Over the last few years, Houston has seen a dramatic increase in both the variety and quality of choices when it comes to pizza. From Chicago deep dish to authentic Neapolitan to New York-style hybrids that draw inspiration from the Bayou City's immigrant traditions to Detroit deep dish, diners can find a slice to suit just about any taste, but the city still has room for more new ideas.
Enter chef Andrea Dal Monte. The native Roman spent time in New York both working in restaurants and owning his own but opted to move to Houston due to its lower cost of living. His six-month-old food truck, 006 Pizza, serves Roman-style pizza that’s prepared in a wood-burning oven. Known as pizza alla pala for the peel that’s used to manipulate it in the oven, the Roman-style pizza is new to Houston, but what makes it different?
Unlike Neapolitan-style pizza that’s round and soft in the middle, Roman pizza has a rectangular shape and a crispy, thicker crust that can, in Dal Monte’s words, be eaten with two fingers. According to the chef, the style emerged after World War II, when the government regulated the price of bread and therefore limited the earning potential of the city’s bakers.
“They created a new item that could help them at the time to raise the average (selling price) and also to make something new,” Dal Monte explains. “Just because the bakery ovens are long, the peel they used for the bread, became the peel for this long pizza . . . It’s the perfect combination between pizza and lunch snack.”
Dal Monte uses the pizza’s basic structure to deliver a number of flavor combinations. He starts with good ingredients, including freshly pulled mozzarella, and goes from there. Options include a basic caprese (mozzarella, tomato sauce, sliced roma tomatoes, greens, basil oil) to more complex combinations that show off the chef’s creativity (lamb sausage, pecorino, potato, asparagus). Prices start at about $10 for a pizza that’s slightly larger than a standard 12-inch pie.
During the six months he’s been operating the truck, Dal Monte has learned how Houston’s humid climate affects his dough and can now adjust his recipe as necessary to ensure it stays consistent. Serving mostly at apartment buildings, Dal Monte says the reaction has been positive.
“People are very happy,” Dal Monte says. “Of course, it’s not for everybody. If you are Neapolitan-oriented, nothing wrong. You can go in that direction, but people that try this extra crunchiness, the different bite, more al dente, with different toppings, people are really happy. We have lots of repeat customers. It’s promising.”
Promising enough that he’s looking for a brick and mortar restaurant to give his creations a permanent home, but finding the right location at the right price has proven to be tricky. For now, he's rotating through apartment and condo complexes inside the loop (follow his schedule on Facebook). Still, he has a healthy attitude about growing the business slowly, one pie at a time.
“Rome was not built in a day,” Dal Monte says with a smile. “My business is going to follow the same pattern.”