Pizza lovers and aficionados know there are many styles of good pizza, most easily defined by their crusts. There is pizza with a thick, pillowy crust, often generously topped with tomato sauce and meat, which makes a hearty meal. Crisp, cracker-like crust (often referred to as California-style) tends to serve, thanks to logistics, as a vehicle for more modestly portioned toppings. And there are crusts that are lightly charred on the bottom but soft and pliable on top, making them easy to fold and eat on the run, as New Yorkers are wont to do. It can be argued that great pizza of any type can be cooked in an oven fired by gas, coal, or wood.
One step into La Rosa, and you can guess the style of pizza you’re in store for. The décor of the space, which started long ago as a bakery and soda fountain and later became Modern Pizza, tells the story: walls of classic white subway tiles lined with black grout, a 1924 Petersen oven, rustic oak banquettes, and a combination of red-vinyl-cushioned and industrial-metal seating has us pumped for the New York-style crust and toppings of our childhood.
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Co-owners Matt DiGesu, originally of the Bronx, and Brooklynite (and CIA grad) Frank Pinello have impressive pizza cred. Pinello created critically acclaimed Best Pizza in Williamsburg — also in a former, century-old bakery — and hosts Viceland’s The Pizza Show. DiGesu, who grew up in Tuckahoe, worked at several renowned pizzerias on both coasts (including Best) before teaming up with Pinello to open La Rosa. Their experience and knowledge serves diners well.
The well-charred crusts were generally crispy on the bottom and just pliable enough to fold: They often lent smoky depth of flavor to the pizzas. At times, though, the char went too far and could more aptly be described as burned. By and large, it is a trade-off we’re willing to make: the occasional burnt spots for a crust that hits the sweet spot between crispy and soft.
The white pizza, with ricotta, pecorino, caramelized onions, and sesame seeds, knocked our socks off with its balance of rich creaminess, saltiness, the sweet hit of the onions and the earthy, toasty crunch of sesame seeds. Oddly, the onions were not evenly distributed, which meant one person ate a slice with barely any, and the next had mouthfuls. We moved things around a bit to give everyone a more even experience.
The same was true with the tasty and similarly unevenly distributed meatballs. One slice had five pieces of the well-seasoned, savory Pat LaFrieda meat, while another slice had only a bit. It was well worth making the small adjustment at the table.
We didn’t have that issue with our half-Margherita/half-anchovy pie. We’d go back for that Margherita pizza, for sure. But despite our deep, meaningful love for anchovy pizza, we won’t order it at La Rosa again: It was too salty even for us.
The meatball side dish suffered the same ill fate. While the meatballs on the pizza were beautifully seasoned, somehow, in a side dish, they were so salty as to verge on inedible. In another side dish, charred broccolini were topped with garlic breadcrumbs and bits of salami. It, too, was on the salty side, though the crunch and fresh green flavor of the broccolini helped offset it.
House mozzarella is well worth sharing. It has a lovely, buttery, creamy flavor, though some objected to the chewy texture. The one dessert, tiramisù, is also perfect for sharing and well worth saving room for.
Most of the servers at La Rosa are young kids who seemingly do not have much experience. But hiccups in service at a pizzeria are okay with us. La Rosa has good food, excellent prices, and the potential to be the neighborhood place that is the perfect dinner solution time after time.
Pizzeria La Rosa
12 Russell Ave, New Rochelle
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Marge Perry and David Bonom are food writers and co-authors of the upcoming cookbook Hero Dinners: Complete One-Pan Meals that Save the Day. Their work appears regularly in Rachael Ray Every Day, Fine Cooking, AllRecipes, Newsday, and many other publications, as well as on their blog, A Sweet and Savory Life. Follow them on Instagram at @herodinners and on Facebook at @MargePerryandDavidBonom