Famed Italian pizzaiolo Stefano Callegari — who owns an empire of pizza restaurants and is known for his signature light and crispy pizza crust in the pie-packed Italy — opens his first NYC pizza restaurant in Soho Friday.
While he’s best known in the U.S. as the inventor of the street food sensation the trapizzino, he opened his first pizzeria in Rome in 2005 and is now running eight restaurants around the world. With the new La Rossa, Callegari is bringing his global pizza company to the U.S., opening a traditional Roman pizzeria with a focus on 12-inch round pies. Like his trapizzino, these flagship pies creatively reimagine Roman dishes as pizzas.
One of those signature pies is a cacio e pepe pizza. Callegari explains that he wanted to figure out a way to really replicate the sauce for cacio e pepe, the popular pasta made made with pecorino and black pepper and then mixed with pasta water. The starch from the pasta water helps blend the cheese, creating a creamy consistency, but getting that same creaminess for a pizza required finagling.
After trying several different techniques, Callegari tried cooking the dough with ice cubes resting on top. This did the trick. The melting ice forms wet, light pockets that, when topped with the pecorino and black pepper, melds together much like the sauce for cacio e pepe pasta.
That attention to detail and creativity is also seen in Callegari’s carbonara pizza, which gets topped with a bright yellow sauce made from egg yolk and pecorino. The crust on his round pizzas appears similar to a Neapolitan style, and Callegari indeed says that even though La Rossa is a Roman pizzeria, his pizza-making is informed by some of the time he spent in Naples.
“It’s actually not Neapolitan pizza though,” he says. “I bake my pizza in a different way...I try to make the texture a little bit more crunchy and light.” The crust, which Callegari is known for in his home country, is crisp on the outside and airy inside, made from flours imported from Padua, Italy.
While these round pies will be the main focus at La Rossa, Callegari will also serve pizza quadratta from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., square slices commonly found in Rome. During the day, these slices, which are similar to the Roman al taglio slices found at new Upper East Side pizzeria PQR, will sit in a glass case in front of the restaurant’s open kitchen.
The menu might not have trappizino, but street food won’t be completely absent. Callegari will serve suppli, a fried rice ball snack. Here, there are three different versions made with carnaroli rice. One channels the very simple pasta dish spaghetti aio e oio, made with garlic and olive oil, while another mimics amatriciano pasta sauce, filled with guanicale, tomatoes, pecorino, and black pepper. A third suppli is filled with zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, and red peppers.
Located in a bright corner space in Soho, at 267 Lafayette St. at Prince Street, La Rossa’s design is simple and modern, with glass pendant lights hanging above the open kitchen. There’s table seating for 22 indoors and a 12-seat sidewalk patio that will open in the spring. A beer and wine menu will be available. While it has a casual aesthetic, La Rossa will be a sit-down pizzeria that also offers takeout options.
Callegari faces a competitive market with his new restaurant. The first U.S. restaurant Callegari was involved in was Trapizzino, which he partnered on with stateside restaurateurs Luca Vicenzini and Nick Hatsatouris after the two fell in love with the Italian pizzaiolo’s pizza pockets. That fast-casual spot, however, didn’t quite catch on, and the owners flipped it into more of a wine bar. And despite NYC’s obsession for pizza, it can still be tough to break through as an outsider. Gino Sorbillo, arguably Italy’s most famous pizzamaker, has gotten middling reviews for his attempt in New York.
Still, Callegari is betting on La Rossa, and Roman fare has been getting more and more popular. In addition to opening in NYC, Callegari will open a second location of La Rossa in Miami next year, expanding his U.S. presence.
“My work is to take all the family food we have eaten in Italy and translate it into pizza and suppli,” he says.
La Rossa will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. It opens Friday.