Man on the Street: “When in Rome”

There’s no such thing as Italian pizza. Allow me to clarify: there is no single Italian style of pizza. That would be like saying there’s only one style in the United States. Instead, there’s a patchwork of variations based on different regional histories and ingredient availability. We’re already familiar with Neapolitan pizza, but New York is currently experiencing a surge of Roman-style pizza that may prove to be a perfect complement.

Two distinct Roman pizza styles have gained popularity over the past few years, the first of which is called pizza al metro. As the name describes, pizzas are a full meter long. In Rome, slices are cut to order and priced according to weight. Pizza al metro in NYC is usually cut into even slices at pizzerias like Merilu Pizza Al Metro (located in Hell’s Kitchen), but Pie by the Pound (Greenwich Village) serves the traditional Roman method. The dough is rolled extremely thin and topped delicately with simple ingredients. I always go for combinations like cherry tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala or potato and rosemary, but they also have popular standbys such as Margherita and pepperoni for the less adventurous.

The second version is called pizza al taglio, or “pizza by the cut.” This one is also rectangular with a thickness somewhere between pizza al metro and Sicilian pizza. Like its thinner Roman counterpart, pizza al taglio is usually cut with scissors and reheated to order. The owner of Pizza Roma on Bleecker Street stresses the fact that pizza al taglio utilizes a very wet dough to combat dehydration experienced during the reheat process. The dough at Pizza Roma is allowed to ferment for 96 hours so the base is extremely light and flavorful, with a beautiful crunch on the underside.

Both varieties are traditionally baked in electric ovens because natural gas is far too expensive in Rome. It also allows for an extremely consistent bake over the exaggerated length of the pizzas. Pizza al metro is usually baked directly on the oven floor, whereas the thicker pizza al taglio is baked in shallow pans. Most pizzerias I’ve seen serving Roman pizza are doing so exclusively, with the exception of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco, where you can get Roman-style pizza al metro in a sit-down atmosphere. Tony makes use of the pizza’s length by creating a cohesive three-course meal, including antipasto, entrée and dessert sections. It’s a deliciously ingenious way to adapt the style to a tableside format.

If you like the upscale, artisanal nature of Neapolitan pizza, think of Roman pizza al metro and pizza al taglio as its by-the-slice counterparts. Slices usually sell for $3 to $5 and pair well with wine and beer. There’s also lots of opportunity for topping experimentation because the Roman formats are too new to America to be stuck in stifling traditions like New York slices. We’re only just beginning to see Roman pizza bubble up in the streets of New York, but keep your eyes peeled because it has the potential to become the take-away answer to pizza’s ever-growing profile.

Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.