Tony Gemignani is showing me how to make the margherita that won him the World Pizza Cup in Naples, Italy, in 2007—he was the first American and non-Neapolitan champion—and I’m a little worried I’m going to mess up the dough. It’s so soft and light, hand-mixed using San Felice flour, which is very finely ground and has super-low gluten content. This disc of dough has been resting in a wooden box, which absorbs moisture, and now it’s time to spread it out, gently.
I only messed it up a little bit. Then we added sweet, pristine San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch or two of sea salt, and my authentic pizza Napoletana was looking pretty sharp. After 90 seconds in a 900-degree Stefano Ferrara wood-burning oven, with Gemignani teaching me how to watch it and turn it for a balanced cook, it looks even better. Then we eat it, and it’s amazing, crispy and chewy with flavors that pop.
This is the pizza Gemignani is best known for, but it’s only one of 10 different styles of pie that will be served at Pizza Rock starting on Saturday night, October 19, the latest pizza joint to open in Downtown Las Vegas. But after measuring Gemignani’s pedigree—besides being an 11-time World Pizza Champion, he owns the acclaimed Tony’s in San Francisco’s Little Italy, Capo’s in the North Beach neighborhood, and the original Pizza Rock in Sacramento—and tasting several different and delicious styles of pizza, the other Downtown pizza spots should be warned.
You should start with the Napoletana margherita, for two reasons: I won’t be making it, and Pizza Rock will only make 73 of them every day. Then move to the Romana pie, a long rectangle of thin, crispy goodness. It’s actually three pizzas in one, sort of appetizer-to-entree-to-dessert. I sampled the Romano 1, which starts with cherry tomatoes, black olives, basil garlic and sea salt, evolves into spicy sopressata, arugula, sharp parmigiano-reggiano and red pepper oil, and finishes with fig preserves, prosciutto, gorgonzola and balsamic reduction. How can you not order one of these to share?
One of Gemignani’s favorites, the Cal Italia pie won the gold medal on Food Network’s Pizza Champions Challenge, where the contest was based on creating an original pizza without using the most popular ingredients. It has a medium thin crust rendered to nice chewiness in Pizza Rock’s gas brick oven, and it’s topped with asiago, mozzarella and gorgonzola cheeses. After it comes out, Gemignani adds prosciutto, parmigiano-reggiano and balsamic reduction. Many of the pizzas here receive just as many high-quality toppings after they’ve been cooked.
It’s impossible to choose a favorite. It might have been the deep dish Sicilian, mounted on incredibly light and crispy house-made focaccia. Or the Old Chicago, sliced meatballs and ricotta on a Chicago-style cracker-thin crust made with Ceresota flour, a rare product only one other local restaurant uses. Or it might have been the New York-style tomato pie, a brilliant exercise in simplicity.
There’s more to Pizza Rock than just pizza. Its prime location in the about-to-explode Downtown 3rd area promises to drag partiers away from Fremont East, thanks to craft cocktails, an extensive beer and wine list, and an overall charged-up atmosphere. There’s also a window where you can grab a slice in between stops at your favorite Downtown bars. And there's more food, from burgers to pasta to salad. I’m already planning to roll through and munch the PLT sandwich, crispy pancetta with greens, tomatoes and pesto on that ridiculous focaccia bread.
Pizza Rock 201 N. Third St., 385-0838. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 a.m. Opens October 19.