The sidewalk in front of Pizzarium, Gabriele Bonci’s world-famous pizza al taglio (by the slice) joint, is always swarmed. Workers on lunch breaks, food tour groups, and pizza aficionados jockey for space at the few high-top tables on the street, hunched over thick, crispy-bottomed, topping-laden slices served on wooden boards. Inside, a long display case shows off more than a dozen pies waiting to be sliced, weighed, and re-warmed in a Castelli-brand electric oven custom-built across town in Pigneto.
Pizzarium may be reliably busy today, but it wasn’t always. Bonci, a chef-turned-baker, opened his shop in 2003 on a residential street a few blocks north of the Vatican walls. At the time, his experimental dough made with stone-milled heirloom wheats and fresh, seasonal toppings — with combinations like fresh sheep’s milk ricotta with zucchini slices, black pepper, and lemon zest — were a radical departure from the city’s signature pizza al taglio, usually made with cheap, commodity ingredients.
“For me, using anonymous ingredients was never an option,” says Bonci, whose pizza in teglia — a variety of pizza al taglio that’s baked in rectangular cast-iron pans — feature high-quality flours and organic toppings. “Food should be nourishing,” he says, “and industrial flours are stripped of their bran and germ, so that means their nutrition and flavor, too.” His groundbreaking dough is fermented slowly in the refrigerator for several days, resulting in a final product that’s light, flavorful, and thought to be easier to digest.
At first, Bonci’s chef-driven approach to a ubiquitous fast food was mostly viewed with suspicion. But the pizza spoke for itself, and now, a decade and a half after opening, Pizzarium is an institution, with two Bonci-brand bakeries in Rome and two in Chicago.
Pizzarium is just the highest-profile example of what’s become a recent revolution in Roman pizza-making. Over the past couple of decades, a handful of innovators, like Bonci, have been quietly developing new approaches to the city’s classic flatbread, and now, creative pizza-making has reached critical mass. While these “third-wave” pizzaiolos all have slightly different approaches to their craft, what they share is a focus on sourcing, slow fermentation, and a spirit of experimentation.
At 180g Pizzeria Romana in Centocelle, Jacopo Mercuro and Mirko Rizzo serve round pizze tonde in the style of pizza romana, known for its thin crust and an almost imperceptible cornicione, or raised edge. In accordance with the restaurant’s name, each pie is made from 180 grams of dough, which is stretched by hand before baking. “We wanted to make pizza like it used to be,” says Mercuro, when “the tradition of using good-quality ingredients had been almost lost and finding a really good-quality pizza romana was difficult.” Pies at 180g come garnished with impeccably sourced, mostly local toppings, including simple classics like margherita and marinara as well as modern, Roman cuisine-inspired combinations like tender porchetta and a riff on the favorite local pasta, amatriciana.
“When I started working here, I was encouraged to experiment,” says Luca Pezzetta, a Bonci alumnus and the chef behind the fantastic pizzas at the year-old Roman brewpub L’Osteria di Birra del Borgo. Here, you can get one of Pezzetta’s thick-crusted, pre-sliced pizze tonde with toppings like soft burrata with crunchy toasted hazelnuts. It’s an experiment in temperature and textural contrasts, and a major departure from the oven-baked toppings that are the norm throughout Rome. “I treat the pizza toppings like dishes,” says Pezzetta. “Each one is prepared separately and ‘built’ on top of the crust.”
Along with pizze tonde, Pezzetta also makes solid versions of oblong pizza alla pala, pizza in teglia, and something he calls trrranch — essentially sandwiches made using pizza dough as bread. For these original creations, sheet pan-baked pizza gets stuffed with fillings like salami, cheese, arugula, and artichokes simmered with oil and herbs. The trrranch can be ordered a la carte or as part of a degustazione, or tasting menu, for the table featuring a survey of Pezzetta’s pizza styles, many of which are usually eaten at takeout joints, on the fly. “Pizza in teglia is normally a fast food, but people really respond to eating it seated at a table with service,” Pezzetta says.
Once a fringe phenomenon, pizza a degustazione has now gone mainstream. Traditionally, round Roman pizzas are considered personal pies, served whole and meant to be consumed by one diner. The concept of sharing pizza was introduced to Rome just over a decade ago by Edoardo Papa of the city’s famed In Fucina, where pizzas arrive at the table one at a time, pre-sliced, encouraging diners to try multiple toppings and share. Since then, a number of restaurants have adopted the concept and run with it, the newest of which is Pier Daniele Seu’s recently opened Seu Pizza Illuminati in southern Trastevere. In addition to the classic styles like margherita, marinara, and diavola, Seu offers a couple dozen seasonal pizzas featuring toppings like blue cheese with pears, walnuts, and cocoa powder, or puntarelle with burrata and salted anchovies. Diners can choose to order a la carte, or let Seu guide them through a multi-course pizza tasting.
Unconventional flavors served tasting menu-style would have been considered blasphemous by most Romans a decade ago — but not anymore. “The first time someone visits they might go for the classics,” says Seu, “but once they learn my philosophy and understand and appreciate what I am doing, they won’t go back to the traditional toppings. They’ll go somewhere else for that.”
Pizzarium, Via della Meloria, 43, 00136 Rome
180g Pizzeria Romana, Via Tor de’ Schiavi, 53, 00172 Rome
L’Osteria di Birra del Borgo, Via Silla, 26a, 00192 Rome
In Fucina, Via Giuseppe Lunati, 25/31, 00149 Rome
Seu Pizza Illuminati, Via Angelo Bargoni, 10 - 18, 00153 Rome
And for 20 of Rome’s essential pizzerias, head here.
Katie Parla is a Rome-based cookbook author, food journalist, educator, and culinary guide.