53 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa, CA 95404; (map); 707-544-3221; rossopizzeria.com
Pizza style: Neapolitan-inspired
Oven type: Wood-fired
The skinny: A blistered, flavorful—if slightly tough—cornicione surrounds an array of toppings that includes a spaghetti and meatball pie. Yep, you're reading that correctly—and it's actually quite good.
Price: Pies, $12.25 to $17
Refer to Rosso Pizzeria's website, and you get an image of another one of those Bay Area restaurants that takes its food darn seriously, with fresh-local ingredients and an artisanal, slow food approach to cooking. Nothing better exemplifies this than their spaghetti and meatball pizza.
OK, yes, Rosso does serve a pizza with spaghetti and meatballs on top, and I promise to tell you about it in a second (it's good!). But don't let it distract you from the whole of what this pizzeria has to offer. Because I did mean it when I said that the folks at Rosso take their pizza-craft quite seriously.
Here, I'll prove it. Pizzas cook in a wood-burning Valoriani oven stoked with White Oak and Almond. At 800-degrees, it takes about 90 seconds for pies to reach readiness.
Neapolitan-inspired, the crust at Rosso shows off plenty of leopard spots and tastes like it looks, a mouthful of tangy flavor. Phenomenally chewy, my complaint would be that the cornicione gets almost crusty in spots, becoming a bit tough.
The folks at Rosso make their Margherita with house-made mozzarella and mild-yet-bright 7/11 Ground Tomatoes. It can be hard to identify the individual flavors of these ingredients because of a sometimes heavy hand with the chopped basil, and a scattering of thin-sliced garlic beneath the sauce. But if the final product lacked the elemental bread-sauce-crust flavors that I typically associate with a Margherita, it did taste good.
The staff at Rosso all wear shirts instructing customers to, "Support local produce," and so when our waiter encouraged us to order the daily special pie that had been topped with sausage made from a pig purchased at the local Sonoma County Fair, we took his advice. Actually, this proved my least favorite pie of the day. Despite the addition of mushrooms and green onions, the sausage lacked the necessary hit of fennel or spice to make it stand out.
At last, we come to the spaghetti and meatball pie, playfully called the Goomba in Rosso's menu. Do I relinquish my pizza-phile credentials if I admit it was my favorite pie of the night? I had envisioned a pie topped with a bee-hive of spaghetti, Lady and the Tramp-style, but thankfully only a smattering of strands graced the surface of the pie. More importantly, the pasta remained just a touch al dente, meaning it had not collapsed into a puddle of starch on top of my pizza. The little meatball chunks had been spiked with some of the heat that the sausage on my previous pie had lacked, and their stint in the oven allowed them to develop a few enjoyably crusty edges. Ultimately, this pie ate like, well, an incredibly comforting plate of spaghetti and meatballs, but with the bonus of a tangy-crisp pizza crust around the edges. Far from traditional, but tasty nonetheless.
I don't expect to convince the purists out there of the wisdom of Rosso's spaghetti and meatball pizza. Our own Ed Levine expressed some doubts when he heard about it. But if you can loosen your pizza standards for just a minute, it may just surprise you. Otherwise, on the flavorful crust, many of the more traditional toppings will make for a very nice pizza.