Vincent van Dough
With the theme of this month’s issue – design – nobody fits better than local pizzaiolo Vincent Rotolo. Rotolo recently opened Good Pie inside The Pawn Plaza, taking the space of the lifeless pizza place that was there before his, and redesigning it into the hottest slice joint in the city.
Vincent Rotolo and Grandma Bea
Vincent Rotolo shot into the stratosphere of pizza makers during the 2017 International Pizza Expo, placing second in the world with his gluten-free pie. That was his first competition. He recently opened Good Pie, in the same complex as the pawn shop from the television show Pawn Stars. Since Good Pie opened, Gold & Silver Pawn Shop is no longer the only attraction in the complex with lines out the door.
Vincent loves grandmas. There’s even a wall at Good Pie featuring pictures of chefs’ grandmothers to honor them and because, as he says, “I know they are watching me.” Rotolo redesigned some of the classic recipes he learned from being around his nonna, and these are now some of his hottest sellers. Below, he talks – mostly in his own words – about two of his favorite pies.
Meatballs and A Good Time Pie
My grandmother was born in Naples. She met my grandfather, who was Sicilian. Their relationship was not approved by those families at that time. This was the turn of the 20th century and if you were a Sicilian man and you were dating a Neapolitan woman, it was considered crossing boundaries.
My grandfather was a teenager at the time when they got together. He had his life threatened and tried to break down those barriers but at that time, Italy wasn’t ready for that type of “interracial” relationship – even though they were all Italian. In order to start a life together they both immigrated to the New World. They settled on Bleeker Street [in New York].
My earliest memories of being in the kitchen with my grandma was at my Uncle Raymond’s and Aunt Joanne’s house in Elmont, Long Island. We had Sunday dinner there. My grandma was named Beatrice, but most people called her Grandma Bea. I just called her Nonna.
I lived with my mom in Brooklyn. My dad also lived in Brooklyn. And he would pick us up every Sunday morning and we’d drive out to Elmont.
I can still see my grandmother with a wooden spoon in the kitchen, stirring sauce. Nonna laid everything out on the table. She made dinner, but she made sure all her ingredients were laid out. It was her Italian grandma version of mise en place.
Dinner wasn’t ready until 5 p.m., but at noon the smell started to overwhelm the whole house. We used to play this game where my brother Sal, who is 3 years older than I am, would be on all fours and my cousin Raymond would be on all fours. I would ride my brother like a horse and my cousin Sharon would ride her big brother Raymond like a horse. It was like chicken fights.
So we’d be in the living room doing these chicken fights and we’d be overwhelmed by whatever was cooking. There was always sauce going. There was always a meat braising. Nonna made amazing meatballs. She made pasta by hand. It wasn’t like “go buy some Ronzoni” or whatever. She made all the pastas by hand.
We would always sneak in there and we would steal whatever ingredients we could steal and go eat it. I was the youngest of the entire generation. I was the baby. I got spoiled a little bit. I got away with stuff other people couldn’t get away with.
I would get in there and swipe a meatball. She would roast the meatballs off. It was a three-step process. She sautéed them till they were brown. Then she would roast them. Then she would braise them in the sauce and all the flavor would come out. So in between steps, when the meatballs were cooling, I would roll in there, grab a meatball and run out and eat it.
Grandma Bea wasn’t fast as far as moving around, but her hands were really quick, especially for an old lady. The other, older siblings saw that I got away with it and then they would go in and try to get some. They always caught the end of the wooden spoon. She would smack them with the wooden spoon to keep them away.
We had this big table where 8-10 people always sat down. The sauce was always in a ladle so when we got our seats at the table, you got a ladle of sauce for your plate. It was all the chunks of tomato and fresh herbs. We basically, even as kids, were building our own plates. It was almost like buffet-style.
The ingredient aspect is important. I get that from my grandmother. I used to go shopping with her. She would literally be at the fruit and vegetable stand and go through cherry by cherry, like for a half hour, to get maybe two pounds of cherries. She would go through each cherry and if it wasn’t perfect, she threw it to the side. Then we’d go home, and she’d make a cherry pie where every single cherry was handpicked. That’s how I grew up. We never cut corners. If the ingredients were not first-rate, it didn’t make its way to our table. That’s something, that as an adult, as a pizza maker and restaurateur, I can appreciate.
I probably spend more money on ingredients than any other pizza place that I know of and my food cost is probably higher than any other place because I want these amazing products to be accessible.
Those were the years, when I was 4-8 years old, that my food memories were being shaped. That’s kind of what I always wanted; to recapture the feeling of being nurtured. I always go back to that. What we aim to do at Good Pie is to nurture the community. How we do it is through making pizza and sharing that food, making sure every little bite, every little ingredient, all the components that go on it, everything we serve has to come from a source that we know and trust.
The most important thing is putting something out that my grandma would be proud to put out. Unfortunately, I don’t have any written recipes from Grandma Bea, I just have those memories. But what I remember, I can interpret into our meatballs.
She used veal, pork, and beef. I’m not using veal, so it is a modified version. We’re doing the same size as she did, 3 ounce meatballs. My grandma used to use, back then even, she had a little scooper. It kind of looked like an ice cream scooper. She used to scoop them all out on sheet trays and roll them.
The meatballs we had as kids were always with a scoop of really good ricotta. Then you could play with it on your plate with sauce, ultimately mixing meatball, ricotta, sauce, Parmesan, parsley or basil.
I make a pie at Good Pie called “A Good Time.” It’s balls on your pie. We take four different cheeses. We take pecorino, we season it with oregano, we use the Grande mozzarella and Aiello Brothers’ fresh mozzarella. Then we bake it off. Before the pie goes into the oven we put the sliced meatball on top, we put the marinara sauce on it, we put the dollop of ricotta. We finish with Grana Padano cheese and fresh herbs. That’s my pizza version of the meatballs I had growing up.
- Ground beef
- Ground pork
- Diced onions
- Garlic Oil made with Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Chili Flakes
- Heavy Cream
- Sea salt
- Black Pepper
- Mix together all ingredients.
- Form mixture into 3 oz balls.
- Bake at 425 degrees until internal temperature reaches 155 degrees.
A Good Time
- Caputo pizza dough
- Good tomato sauce using Ciao tomatoes
- Fresh mozzarella
- Grande shredded mozzarella
- Pecorino cheese
- Greek oregano
- Good Balls meatballs
- Fresh ricotta cheese
- Shaved Grana Padano cheese
- Fresh basil
- Stretch pizza dough to 18 inches diameter or for grandma pie 16 in x 16 in
- Top with sauce, pecorino, shredded mozzarella and fresh mozzarella
- Add sliced meatballs
- Bake at 575 degrees for 8 minutes or until golden brown
- Top with ricotta, shaved Grana Padana and fresh basil
Author’s Note: This interview is from my forthcoming book: From Grandma’s Kitchen: Great Chefs, Great Recipes and the Grandmas that Inspired Them. As the title indicates, it’s a cookbook all about chefs and their grandmothers’ influences on them. Which explains why, when I tried to get Vincent to be more specific about the recipe including amounts for each ingredient, he told me he couldn’t reveal amounts. In the same way Grandma Bea never wrote down recipes, Vincent likes to keep it all in his head.
725 S. Las Vegas Blvd. #140, Downtown, NV 89101