Passion drives the success of an independent Italian pizzeria

Crystal Carwin Lee (@crystalcarwin) is working her way  through the Tomato’s 2013 and 2014 lists of best places to eat or drink in Edmonton. Restaurant profiles will be posted on TLG, and you can find her review of Rosso Pizzeria on her own blog.

Rosso Pizzeria (@RossoYeg), no. 70 on The Tomato’s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for 2014, is a relative newcomer to the city restaurant scene. Focusing on feeding patrons with their delicious real wood-fired pizzas, the establishment is the brainchild of Dave Manna who oversees all aspects of the business. Having previously invested in Da Capo, which moved to their new location at Roots on Whyte, Dave saw the vacated space at 87 Avenue and 109 Street as an opportunity to finally fulfill his dream of bringing true Italian pizza to Edmonton.

Growing up in an Italian household, food, tradition and family has always been a passion for Dave. Opening up his own restaurant was something he had wanted to pursue for a number of years, but family and personal circumstances held him back, until now. The eatery takes its inspirations from Italy and Europe as well as Dave’s childhood; the menu is infused with simple, flavourful dishes that bring a little bit of that Italian boisterousness with it.

Being in the Garneau area, Rosso is surrounded by a number of well-known restaurants. Yet, it seems to be making a name for itself. Having eaten there a couple of times, it is clearly a happening place with people coming and going all day long. Dave

Rosso Pizzeria food and interior
Rosso Pizzeria dining experience. Photos by Crystal Lee.

agrees that they are blessed by a great corner that draws the attention of people who pass by. The fact that they are next to some iconic Edmonton eateries doesn’t hurt either. The nearby restaurants are not seen as competition, though. Rather, they are considered to be great neighbours, and, when those other places fill up, people searching for somewhere else to fill their bellies often have to look no further than across the street. There is an appreciation of the popularity that restaurants such as Sugarbowl, Highlevel Diner and Upper Crust have because success tends to breed success as long as the business has the foundation to grow on it.

The foundation that Rosso has built upon is Dave’s philosophy of excellent managerial and customer service as well as high quality local and organic ingredients. On the occasions that I have dined, I was impressed not only with the food, but also with the attention that the staff give to the patrons. Extraordinarily friendly and open to providing suggestions for our meal, the servers all seemed courteous and well-versed in the menu — this is admittedly half the battle at some restaurants. The other half is making food that you actually want to eat. At Rosso they support the local and organic food community by sourcing eggs from Bailey Farms, chicken and homemade Italian sausage from Viking Colonies and beef tenderloin from Magnon Farms. Greens currently come from British Columbia; however, there are ongoing discussions with Edmonton-based The Organic Box to supply produce. For their pizzas and breads, an organic flour recipe of Dave’s invention remains a secret. Their gelato, while made with ingredients that come from Italy, is made in-house. The flavours rotate on a regular basis with about five to six choices that remain staples.

Everything is so good at the pizzeria that Dave admits that he dines there every single day, sometimes twice a day. When questioned as to what his favourites on the menu are, Dave also had a hard time deciding, but he eventually narrowed it down to Carpaccio di Manzo, Ricotta Fresca Calda and Rapini E Salsiccia for appetizers with the Rosso, Tonno E Cipolla, Uva Arrosto or Pera E Proscuitto Affumicato for the pizzas. Each item that was chosen to grace Rosso’s menu is something that he grew up eating. The best part is that nothing on the menu is fried — dishes are prepared healthily and cooked traditionally in a wood oven to give the food a distinct texture and taste.

As seen, food and community are important aspects of what makes Dave and Rosso Pizzeria tick, and what goes hand-in-hand with that is taking the time to give back to the city as well. Rosso is a relatively new participant in the Mealshare program where a portion of the proceeds from certain menu items are donated to feed those in need through Edmonton’s Hope Mission. Currently, there are only a dozen restaurants taking part, and Rosso having just joined this past summer has already shared over 500 meals.

Rosso, in Italian, means red. When related to cooking, it calls to mind images of tomatoes, peppers, sauces — obvious basics to cooking. Although, Dave sees the name as more figurative. Throughout history, red has evoked ideas of fire, heart and passion. That passion — poured into the food and the service — is what Dave hopes you take away from an experience at his restaurant, a place where one is always welcome to a seat at his table.