Taste

Three favorite pies for three years of Pizza Rock in Las Vegas

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Rock solid: Tony Gemignani’s Pizza Rock is one of the most popular pizzerias in the Valley.
Photo: Steve Marcus

Pizza Rock is celebrating its third anniversary in Downtown Las Vegas this month. “It went so fast,” says chef, restaurateur, instructor and World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, who has opened a second location at Green Valley Ranch Resort and Little Tony’s at Palace Station since Pizza Rock’s debut at Downtown 3rd three delicious years ago. “It’s still getting busier, which is hard to believe.”

With its multitude of traditional pizza styles all crafted carefully and faithfully, Pizza Rock has become one of the very best places in Las Vegas to eat pizza, and one of my favorite restaurants in Las Vegas. Since its Downtown opening, I’ve been trying to sample every pizza on the menu, but haven’t made it through the whole list just yet.

To help celebrate the anniversary, I spoke with Gemignani about my three favorite pizzas on his menu.

Before we get into my picks, is it hard for you to play favorites among the pizzas on the Pizza Rock menu? It is hard to pick favorites but that’s because we have some styles that still haven’t launched yet. I’m keeping some in my back pocket that we do in San Francisco, so there is more to come. And it’s great to be able to introduce something different down the line. I’m about to hit the East Coast on a book tour and I’m going to stop off at a couple of my favorite places, so you never know, you may see a new style on the Pizza Rock menu.

Tomato Pie

That’s part of the reason I haven’t been able to eat all the pizzas—you keep introducing new ones. But also, I tend to get stuck re-ordering the ones I love most. Do you have a similar experience? When I really look at the menu, the New Yorker stands out for me. It seems like it’s just a pepperoni and sausage and pizza, but not really. The fennel sausage is made in-house. It has that sweet ricotta that gets whipped and piped on with a pastry bag, and that’s a very unique sauce. I guess I go back to the basics. Some classic pizzas are really hard to beat out.

That one is very similar to my all-time favorite Pizza Rock pizza, which is the Tomato Pie—sliced mozzarella, a blended tomato sauce, garlic, basil, olive oil, oregano and Pecorino-Romano on a thin, charred-crisp crust from the electric brick oven. This one is a favorite of mine, too, just super delicious. Again, you could look at it and say it’s a cheese pizza, but it’s got the Romano, the oregano … that pizza is about the sauce. There are four different types of tomatoes that make that sauce and it’s one of a kind. Sometimes the simplest things are the best and the hardest to do. People in the U.S. sometimes busy themselves trying to put as many toppings as they can on a pizza. But if you have a great base, one or two can be as satisfying and more amazing than having 10 or 12 toppings.

I couldn’t agree more. Another seemingly simple pizza I love is the Frank Nitti—a different tomato sauce with mozzarella and provolone, garlic, spinach, ricotta, olive oil, oregano and Pecorino-Romano. This one is on the Chicago-style “cracker-thin” crust, made with cornmeal and Cerasota flour, and cooked at 650 degrees in a gas-powered brick oven. How we cook that pizza is very unique. It’s actually a two-step process, very uncommon. It’s a thin crust but there’s a lot to it. One is the flour, which comes from a small mill in Illinois. There are a lot of little steps we take with the ingredients and the process that make this special pizza, which is very uncommon in Las Vegas. And the spinach on that pizza is delicious.

The spinach and ricotta together is perfect. And this pizza lives forever. It doesn’t degrade if it’s sitting out. It’s unbelievable. It’s f*cking great the next day!

I believe the only way to improve a perfect pizza is to make it spicy, so I had to choose one with some heat for my third choice. I have to go with the Diavola—a “classic Italian” medium crust, sauce made from vine-ripened tomatoes, mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses, spicy sopressatta, arugula and red pepper oil. This one is a favorite of my wife, and mine, too. Whenever we go to Italy, this is our go-to order. For me, it’s not just about that sopressatta picante, it’s the hot pepper oil. It took me a while to figure that out, but now we’ve got it and we actually bottle it up and sell it in our stores. It’s a spicy pizza but it finishes well. I hate when you get a spicy pizza and it’s not spicy enough, so I wanted that one to be hot. But it has some nice balance and the arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano calms it a bit.

Detroit Red Top pizza

It was very difficult to choose just three favorite pizzas because I’ve truly enjoyed every pizza I’ve sampled at Pizza Rock. What are some of the most popular pies we didn’t mention? The Cal Italia is number one for a lot of people. The purple potato pizza we do by the slice Downtown, that’s a great pizza that’s unique to Vegas. And people coming in with groups looking to celebrate love the Sicilians and the Romanas, the big pizzas. Out of all my places, the Detroit Red Tops sell faster in Downtown Las Vegas than any other place. Maybe it’s because we’re near the D and I know the owners of that place love that pizza.

Pizza Rock 201 N. Third St., 702-385-0838. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-midnight.

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Brock Radke has been writing about Las Vegas for more than 15 years. He currently covers entertainment, music, nightlife, food ...

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