In these divisive times, is there a more democratic food than pizza? Sure, there might be allegiances to certain regional specialties (more on that later), but pizza in its essence—crust, sauce, cheese, toppings—is so universal and adaptable, one would be hard-pressed to find someone who takes issue with it.
In the century or so that pizza has been a staple in the American diet, the sheer number of variations it has gone through (and continues to go through) is astonishing. Even those with dietary restrictions can now relish gluten-free pizza or pizza made with vegan cheese. And while we all have our own go-to pies (New York style with mushrooms and anchovies here, please!), the knowledge that we can expand our view of the world on that 14-inch circle just by virtue of switching up toppings or dough type is quite a balm for these times of selective tribalism.
So what kind of pizza suits you best? New Yorkers might thumb their noses at a Chicago-style deep dish that they deem more casserole than pizza (see: Jon Stewart’s 2013 Daily Show rant), and those west of the Ohio River might never understand folding a pizza in half to eat it, but if you’re not married to a style and you’re just here for the pie, well, your first stop should be Pizza Rock, whose menu plays like a greatest-hits tour paying homage to pizza’s Italian provenance and its many American iterations.
Pizza Rock is the brainchild of Tony Gemignani. His accolades —13-time World Pizza champion, two-time Food Network gold medalist, multiple Guinness World Records—are legend, and there might not be a pizzaiolo more revered in the pizza world today. Gemignani first got a dough-hold in the industry when he was just out of high school, working for his brother’s pizzeria in California. Today, his pizza empire stretches across 22 restaurants, including two Pizza Rock locations—and one Slice House—here in Las Vegas.
With so many styles of pizza from which to choose, the first question you should ask yourself is, what kind of dough appeals to you? “When somebody sits down in front of me or our servers, we ask, ‘Do you like a thick or thin crust?’ If they say thin, that [moves] away from the Sicilian style or the Detroit style and goes down to the cracker-thin route or some of our other styles, like the Roman,” Gemignani says.
The dough, by the way, is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the whole enterprise. It turns out all that dough throwing is the easy part; the true skill lies in the pre-fermenting. “All [our] doughs are pretty complicated,” Gemignani says. “We mature them for a very long period of time, so it starts to break down and the flavors come out and it’s light and airy.”
Aside from the dough, your biggest decision is choosing the toppings. This can say a lot about you, according to Gemignani. Maybe you’re the adventurous type (try the Cal Italia, with fig preserve and prosciutto di Parma), or maybe you prefer a simpler tomato pie-style, like a Margherita. Regardless, each pizza on the menu has been crafted with an abiding philosophy that Gemignani has honed over the years.
“It’s always about balance,” he says. “There’s some complexity to dough, but at the same time, it should marry with the ingredients. And I always say each bite should take you through a journey. … Savory, sweet, salty, sometimes bitter, sour, different acidity. When it comes to cooking, you know there should be some different flavor profiles in what you eat. When it comes to pizza, I always think it’s about balance.”
Of course, we can parse the pie according to its different flavor profiles, but the enduring appeal of pizza lies in its simplicity, a kind of food alchemy we all discover when we’re children and declare pizza its own food group. “When you get older, it’s the food that you can still relate to, and it brings you back to a simpler time,” Gemignani says. “It can be shared; it can be communal. Or it could just be one for yourself. It’s just such a welcoming food that kind of brings you back to a less chaotic time in life.”
3 Pizza Rock pies that rock
La Regina This Sicilian pie—soppressata, Prosciutto di Parma, arugula, mozzarella, piave and Parmigiano-Reggiano on pillowy-soft focaccia with vine-ripened tomato sauce—took the Gold Cup at the International Pizza Championships.
Napoletana Margherita For purists, this one—tomatoes, mozzarella and basil atop a rounded edge crust—is the benchmark of any pizzeria worth its sea salt. Pizza Rock’s version also happens to be a World Pizza Cup winner.
New Yorker The Las Vegas Pizza Expo declared this combo—three kinds of cheese (mozzarella, Romano and ricotta), fennel sausage and pepperoni—the “Best Traditional Pizza in the World.”