Nobody could have been more surprised than pizza expert Biagio Cepollaro to discover a fairly unknown version of the ubiquitous Italian favorite at a pizza expo in 2018 — and to stumble across it in Las Vegas, no less. As a native of Naples, a place that lays claim to being the birthplace of pizza, he was even more surprised to fall for this new style, called “pinsa,” since it hails from Rome.
“I was completely blown away, and the first thing I thought [was] the American client will love this kind of pinsa because it’s crispy, it’s not too heavy,” Cepollaro says. “When you pick up a slice, it doesn’t fold and flop down like Neapolitan pizza does. I couldn’t believe I was loving a pizza from Rome. Let’s put it that way.”
Fast forward a few years to 2020, when Cepollaro was courted by a developer that he had befriended during his time as director at Bond 45 and Fiorella Italian Kitchen and Pizzeria at National Harbor. Cepollaro had been working at Cafe Milano in Georgetown, but it had closed due to the pandemic, and the developer friend was working on a project in Camp Springs, Maryland, that he felt was perfect for an Italian spot.
“I proposed what I had in mind for an Italian concept for Camp Springs, he accepted, and the rest is history,” says Cepollaro of Via Roma, which is named for a famous street in Naples.
He and chef Tonino Topolino, who also grew up in Naples, were both intrigued by the idea of introducing pinsa to the American market.
“There were a lot of Neapolitan pizzerias popping up all over the region,” Cepollaro says of the years after he brought certified Neapolitan pizza to Maryland in 2008. “And we decided to do something new that nobody had tried yet.”
So, what’s the difference between pizza and pinsa? It’s still basically a layering of crust, sauce, mozzarella and toppings — but the crust features a blend of soy, wheat and rice flours; has a higher water content than the Neapolitan style, and the dough is proofed for 72 hours. It all results in a crust that’s crisp on the bottom and soft on the top, and it won’t feel as heavy in your stomach as a typical Neapolitan crust might.
“It’s easy to digest,” Cepollaro says. “It doesn’t kill you after you eat it. So, for me, it’s one of the best products out there.”
As for the rest of the menu, he and Topolino wanted to create approachable dishes that would embrace Italian-American traditions — like offering spaghetti and meatballs, a dish generally not found in Italy — with true Italian classics like the popular Genovese, a sauce of beef slowly braised with celery, carrots and onions served over house-made pasta. Other well-received dishes include the fried shrimp and calamari, the Maryland crab tater tots and the Margherita pinsa.
Cocktails have also proved popular, thanks to the handiwork of talented bar director Mila Kastanaki, who harvests cocktail ingredients from the restaurant’s patio garden and makes all of her syrups from scratch. The trendy espresso martini makes an appearance here, along with a Maradona mule named for Cepollaro’s soccer hero, Diego Maradona. The drink is a blend of vodka, blueberry-lime simple syrup and ginger beer.
If things go as planned, Washingtonians won’t always have to drive out to southern Prince George’s County — or fly to Rome — to try pinsa.
“We’re looking to open a new location in the city as soon as we can,” Cepollaro says. “I won’t say much more about it, but we’re definitely putting an effort into it.”
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