Nick Anderer is really, really into Roman food. The chef and partner at New York’s Maialino, the upscale Roman trattoria at the Gramercy Hotel, and Marta, the celebrated Manhattan pizzeria he opened with Danny Meyer, first fell in love with the cuisine nearly twenty years ago, during a year abroad studying art history. “I had one teacher in particular who was really into food and cooking; I would always pick her brain about the places in each neighborhood to get something good to eat,” he says. Curious about the new dishes he was discovering, it wasn’t long before he began trying to replicate them at home in his apartment in Aventino, tinkering and experimenting every evening when he returned from class.
That curiosity quickly blossomed into a full-fledged obsession when he returned to New York and took a job in the kitchen of The Water Club while finishing up at Columbia. “Cooking at that point was a back-up plan—but it became plan A after just a few weeks,” he says. “I was just hooked by the energy in New York City kitchens.”
A New York kitchen may have catalyzed his leap into a new career, but it was Roman cooking that held him in thrall. Rome’s food is “food of the people,” Anderer says. “It’s a cuisine that likes to tame very aggressive flavors and figure out ways to make them really pleasant in the end.” That means plenty of black pepper, cured meats, bitter greens like chicory and puntarella, and the use of anchovies and pecorino to season, instead of just salt, he explains. “It’s very simple and unabashedly rustic. It can also sometimes be ugly—but in a beautiful way.”
After stints at Babbo, Milan’s San Giorgio ed il Drago, and Gramercy Tavern, Anderer opened Maialino as the executive chef in 2009, and has watched the popularity of Roman food rise steadily stateside in the years since. “I think that for a long time in the U.S., Italian food was kind of one thing,” he says. “It was focused around a lot of red sauce, puttanesca, that kind of thing. And then dishes from Northern Italy started to become more fashionable—things like osso bucco and risotto. Somewhere along the way, throughout the popularity of southern Italian food, then northern Italian food, then central Italy and Tuscany, Rome was never really covered. But you’re seeing chefs now uncovering a cuisine that’s just as rich as all those others, if not richer. It just looks like it’s Rome’s turn right now.”
And he doesn’t see it losing momentum any time soon. “I think the next wave of Roman food is going to be stuff that’s a little more inventive and playful,” Anderer says, citing Rome’s own Stefano Callegari’s trapizzino, triangular pieces of pizza dough stuffed with traditional Roman fillings like pollo alla cacciatore—“basically pizza hot pockets”—as an example. “I hope the popularity continues, because it’s a shame if a lot of these dishes don’t get discovered.” In that spirit of discovery, we chatted with Anderer to find out where he likes to eat on his yearly trips to Rome, plus his five favorite spots for Roman food in New York City.
When in Rome
“Run by great chef and recent friend Gabriele Bonci, Pizzarium does pizza al taglio—a thick-cut pizza that’s served as street pizza reheated to go. It’s fantastic and the variety of toppings he does is super fresh and always interesting. We did a dinner together recently in New York, along with Marta’s Executive Chef Joe Tarasco, where we did dueling styles of Roman pizza—his, and then the round, thin-crust pizzas that we're doing at Marta right now.” Via della Meloria, 43; 39/06-3974-5416.
Trattoria da Cesare al Casaletto
“This is a classic neighborhood spot in an area that’s sort of southwest of the city center—it’s not in the center proper, but it’s worth the journey to get there. As soon as you walk in you know you’re at a very classic neighborhood spot. There are great fried snacks to start, delicious pastas, big portions—it’s just a fun place.” Via del Casaletto, 45; 39/06-536-015; trattoriadacesare.it.
“This trattoria in Testaccio, at the southern end of the city, does one of the pest cacio e pepes I’ve ever had. It was very influential on the version that we serve at Maialino right now.” Via Mastro Giorgio, 29; 39/06-574-6800; feliceatestaccio.it.
Checchino dal 1887
“One of my go-tos that I’ve been going to for close to 20 years now is Checchino, which is a very old-school Roman restaurant. They do offals, pig’s foot salad, oxtail, tripe, and pajata (milk-fed lamb’s intestine). That’s one of the dishes I get at Checchino every time I go, rigatoni con pajata.” Via di Monte Testaccio, 30; 39/06-574-3816; checchino-dal-1887.com.
“They do all the classic Roman pastas, but they get cured meats from all around Italy; you get the best of all of the country. You do have to make a reservation because it’s so popular. Get the carbonara.” Via dei Giubbonari, 21/22; 39/06-687-5287; salumeriaroscioli.com.
And When in New York
“I worked with Mario [Batali] for several years back in the day when he opened Babbo, and I was always a big fan of Lupa. I love their amatriciana.” 170 Thompson St.; 212-982-5089; luparestaurant.com.
“On the Upper East Side I like this place called Sandro’s, run by a big Italian chef who cooks some of the Roman classics. I like to get the carciofi alla giudea.” 306 E. 81st St.; 212-288-7374; sandrosrestaurant.com.
Sullivan Street Bakery & Grandaisy Bakery
“You can get great pizza bianca, which is a staple of Roman cuisine, at both Sullivan Street Bakery (236 Ninth Ave.; 212-929-5900; sullivanstreetbakery.com) and Grandaisy Bakery (250 W. Broadway; 212-334-9435; grandaisybakery.com). It is what it says it is: white pizza baked in long, meter-length slices. They’re both fantastic spots that do pretty classic versions.”
“This spot in Brooklyn has a counterpart in Rome; their first location is in Trastevere. The Rome location has one of the most beautiful courtyards for outdoor dining...in NYC I like to order cacio e pepe.” 115 Berry St., Brooklyn, NY; 347-763-2635; anticapesa.com.
“There are chefs all around that are doing fun spins on Roman food and one of the better ones I’ve had recently is at Lilia in Williamsburg, where Missy Robbins is doing these cacio e pepe fritelle, which are little fritters filled with pecorino cheese sauce on the inside, spiked with black pepper. They’re fantastic.” 567 Union Ave., Brooklyn, NY; 718-576-3095; lilianewyork.com.
Photos: Andria Lo / Liz Clayman; Roscioli