According to chef Vytauras Sasnauskas, “the next big thing in pizza” is Roman-style. He should know: as the man behind a pair of Citizen Pie
pizzerias, he was an early champion of “the last big thing in pizza:” wood-fired Neapolitan-style pie.
“Four or five years ago, everybody was talking about Neapolitan-style pizza,” he explains. “Now, everybody is talking about Roman-style pizza. This style of pizza has been on my mind for years.”
When Citizen Pie Roman Café opens this spring in the current home of Erie Island Coffee (2057 E. Fourth St.) it will, at least according to its owner, be the first of its kind in the state. Modeled after the popular Rome-based eatery Bonci, which now has multiple locations in Chicago and New Orleans, the café will specialize in Roman-style Pizza al Taglio.
Lest you think that this is all just a bit of hair-splitting and bluster in terms of pizza variations, Sasnauskas is here to set the record straight.
“Roman-style pizza is a totally different animal,” he asserts.
It starts with a super-hydrated dough that is cold-fermented for 48 to 96 hours, which produces an airy, low-gluten crumb. The pizza is baked in long rectangular pans in special dual-temperature ovens that treat the tops and bottoms of the pie differently, resulting in a thin, crispy bottom.
“It is focaccia-ish, but it’s not bready at all,” adds the chef. “It’s light as a cloud and you can eat a ton of it.”
Also different is the style of the operation, which is more akin to a fast-casual eatery than neighborhood pizzeria. The pies are formed, topped and baked in advance, with typical shops offering a colorful assortment of varieties ready to go. Portions are cut from the lengthy pies with scissors, priced per pound and, if desired, popped back into the oven for under a minute to reheat.
The plan is to offer about seven daily pizzas, which are replenished throughout the day. Those pies will range from traditional to creative and seasonal in terms of toppings.
Despite his years as lead baker for a scratch pizza business, Sasnauskas knows his limits. This is a totally different animal, as he says, requiring a completely different methodology. Thus, he is sending himself to pizza school at the well-regarded Roman Pizza Academy in Miami, led by Massimiliano Saieva.
In preparation for the changeover, Erie Island Coffee will close on February 9, but the neighborhood will not be without coffee for long. When Citizen Pie Roman Café opens sometime this spring, it will be in partnership with Six Shooter Coffee
, so the espressos, Americanos, lattes and cappuccinos will continue to flow. Other beverages will include cold-brew coffee on tap along with a limited beer and wine selection. Other coffee shop-type food items like grab-and-go pastries, salads and sandwiches might also make an appearance.
Many in the neighborhood are looking at this arrangement as a win-win, reports Ari Maron of MRN Ltd., developer behind E. Fourth St.
“We don’t have pizza,” he says. “We’re bringing probably the best pizza operator in the city to this great restaurant row. And the move also keeps really high quality coffee products in the neighborhood, which was really important for our residents.”
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