After wading through all of the places that have only standard fare, there comes a long a special place, one that you’ll remember for a long, long time. It’s places like “Pizzeria da Baffetto” that really make traveling enjoyable for me; it’s kind of like finding that proverbial needle in a haystack, I suppose. Anyway, this is a pizzeria that has the reputation of being the best pizzeria in all of Rome. The queue can be for hours on end on any given day, filled with both tourists and locals alike. Does the place deserve its reputation? I’m convinced it does, as it delivers some quality pizza made with fresh ingredients at a very reasonable price. This is one you should never miss when you venture into Rome.
From the outside, Pizzeria da Baffetto is like any other restaurant in the Piazza Navona area. Cramped indoor spaces make for very few tables, and the kitchen occupies the majority of the remaining space anyway. Thankfully, the doors are always open when the store is operating, so the oven doesn’t cook everybody else along with the pizza. With the doors open, da Baffetto’s customers spill out onto the terrace, where long tables can be arranged for a communal table. It’s an interesting arrangement that I find works very well, especially over something as simple as pizza, as you can make a lot of new friends while enjoying your food and beverage. The diner must keep a sharp eye out for the place, however. It blends so seamlessly with the environment, the only way one really notices it’s a special place is the long queue outside of its front door.
After sitting down in one of the interior tables (it sat six people, so no communal eating for us…oh well), we looked at the menu. It’s really simple, actually. Because they know they have a reputation, the menu is offered in three languages – English, French, and Italian. The menu is short and the dishes are simple and traditional Italian pizzeria fare. The first two pages are dominated by the different toppings available for a pizza, and the final page is for salads and the eventual dessert. There is no “let’s cater to everybody” here; they do one thing, and they do it to the best of their ability. No deep dish options here, folks, just Sicilian-style thin crust pizzas for everybody.
Their specialty pizza is the namesake “Pizza da Baffetto”, the owners original creation, which takes a variety of typical ingredients – ham, sausage, onion, mushrooms, and red peppers – then adds some artichoke pieces and cooks it like a normal pizza. Before it is served, however, a fresh egg is cracked open on top of the pizza, directly in the middle. Sure it seems weird, but I’ve seen more…interesting combinations before. It’s their signature dish, so I tried it out. Other pizzas included the classic Margherita and a Capricciosa. For a starter, we chose a simple Arugula and Parmesan salad with simple olive oil dressing. How did the food fare? Here’s a quick rundown.
I usually don’t like arugula by itself; I think mixing it with some other strong greens masks the absurd bitterness of its leaves while leaving its texture and aroma intact. That’s why I was a bit skeptical at using just some olive oil and some pieces of cheese. I’m quite happy, however, that the salad did not have the bitter aftertaste of typical arugula, it was simply wonderful. The olive oil is a nice touch to neutralize the strong leaves, and it’s really the parmesan cheese on showcase here. The combination of such strong tastes is rather harmonious in its simplicity; combined with the sweetness of the olive oil, we have three tastes vying for the tongue’s attention. It’s a very distinctive salad for something so simple, and it’s also something easily replicated at home.
This isn’t your American “I put mozzarella, some greens, and sliced tomatoes on top” pizza. Instead, this is what we’d refer to as the classic cheese pizza, but really showcases the pizzeria’s capability. The crust is baked to perfection in the oven, and the slices of mozarella melt evenly over a thin tomato sauce layer. Again, a simple dish, but it shies away from the typical American pizza issue of having too much of a dough-like taste for its own good. With a Sicilian thin crust pizza, the richness of the cheese and homemade tomato sauce are really evident. This place really has all elements going for them.
This is similar to the namesake pizza, even up to the egg. However, it doesn’t have a lot of meat on it, using mainly vegetables and giving an extra helping of artichoke on top. To me, this was a bit weak compared to the other pizzas by virtue of the cook putting a bit too much onion on the pizza. The strong smell and taste of the onion really masked the rest of the ingredients, laying them to waste. I think that if you told them to hold on most of the onions, however, you’d be quite happy with this pizza. If you’re asking about the egg, though, read the next one…
-Pizza da Baffetto
Oh my, the mother of all pizzas here. Thankfully, they didn’t make the same mistake as they did on the Capricciossa and overload the onions. The result is one of the best pizzas I have ever had in my life. The egg, when poked and cooked over the pizza, really adds a new dimension to the pizza, and it’s not overpowering enough to kill off the tomato sauce and ingredients. This is, however, the first time I’ve ever used a fork and knife to eat a pizza. It was altogether a strange but wonderful experience that must be tasted to describe.
There were also quite a few dessert offerings that we ended up trying. Here are the two that we ordered.
This isn’t a cake like you’d typically expect (and is similar to the one from Navona Notte). It’s a small layer of coffee cake, topped with dollops of marscapone cheese and some coffee powder. A classic Italian dessert that has been overmade in the US, this is the original and is one of the best.
At first, I didn’t even know what this was. Turns out, it’s a custard cake with some pine seeds on top. You won’t get this anywhere else but in Italy, so if Rome is your only stop, might as well grab this. It’s not overly sweet or anything, and I think it was a perfect way to end an evening pizza meal.
In short, when in Rome, do as Romans do. Go get some really, really good pizza at Pizzeria da Baffetto.
**Cheap, easy on the wallet
**Excellent, excellent food
**Cramped and sometimes hot inside