The Trapizzino, one of Rome’s most popular street foods, made its New York City debut on Wednesday on the Lower East Side. It’s essentially a pizza pocket sandwich, but instead of being filled with tomato sauce and melted cheese, it’s filled with classic Roman dishes — ones that typically take hours and hours to make.
Pizzaiolo Stefano Callegari turned a novelty item into an essential street food of the city with the trapizzino, partly a result of the item’s ties to Roman history and partly a result of its affordability. Two stateside restaurateurs, Luca Vicenzini and Nick Hatsatouris, fell in love with it and convinced Callegari to partner on introducing it to New Yorkers, too.
Here, the new restaurant at 144 Orchard St. aims to show locals a taste of Italian culture, where “food is something like religion,” Callegari says. Like the locations in Italy, the New York outpost fills pizza bianca with traditional dishes that aren’t usually found in fast-casual settings. Many of the recipes are labor intensive, meaning most people don’t eat them unless they go home to their grandmothers or go to a pricier full-service restaurant. Trapizzino allows people to try them all in one, inexpensive shot. “What goes in it tells you a story,” Callegari says. “It tells you the history of Roman food.”
Below, Callegari and his business partner in Rome, Paul Pansera talk about what the fillings of three different trapizzino means to them, and to Roman history.
Coda alla Vaccinara
Coda alla vaccinara — Piedmontese oxtail, celery and red wine— harkens from a time when oxtail would be a leftover part of the cow given to the poor for free, particularly people who use to work with skin to turn it into leather, Callegari says. The meat starts out tough and it takes the braising to turn it into a more palatable entree. “They invented these recipes with celery,” he says. “It gives a sweet, fresh touch to the recipe, along with tomato sauce and oil.”
The beef shoulder-based dish is more traditional to Genoa, a city along the coast of northwest Italy. It’s a whiter ragu where the sauce is made out a little bit of beef and lots of onions, slow cooked for hours until many of the onions disappear into creaminess.
At Trapizzino, it’s cooked for four or five hours, with red onions added three different times in the process. The first round of onions end up dissolving into the cream sauce, the second is slightly less creamy, and the third maintains some of the soft, onion texture. It’s topped with parmesan.
In Genoa, the dish rose out of needing to feed a lot of people with a small amount of meat. Genovese was the solution, where the beef flavor could be in every bite but the cheaper ingredient, onion, could provide the bulk of the dish. “It’s an old, traditional dish,” Pansera says.
Carciofi alla Romana
Artichokes are a staple of Roman cuisine, grown in a nearby town of Ladispoli. They can be found in nearly every restaurant during artichoke season, and once a year, Ladispoli throws a festival to celebrate the vegetable.
Carciofi alla Romana is the classic Roman style of cooking the artichoke. Trapizzino chefs cook the artichoke upside down with white wine, fresh mint, garlic, water, oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper, then it’s covered with some paper to steam it. “Old grandmothers used to do this,” Pansera says. “The paper gets wet. The steam can’t go straight away, and there is some pressure inside,” Callegari adds.
Trapizzino will offer eight different kinds of trapizzini each day, out of 14 total options. The restaurant will also offer suppli, rice balls with fillings like guanciale and butternut squash. Each trapizzino costs $6 and each suppli costs $3.
All of the dishes that fill the trapizzino are based on recipes from Callegari’s grandmother and the friends’ grandmothers who cook well. “When you have these old-fashioned recipes, it’s our culture,” Callegari says. “You can learn something. I think that’s got a strong power.”
Take a look at the space and full menu below, and let us know what you think if you stop by.