"The pies here have the synergy that all great pizza attains."
Da Baffeto II
Piazza del Teatro di Pompeo, 18 00186 - Rome; (map); 0668210807; pizzeriabaffetto.it
Pizza Style: Roman
Oven Type: Wood
The Skinny? Skinny is right! The pizza here is vanishingly thin—a perfect example of the Roman style pie.
Price: Individual pizza €5 - €8.
There are two particularly unrealistic expectations, amongst the multitude of unrealistic expectations, that tourists have when traveling. First, that they can somehow get a more "authentic" experience by dining "where the locals dine" which is, of course, impossible. As soon as a tourist sets foot in place it ceases to be where the locals dine and becomes something else. The better the place the quicker this happens. The second one being that the believe they will receive the same level of service and deference that they get back at home. While one would think these two notions—the possibility of assimilation and the desire to be treated deferentially—are diametrically opposed, they nevertheless seem to exist in tandem. As I said, they are unrealistic expectations. I mention all this because it is something I witness quite often when traveling, no more so than at Da Baffeto in Rome.
There are two Da Baffeto's these days. The original, only open at night, is tucked away in a narrow side street and gets packed from their six o'clock opening onwards. Expect long lines, gruff service, and great Roman style pizza. I can't emphasize these points strongly enough. If you want the "authenticity" of the original then you need to go here. Of course Da Baffeto is so popular that it long ago stopped being a place where only locals would go. Your neighbors at the cramped tables are more likely to be tourists than Romans.
If you don't care so much about the experience of eating at the original location and want to save yourself a lot of time and aggravation you might try Da Baffeto II instead. Unlike the original it is open during the day and you can usually get a table with no wait at all. The pizza is a virtual clone of the original, using the same ingredients and an identical wood-fired oven. The service is not as harried, but it is also not as doting as some might like or expect. Respect the "when in Rome" adage and you will do fine.
The pizza at Da Baffeto is vanishingly thin, the thinnest I have ever had. It is crispy to a degree, especially around the outer circumference, but it warps and deforms under the torrent of cheese and sauce. The molten cheese swirls and churns on the top of the pie and appears like a stormy sea. Yet the crust never becomes soggy and does an admirable job of remaining intact. And it is not that the toppings are so out of balance with the crust either, it's that the cheese and sauce form such an amorphous mass and the crust is so thin that a knife and fork are required for all but the smallest of slices.
The pies are served on metal dishes whose diameter is slightly less than that of the pizza. The pies will consequently flop over the edge of the plate like the brim of a beach hat. The two pizzas I sampled had significant portions of the cornicione that were completely burnt. But because the crust was so thin, it did not impart any acridity, just a pleasing snap. It was literally burnt to a crisp. I wondered if my taking a picture of the oven while the pizza was cooking might have delayed the pizzaiolo long enough to stop him turning my pies, resulting in the burnt crust, but I noticed it on another pie later on so I guess it is a fairly common occurrence. Soot happens.
The cheese, despite being the dominant textural component, still allows the sweet sauce and crust to have their say due to its milky mildness. And in terms of flavor profile everything is well-balanced despite the visual disparity between the top and bottom. The pies here have the synergy that all great pizza attains.
I had both a plain pie and one topped with salami. The plain pie really didn't want for toppings—It was a model of aesthetic purity without them—but the gamy, salty jolt from the sausage added its own joys. I wish more pizzerias in the States would use good quality salami rather than the generic, effete pepperoni that is so common place. I am not sure I would recommend too many additional toppings at Da Baffeto, the pies being so thin.
If you don't mind that the pizza a Da Bafetto II is not the original, "authentic" location, and dining there is probably not quite the celebrity studded scene as at the original, then you can save yourself a lot of time and go during the day. You will be rewarded with as fine an example of the Roman style pie as I think you will find. Sure, you'll be exposing yourself as a tourist, but let's face it—it's probably pretty obvious anyway. At least you can be authentic about that.