When the neighborhood restaurant Cube on La Brea closed for renovations, the street seemed a little quieter. Locals wondered what would become of this popular Italian marketplace and cafe owned by Alex Palermo. Last spring Pizza Romano was born.
After graduating from Pepperdine University with a degree in Economics in the late 1980s, Palermo started his own company, Divine Pasta, based on a college project. His mission was to create hand-crafted pastas and sauces made from the best ingredients to sell to high quality stores and restaurants.
He secured a space on La Brea and opened a store in the front and pasta factory in the back. Cube Cafe and Marketplace was born, creating artisan crafted food. He made a rotating pasta selection, and other Italian dishes using imported Italian tomatoes, fresh herbs, extra virgin olive oil and fresh cage free eggs.
His products were purchased and used by some of America’s best restaurants, and sold in gourmet retailers nationwide. Gelson’s Market was one of his first customers in 1992, and now he sells to over 15,000 retail locations worldwide.
I met Palermo at Pizza Romano on a Friday night while dining there with my father. When I asked him why he closed Cube, he explained he accomplished what he intended with the restaurant.
“I achieved what I wanted to achieve, so I closed it to create a different dining concept that is more family friendly,” Palermo said.
It is a casual restaurant where servers behind the counter take your order. The menu offers a variety of pizzas, pastas, salads and paninis. Enjoy the casual atmosphere while waiting for your dishes to be brought to you, as soon as they are cooked to order. “Having my own children, I wanted to create a multi-generational restaurant, that appeals to all ages at a more affordable price,” Palermo said.
The restaurant has an extensive wine list, many from Italy, including much of the inventory from Cube. The cozy, private room in the back is lined floor to ceiling with wine bottles. It’s an ideal spot for parties and wine tasting dinners.
The list is curated by Palermo’s cousin and Sommelier Emanuele Rizzo. Born in Wisconsin, Rizzo’s family moved to Rome when he was 10 years old. He enjoyed coming to America to visit his family and friends. A few years ago, Rizzo obtained his sommelier designation in Rome. With his expertise, he pairs great wines with heavenly pizzas.
The black truffle pizza with a softly fried egg on top is a winner. I remarked that finally someone else, other than a very popular nearby pizzeria, is creating a pizza pie that is interesting in textures and flavors.
I asked Rizzo what makes the crust so good. “It’s a labor of love made with ingredients all from Italy,” he said. Rizzo said the secret ingredient is the water. “Our pizza dough is made in Rome and shipped here. It’s made with Italian flour, Italian salt and Italian water.” He said the water in Los Angeles will not produce the same pizza dough. Now I understand how the restaurant got its name.
All of the dough is fermented for 24 hours in the traditional Roman style. They hand stretch the dough and bake the pizzas in an authentic wood-fired Italian pizza oven. The pizza comes out with the top bubbled and slightly charred from the intense heat. The rest of the crust is golden with a slight crunch.
Rizzo paired my pizza with a glass of Etna Rosso Nanticchia 2007 with a 92 point score that offered a big red color with the essence of sweet and spicy. The grapes are picked from 100- year-old vines growing at the foot of an active volcano – Mount Etna. The wine offered pleasing flavors with a hint of cola, pink peppercorns and crushed berries. “It also has an essence of saltiness, because the grapes are produced near the sea,” Rizzo said.
Besides the truffle pizza, we enjoyed a wedge salad with crispy bacon, red onion, heirloom tomatoes, gorgonzola cheese and Palmero’s housemade Ranch dressing.
A dish of bite size meatballs arrived bathed in a tomato sauce with Parmigiano Reggiano shavings on top. Baked pizza dough slices accompanied the meatballs, perfect for dipping into the sauce.
For a vegetable, we ordered the roasted Brussels sprouts with chopped bacon and cippolini onions. The crispness and flavors were heightened with every bite. My father enjoyed them too, and he isn’t a big Brussels sprouts fan.
Our last dish ordered was the Mom’s lasagna made with bolognese and béchamel sauces, and melted mozzarella throughout. It was pure homey, comfort food. Nothing fancy, just delicious.
Palermo touted his reverse regional wine hour which is becoming popular. It begins nightly from 9 p.m. to closing, with Roman-inspired late night specials that include $6 rotating glasses of red, white and sparkling wine. Pair the wine with a bianca and salumi pizza or a baked pasta al forno for $6.
Pizza Romana offers an authentic buon appetito dining experience. $$ Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. 615 N. La Brea Ave. (323)939-1148.
This article was published in the March 17, 2016 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.