at 10pm.
Rizzo, who is also Palermo’s second cousin, takes the pizza dough, cuts into quarters and drops it into a deep fat fryer. After five minutes or so, it starts to puff up. When it’s light brown on both sides, he takes it out places the puffed dough on a dish coated with tomato sauce, dusts it with Parmesan cheese, then adds fresh basil and a few slices of Pecorino Romano cheese along side. What could be better than pizza? Fried pizza dough!
The gelato, also imported from Italy, is a perfect ending to lunch – and at $3 a scoop, it’s a bargain too! The flavors change periodically.
There’s lots more than pizza on the menu, including a few items held over from Cube, including Spicy Fried Chicken, Pizza Panino Sandwiches, and seasonal items and sides like the Seasonal Crunch Salad and Roasted Brussels Sprouts with bacon & cippolini.
Looking for an eating adventure? Let me suggest getting in touch with your inner pizzaiolo!
(Special thanks to Allison Schallert of Allison Photo for all the photos.)