When in Roma: Pizza Roma, on Bleecker Street, manages to stand out from the crowd

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To open another pizzeria on BleeckerStreet, home to institutions like John's,serious newcomers like Keste andenough NYU student-targeting FamousOriginal Rays to start an army, seemslike utter lunacy. Open in Battery ParkCity, on the Lower East Side, in SheridanSquare, you want to tell these delusionalowners. Pretty much anywhere else, saveperhaps the three square blocks of LittleItaly itself, would be more amenable toyour charms.

But Pizza Roma (259 Bleecker St., betw.Cornelia and Jones Sts., pizzaromanewyork.com) wouldn't be swayed. In a whitewashedstorefront that looks more like itought to be selling slightly twee lingeriethan pizza, they have staked their claim.And while it may baffle some windowshoppers, they have perfected a crust,the owners say, that uses less yeast but isallowed to rise over 96 hours, making it a"healthier alternative" to traditional pizza.

About that I have my doubts-there'sstill plenty of olive oil involved, and really,who besides lingerie models choosespizza for its healthfulness?-but it is agenuine alternative to the others on theblock. There is that room, which eschewsthe traditional pizzeria design tropes ofdark wood, arched brick doorways as ifto trompe l'oeil you into thinking you'reeating under the aqueducts and a roaringfurnace of an oven in a prominentcorner that manages to heat the place toinferno-like levels just to prove they'renot secretly microwaving your pie. PizzaRoma, in making the bold choice to nothit you over the head with its Italianness,actually feels Italian.

Rickety wooden chairs and smalltables fill the dining room, whose one redbrick wall is covered with slightly goofyart, and spiky-branched floral arrangementsand miniature topiaries dot theperimeter. French doors open onto acinder-blockterrace in the back, so commonto West Village properties and also, fortuitously,reminiscent of a side-street cafein Rome. It's not fancy, it's not designedto within an inch of its life, it's just clean,airy and charmingly ramshackle-veryItalian.

Then there's the pizza. Healthy or not,the crust is a thrill for those looking for abreak from the tyranny of the Neapolitancharred thin crust that has gripped thiscity. That 96-hour method produces abase layer that's much breadier, with alight, airy interior; more focaccia-likethan any pizza crust you've seen in a longtime. Toppings also skew different, andthe simpler the better; slices of potatoand rosemary spikes were a rich, earthycompliment to the yeasty chew of thecrust, while a pizza of the day of wholegreen olives and deliciously wrinkledroasted cherry tomatoes added the occasionalpop of intense flavor, still allowingthe crust to shine through. Less successfulare those that fall back into standardpizza territories; anything with a marinarabase, which tasted tomato paste-y andone-dimensional, is better left alone.

It's also provided in square slices, cutto order off long planks that are displayedproudly in a glass case that runs the lengthof the entranceway. This is what's knownas pizza al taglio, pizza by thecut, in the Roman style. It's nota new innovation-Pie by thePound, in the East Village, hasbeen pushing an Americanized,more-is-more version of the technique for years-but theexecution, and that crust, makesit stand out. It also, apparently,makes it conducive to franchisingopportunities; a Pizza Romacounter has just opened up inWhole Foods' Bowery location.

Though I still worry for the sanity ofPizza Roma's owners, who decided theirfirst New York City location (the firstPizza Roma is in Barcelona, though theowners are Italians) should be in thecity's pizza ground zero, they may wellhave bucked the odds and done theimpossible: built an original pizzeria onBleecker Street

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