Rome Eats: Pizza, Wine, Gelato

New York, my long-term love, should be jealous. I’m smitten with Rome. A three-day summer fling with the city has me daydreaming about its awesome antiquities, its exhilarating energy…and its boundless food.

Like my adopted city, Rome is a haven for food and wine groupies. Seek and you shall find—and that includes great cheap eats. Guided by a decade’s worth of magazine clippings on wine bars, pizzerie, and gelaterie, I mapped out a route to eat my way through Rome’s diverse neighborhoods, from Campo de’ Fiori in the historic center to funky Testaccio on the outskirts. What follows are my favorite spots for three essential food groups.

PIZZA: Bir & Fud
“This is the best pizza I’ve ever had,” my niece’s hubby enthused. Though he’s from Cincinnati (not a pizza capital), I’d have to agree. New York is currently caught up in a Neapolitan pizza frenzy, but nothing beats the chewy, wood-oven charred pies served up in this trendy pizzeria in the lively Trastevere zone. Even better, they’ve got an unbeatable list of 100+ artisan beers—from Italy! Including their own microbrews. That’s fine news in a country where Morreti and Peroni lagers have monopolized beer mugs at most pizzerie. (Yawn) Bring on the good stuff. Via Benedetta 23; http://birefud.blogspot.com/2007/09/bir-fud-la-pizzeria.html

WINE BAR: Al Bric
Calling itself a “ristorante con cantina,” this classy, intimate restaurant is an outgrowth of Al Ciabot, a standing-room-only enoteca down the street in the Campo de’ Fiori zone. The wine theme permeates the décor; walls are covered with wooden crate lids from Giacomo Bologna, Mouton Rothschild, Vecchie Terre di Montefili and the likes, plus there’s wine list the size of the Yellow Pages containing 1,000+ labels. Fortunately, the food lives up to the setting. We found bliss in some homemade pasta, including cacio e pepe—a classic Roman combo of cacio cheese and coarse black pepper on spaghetti. With this dish, less is more, and Al Bric wisely didn’t mess with success. Wild boar, ox, and lamb assure red-wine fanatics a great time, while the cheese cart alone offers enophiles a reason to live. Via dell Pellegrino 51/52; http://www.bric.it/

GELATO: Giolitti
Drum roll for…the best gelato on the planet! Okay, I admit didn’t make it to Rome’s other two pantheons to the ice-cream gods—Gelateria di San Crispino and Al Settimo Gelo. But I have eaten a lot of gelato all over Italy, and Giolitti, Rome’s oldest ice cream parlor, takes the prize. There’s a purity of expression and a clarify and intensity of flavors that lifts their gelato into another, celestial sphere. The dark chocolate (cioccolato fondente, my yardstick for gelaterie) is wicked good, while off-beat flavors like Bailey’s Irish Cream and casata siciliana will tempt the fickle. With temps hitting 100ºF, I opted for a trio of summer fruits—apricot, peach, and melon—and they delivered the goods, offering pure essence of perfectly ripe fruit in three frozen scoops. Via Uffici dei Vicario 40 (near the Parthenon), http://www.giolitti.it/