TEXAS MONTHLY 2009
How To Eat Well In Hard Times
Pizza may be the most prefect budget food ever to walk the earth, and when I think of my favorite cheap pies in Texas, the Tomato Duet immediately springs to mind. Winey sun-dried tomatoes supply the base notes; fresh tomato slices chime in at a higher register. Rounding out the tomato fest are dollops of melty feta and mozzarella, a scattering of fresh basil leaves, an liberal sprinkles of dried oregano. A blizzard of sesame seeds supplies crunch; a quick drizzle of olive oil binds the flavors together. At eight inches in diameter, the individual size makes a nice vegetarian meal.
READERS CHOICE AWARDS 2006
1st Place - Best Local Pizza
Gus Nassar, owner of Rome's Pizza views his business the way a painter sees a canvas.
"Fine food is a mixture of flavors. A chef is like a painter. He has basic colors. Most recipes are kind of a variation of a classic recipe," he said.
And what variations there are at the restaurant that won Readers' Choice for best local pizza. All of Nassar's recipes are his own creation. A few of his gourmet pizzas are the Mediterranean Greek Pizza with gyro strips (savory strips of meat) and feta cheeses; a Rosemary Garlic Duo with mozzarella, , smoked and fresh garlic, peanuts and rosemary; and the White House with mozzarella, red onion, garlic, basil and olive oil.
Vegetarians who discover Romes believe they have stumbled upon paradise. Nassar's culinary skills have earned laurels, not merely locally, but nationally and internationally. He beat out 42 other pizza chefs to win the Southwest Regional Pizza Championship in Houston. He won second place in the nationwide competition in New York, and just returned from Italy, where he competed against the best pizza chefs in the world.
Nassar has been involved with food and beverage service since he was 18. He refined his culinary art in finding restaurants such as the Plaza Club and the Dominion Country Club.
Born in Damascus, Syria, Nassar came to the United States in 1978. He has a degree in business administration and market management from Our Lady of the Lake University, where he minored in economics and psychology.
"I guess all of that fits together somehow," he said. "I don't know if those studies contributed to my success, but I would think so. When you go to college, it opens your mind up."
In addition to the original Rome's Pizza at 5999 De Zavala Road, Nassar owns a second location at 300 W. Bitters Road, and within the year he plans to open a third restaurant in San Antonio and one in Austin.
PIZZA MASTER EYEING WORLD TITLE
Who makes the best pizza in the country?
Of course, a New Yorker would say it's Ray's (and then argue about which Ray's they mean) and Chicagoans would debate among Gino's East, Giordano's or Lou Malnatti's. But San Antonio's own Gus Nassar, owner of Rome's Pizza on De Zavala Road, is now a contender for that title. After all, he's a member of the 2006 U.S. Pizza Team that will travel to Italy to take on the best in the world. In a competition in New York earlier this month, he took second place in the nation in the Best Pizza category with his Millennium 3 pizza. His recipe includes pesto and mozzarella, with roasted rosemary potatoes, sauteed spinach and marinated grilled chicken breast. It's then topped with Gorgonzola cheese. He introduced it at the beginning of the millennium. The world pizza competition takes place in April.
A natural choice Here's well-deserved honor. Methodist Healthcare Ministries in honoring District. Judge John Specia Jr. as Child Advocate of the Year. He's receiving the award the program's sixth annual Parenting Banquet.
Big start You know an organization has a lot of support when its first lunch brings out some of the biggest names in business and government. The Adelante Fund, which works to bring more Hispanic young people into college and the corporate world, honored philanthropist and business-man Bruce Flohr, Our Lady of the Lake University President Tessa Martinez Pollack and basketball legend and philanthropist David Robinson. The luncheon nearly filled the SBC Community Center, across from City Hall. If you're not familiar with the organization, it awards scholarships to college juniors and seniors, helps match them with business internships and puts them through a leadership training program.
Funding One of Wednesday's honorees, Flohr, received his award for helping to bring the new arts fund into the city. Yes, the Fund, which works like a United Way for the arts. He noted that it's still early in its development, but the next camping begins in February.
Best pizza Rome's Pizza, 5999 De Zavala Road and 300 W. Bitters Road, defeated about 42 other pizzerias to win the Southwest Regional Pizza Championship in Houston. Owner Gus Nassar said his restaurant scored the best comments because of its crust, but you can't discount the toppings, either. He entered this Millenium.3 pizza, which starts with a layer of pesto and mozzarella over the crust. Oven roasted rosemary potatoes, sauteed spinach and marinated grilled chicken breast are then added before the whole pie is crowned with gorgonzola cheese. "We introduced that when we started the millennium," he says." It's really one of the popular pizzas." Many of the other contestant also used pesto and other gourmet toppings, Nassar says, so coming out on top was "wonderful, wonderful." Rome's Pizza will next compete in the Alamo Pizza Centennial, set for October. Te winner of that will go to New York for the American Pizza Championship, set for Italy.
Creative combos make Rome's Pizza a winner
Slivers of rib eye, topped with an ample spray of freshly crushed black pepper, and red onion matched with mozzarella. Chunks of tender chicken with artichoke hearts, mushroom and capers, parsley and Parmesan cheese.
With choices like these, how is it that anyone can make a choice among the toppings at Rome's Pizza?
Just reading the menu sends my taste buds into overdrive and my expectations soaring. That, of course, is what the good people at Rome's want to have happen, because the greater the variety and the more inventive the combination of toppings, the more customers keep coming back for more.
There were certainly no complaints about the toppings on the Four Tenors, a blend of provolone, gorgonzola, mozzarella, and ricotta, with a few pine nuts and tarragon tossed in for good measure. Though we debated trying the Rosemary Garlic Duo, with both fresh and roasted-smoked garlic, and the Mediterranean Greek Pizza with its gyro strips, in favor of my old standbys, we ended up with two old favorites, the Pesto Street, with artichokes hearts and Kalamata olives in a pesto sauce, as well as the simple, salty brilliance of anchovy with black olives. Those toppings were so good they made me overlook the too-thick crust, which is one of the few drawbacks I have when it comes to Rome's. There are certainly no complaints about fresh salads, such as the Greek with its lively blends of feta, olives and pepperoni with an oregano-packed vinaigrette. That also applies to the reliable Mediterranean favorites, such as the hummus, falafel or gyro.
One of these days, I may even get around to trying the calzone, pasta, stromboli and subs that fill out the menu, but until then, another slice of Pesto Street pizza will suit me just fine.
WHEN AT ROME'S, EAT FOR SIX
Eat For Six
Put down the Ramen noodles and the Spaghetti-O's. If you are one of those who doesn't like to cook, or doesn't know how, you either have the option of eating out or consuming whatever junk food you can find in your pantry. The problem with eating out is you go thinking you are going to spend $7, but by the time you leave you're out $14 bucks. The solution: A sit-down restaurant with delicious food and a relaxed atmosphere; a place you can go and kick back with friends without spending a forutne.
Rome's Pizza is the place
Located right around the corner from UTSA at 5999 De Zavala, Rome's offers a wonderful selection of salads, calzones, pastas, sandwiches, and of course, pizza. With palatable prices and a relaxed mediterranean atmosphere, Rome's should be a delicious hit.
WHEN IN ROME'S
Put the days of gluttony behind you and eat like a vegetarian.
For children, birthday celebrations and pizza parties go hand-in-hand, but the culinary quality of the meal tends to be lost amid the noisy clatter of the latest arcade games and kids hopped up on caffeinated soft drinks. Fun but frantic. To celebrate my friends' birthday we opted instead to try Rome's Pizza, and unassuming but far-from-pedestrian Italian and Mediterranean joint nestled among a day care center and dance studio in a North Side strip mall near I-10 West and DeZavala.
On a previous visit, I passed up their namesake pizza, pasta, and calzones, and went straight to their falafel sandwich - listed under their Mediterranean specialties - not knowing what to expect. Very few places in San Antonio can consistently get this Lebanese/Middle Eastern standard right, a simpe combination of fried garbanzo beans, onions, parsley, and spices. I had such a terrible experience with the last falafel I ordered in town, I came into Rome's with skepticism and diminished expectations.
Initially, I balked at the price ($5.10; add $.80 for humus), but my attitude soon changed when my order arrived. Rome's falafel sandwich is easily twice the size of most, and provided enough of a meal for dinner and lunch the next day - or a late-night snack at the very least. The hot, crisp patties held up against the adornments (lettuce, tomato, tzatziki, and tahini), retaining their texture and flavor even after they had cooled. So far, so good, and certainly worth a return for the sandwich alone.
But birthday celebrations require birthday food, so for my second visit we dove into Rome's ample pizza menu. After salivating over their list of toppings - in addition to the standard tomato sauce-based pies, they offer a pesto base and several dishes which forgo sauce altogether, with toppings running the gamut from the usual (mushrooms, olives, onions) to the gourmet (sundried tomatoes , feta, eggplant) to the unexpected (chick peas, raisins, capers) - we ordered their Pesto Street and Rosemary Garlic Duo pizzas.
The birthday boy suggested the Rosemary Garlic Duo, a sauce-free disk of mozzarella, roasted garlic, pine nuts, and rosemary atop a lightly sweetened crust. Obviously this is his personal favorite: " How the mighty have fallen," I joked to this oncestrict vegan after watching him bite into the thick layer of cheese, and he remained true to the Duo except for a slice of the Pesto Street. On the other hand, I felt disappointed after my first slice, less so after the second. When I commented on the dryness of the dish, my companions concurred, but noted that it usually had more life, or perhaps a healthy layer of olive oil. I had no complaints with the roasted garlic but, ajo lover that I am, I could always go for more. The dried rosemary was muted, almost unnoticeable (although being such a strong spice it's easy for it to overpower the rest of the dish). Since it's such a plentiful native plant, why not go fresh?
Fortunately, our other selection saved the day. As the name implies, Rome's replaces the tomato sauce on the Pesto Street with a light, basil-tinged, pesto base, topped with hearty layer of melted mozzarella, artichoke hearts, calamata olives, and sliced tomatoes. With its light, crispy crust and full-bodied flavor, this pizza was the hands-down favorite of the rest of our party, and a joy to eat. Rather than take home leftovers we picked apart the much coveted last slice: crust, toppings, and what remained of the cheese-and-pesto combination.
We could have ordered four or five of the personal-size-pizzas or brought in a larger crowd to sample some of their other dishes. The White House, a simple-sounding bed of mozzarella with red onions, garlic, basil, and olive oil, sounds tempting, as does their Tomato Duet, built on a layer of sliced tomatoes (instead of sauce) with feta amd sundried tomatoes among toppings. The eggplant parmesan also was recommended by my companions, both regulars. Unfinished business, to be sure, with or without a cumpleaÃ±os birthday.
ROME'S ADDS SHRIMP SCAMPI TO PIZZA
Dear Pat: I am a big fan of Rome's Pizza. Many of their toppings are very unusual and incredibly good! (They have all the old favorites, too.) I'm hoping they will share the recipe for one of my newest favorites, the Shrimp Scampi Pizza. Thanks. G.S.
Dear G.S.: A round of pizza dough can be likened to an artist's blank canvas, and Rome's Pizza owners Gus and Randa Nassar's palette is chock-full of creative ideas. In the case of the Shrimp Scampi Pizza, they take inspiration first from their native Eastern Mediterranean roots with the addition of a spice blend called za'atar that's sprinkled on the crust. Za'atar is comprised of varying spices and herbs, most often including sesame seeds, thyme and sumac. The thyme-ladden green za'atar adds an intriguing, assertive flavor to the crust. (You could stop right there and have a wonderful flat bread to accompany dinner.) Nonetheless, further creativity is brought to bear with the topping for this pizza. Inspired by the popular dish of large shrimp sautÃ©ed with garlic, parsley and lemon, and with the welcome addition of piquant capers, the Shrimp Scampi Pizza is an adventure "outside the box" - a trip well worth taking. Rome's Shrimp
Scampi Pizza Ingredients Crust:
- 1 (12-inch) pizza crust, uncooked (purchased, or your own favorite recipe)
- 1 tablespoon green za'atar (or zahtar, an herbal mix containing lots of thyme - see Note)
- 1 cups diced or shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 5 ounces (or 20 medium) cooked cold shrimp, peeled and tail removed
- 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon dry parsley
- 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese 1 tablespoon lemon pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Place a pizza stone (if available) on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat oven to 550 degrees (or as high as your oven will go). To flavor the crust, mist the crust with water, then sprinkle the za'atar evenly over the entire surface, ensuring that the crust is fully covered with the herbs. Place the crust on a semolina or flour-dusted wooden peel or a heavy cookie sheet. Spread the mozzarella evenly, leaving one inch of the outer crust exposed. Sprinkle the capers over the mozzarella, then place the shrimp evenly over the cheese. Distribute the chopped garlic, parsley and Parmesan evenly. Sprinkle the top with lemon pepper, then swirl the olive oil over all. Transfer the pizza from the peel to the pizza stone, or place the cookie sheet on the bottom shelf of the preheated oven. Bake for 12 minutes or until the crust is light brown on the bottom and the topping is hot and bubbly. Remove and serve. Note: Za'atar can be found at Paletta's Imported Foods or Ali Baba International Food Market. Makes 1 (12-inch) pizza, about 4 servings.
NO MATTER HOW YOU SLICE IT
Rome's Pizza Mediterranean Greek Pizza: One of the city's most unusual pizzas is also one of the best. Strips of gyro, Greek peppers, sliced tomatoes and onions and feta and mozzarella cheeses top an earthy crust for a flavor that combines the best of a Greek gyro and Italian pizza. If you're feeling really adventurous Rome's also has a chicken Piccata Pizza topped with artichoke hearts, mushroom slices, capers and sautÃ©ed chicken atop mozzarella and a lemon pepper crust.
TOMATO DUET IS A HIT
Dear Pat: We have discovered the best pizza in town! It's from Rome's Pizza on De Zavala, and actually, there are so many good pizzas to choose from, it's hard to say which one is our family's favorite. We would love to have the recepie for the "Tomato Duet". Could you please ask the chef if he would share his secrets for this great pizza? Thank you. R.S.
Dear R.S.: Pizza surely must be the world's most popular food. The pizza you describe is part of that tradition technically known as "white pizza" (or pizza bianca in Italian) - which simply means pizza without tomato sauce. That title does not preclude the use of fresh or sundried tomatoes, nad it includes a liberal sprinkling of feta cheese along with mozzarella. The chef, Gus Nassar, offers many other innovative pizzas. The "White House" boasts a layer of mozzarella with red onions, fresh garlic, a sprinkle of fresh basil leaves and a splash of olive oil. The Mediterranean Greek Pizza is studded with feta, gyro (svory strips of meat), feta cheese, Greek peppers, tomatoes and onions. The chef also offers other Mediterranean foods. Rome's Pizza,5999 De Zavala Drive, delivers within a limited area,
Rome's Tomato Duet Pizza Recipe Ingedients:
- 1 (12-inch) uncooked pizza crust (use your own favorite recipe, the recipe that follows, or a purchased crust).
- Cornmeal 1 ounces sundried tomatoes (Rome's uses the dry, not the oil-packed tomatoes)
- 1 large fresh tomato (red, firm, but not hard)
- 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 to 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, or as needed
Place pizza crust on a heavy baking sheet that has been liberally sprinkled with cornmeal. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place an oven rack on the center level. If you have a pizza stone, set it on the center rack to heat.
To rehydrate the sundried tomatoes, place in a small bowl, and cover with bowling water; let soak for about 10 minutes.
Slice the fresh tomato into aproximately 3/8-inch slices and place slices directly on the prepared pizza crust. Next, strew the shredded mozzarella evenly over the tomatoes. Remove sundried tomatoes from the hot water, blot with paper towels to remove excess water, and cut each tomato into 2 to 3 strips.. Scatter the strips evenly over the mozzarella. Sprinkle feta cheese and dried basil over top, then swirl the olive oil overall. Brush the outer rim of the crust with water or more olive oil and sprinkle the dampened area with sesame seeds. (The water or oil will help the seeds adhere to the crust.)
If using a pizza stone, sprinkle stone with cornmeal just before sliding pizza onto stone. Place the pizza in the preheated oven for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and the cheese is bubbling.
- 1 (7-gram) packet (a scant tablespoon) active dry yeast, or rapid rise yeast.
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 1 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cups cake flour (if unavailable, use all-purpose flour)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Stir yeast into 1/4 cup of the warm water in a large bowl. Set aside until yeast begin to activate and get foamy - about 7 minutes. Combine both flours and salt in bowl. Add about 1 cup of the flour mixture to the yeast and stir well with a wooden spoon, or your hands. Mix in 1/2 cup water, stir, and add 1 more cup of flour. When combined, add the remaining flour and gradually add the 1/4 cup of water. Mix well, until dough is soft, buy not wet and sticky. Place dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead for 10-12 minutes or until the dough is smoooth and satiny. Divide the dough into 2 equal balls. place in two lightly oiled bowls, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 1 to 2 hours or until doubled in bulk.
Punch down the dough from one bowl, make it into a ball and flatten it to a disk about 12 inches round with slightly raised edges. (Dough may be rolled with rolling pin, or shaped with hands.)
ITALIAN, GREEK TEAM UP AT ROME'S
Report Card Food: B+ Service: B Ambiance: C Value: B Overall Grade: B- As an inner-city dweller, I rarely am compelled to drive halfway across the county for pizza. A job's a job, though.
Rome's Pizza was good enough to stop the grumbling, though may be not so wonderful that we'd want make that trip, say, once or twice a month. If you live out De Zavala way, though, we see no reason to not give this somewhat shabby-looking pizza-white-a-touch-of-Greek spot a try. They have gyros and meatball sandwiches, pasta, subs and a steak hoagie, dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) and hummus (a savory Middle-East dip made from garbanzos.) Then , of course, there's pizza. We tried Rome's very hearty Pesto Street ($10.55 for the 12-inch). Based on a crust more crisp than chewy, this pie has a thick layer of pesto (olive oil, cheese, basil and garlic), plenty of cheese and olives. Even with artichoke hearts and fresh tomatoes, you're left with a concoction heavy on the oil.
The Greek Gyro sandwich ($4.08 for chicken or beef), with thin-sliced garlicky meat and fresh tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and yogurt was tasty and quite hearty. The meatball sandwich ($2.69 for 6 inches or $ 4.08 for 12) was not as heavy as expected-kind of a welterweight that would go well with a salad.
And for that salad, let us suggest Rome's Greek Salad ($2.45), which had a generous portion of feta and, we bet, one of the tastiest vinaigrettes in this part of the county.
In addition to pizza with your usual toppings, Rome's list of "exotic" pizzas includes a Mediterranean Greek Pizza with gyros strips and feta; Rosemary Garlic Duo of mozzarella, smoked garlic and fresh garlic, peanuts and rosemary; Tomato Duet, with fresh-sliced and sundried tomatoes, feta, basil and olive oil, and the White House, with mozzarella, red onion, garlic, basil and olive oil.
You're bound to find something to like at Rome's, even if you have to drive a ways to get there. Gus Nassar is happy to see the popularity and demand for gourmet pizza in San Antonio on the rise. After all, it validates what he has been dishing up at Rome's Pizza in San Antonio for nearly 15 years.
TRENDY IN TEXAS PIZZA TODAY 2002
Prior to opening his first location, Nassar worked in a number of fine-dining restaurants in San Antonio, as well as private clubs. During that time, Nassar developed an appreciation - and understanding - of the nuances that separate food from fine food.
When he decided to buy an existing San Antonio pizzeria and go into business for himself, it only made sense that he put that gourmet dining experience to work. That move, he says, has paid dividends at Rome's.
"I'm talking 5-star, top-notch, French and Russian service in top San Antonio restaurants and private clubs in San Antonio," he says of his culinary background. "So, I know how to blend tastes. I know what kinds of things chefs pair. That, I think is where our success is. All of our specialty pizzas are top sellers."
As an example of perfect pairings, Nassar pointed to one of his more popular white pizzas. Dubbed "4 Tenors", it consist of a layer of fresh, sliced tomatoes, instead of sauce, topped with mozzarella, provolone, ricotta and Gorgonzola cheeses. Roasted pine nuts and tarragon garnish the pie, which is baked on a black pepper crust. "Cheeses are very rich, but when you bite into the crust at the end, with that pepper, it is like you are eating a mint afterwards," Nassar explains. "It spices up the cheese and it is very nice."
The rest of Rome's Pizza menu also reflects Nassar's desire to blend tastes and textures. The "Tomato Duet," for example, features a sesame seed crust topped with sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese with fresh basil and a drizzle of olive oil. Another, the "Mediterranean Greek Pizza," goes so far as to employ Gyro meat, along with mozzarella and feta cheeses, Greek peppers, tomatoes, onions and oregano.
To complement the pizzas, Rome's also offers a good selection of salads, calzones, pasta and sandwiches. Nassar says his customers come from all over town because his menu gives them something worth driving for. But, that was not always the case. Because he bought out an existing pizzeria that offered a more traditional, value-priced product, Nassar had to cull the customer base and pretty much start from scratch. Once he essentially ran off the value-driven customers looking for "two-for-one" specials, he was able to start developing his concept. That, he says, took much of the first two years, during which he introduced more and more of the gourmet fare. "To be honest, when I first started here, for a while I thought 'this is not going to work. People just want pepperoni and sausage,'" he says. Once or twice a year, however, Nassar would add a couple of specialty pizzas to his menu.
"It's all paid off. We really pioneered gourmet pizza here in San Antonio," he says. "Before California Pizza Kitchen came in, before any other pizzeria was doing any gourmet pizza in San Antonio, we started it."
After the first two years, his fears of acceptance were finally allayed. "Then, all of a sudden, things started turning around. I think what happened was that when the majority of the add ons, the good clientele, started becoming regulars, then I started to grow. People were driving 35 to 40 minutes to come and get their pizza. We gained, and it was nice."
Before gourmet pizza started really catching on in San Antonio, Gus Nassar was giving diners a glimpse of the future by pairing different tastes and textures at his Rome's Pizza restaurant.
Nassar has managed to cut his delivery by more than half. When he first started, he was doing 80 percent delivery. Now, his business is roughly 50 percent dine-in, 30 percent delivery and 20 percent carryout. If he had his way, he would do away with delivery altogether beacause he believes the quality of the pizza suffers. "To be honest, I'm not proud of (offering) delivery. I have to do it because I'm in the industry," he says. "I'd like for me to make you a pizza and (have) you come out and eat it. You can have, obviously, a better pizza when it comes out of the oven right onto your table."
Four years ago, Nassar partnered with Omar Dibe, whom he met in the late 1970's while in business school, to open a second San Antonio location. Like the original location, Dibe says, it took some time to acclimate people in his area to gourmet pizza. But, the success of Nassar's store helped greatly. "We had the menu. We didn't have to experiment. Everything was already there," he says. "We had the name and reputation. It was just matter of attracting the costumers."
The two recently landed a concession contract with a local sports center to provide pizza. The concession deal will provide them with greater exposure and should help further their future plans. "The main reason we're doing it is, it is going to promote us a lot," he says. "Soon after, we are definitely planning on expanding." Whether that expansion involves them opening more locations or franchising remains to be seen. "We're contemplating both, actually," Nassar says. " If we do it, it will be a slower process. We may open one or two or three a year. I don't know. But, somebody might come in and says, 'I'm willing to go for 100 (stores) in the next five years.'"
Rapid grow is something Nassar and Dibe are wary of, however. "To be honest, we'd like to have a controlled (growth) environment. We would like to establish ourselves," Nassar says. "Our product is not an easy product," adds Dibe. "Somebody has to be interested in the food business, not just the financial aspects of it."