‘Doesn’t Get More New York’ Than Sake With Unregular Pizza

Taylor Markarian

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    Unregular Pizza lives by the slogan, “Pizza for irregular times.” Perhaps that explains why husband-and-wife team Gabriele Lamonaca and ​​Paola Sinisgalli were so open to pairing their famous Burrapizza with sake. Oh, you didn’t know? It’s the best alcohol and food pairing you haven’t tried yet.

    The pizza at this New York City eatery is already as non-traditional as traditional Roman pizza can get. In fact, they named one of their Burrapizzas — so-called for a full ball of burrata cheese on each slice — “Cafonata,” meaning “tacky” in Roman slang. Slathered in a robust yet sweet tomato sauce, buried in layers of pepperoni, and topped with generous drizzles of hot honey and ‘nduja sauce, this pizza certainly isn’t shy. (Neither is their deep-fried, pull-apart pasta, which is so drool-worthy it’s just unfair.) But what else would you expect from a social media sensation?

    Unregular Pizza is a destination for foodie influencers clamoring to get a shot of these off-the-wall creations. This trendy joint now has multiple locations around the city, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was just an apartment project.

    The Balas Brothers film Executive Chef Salvatore Gagliardo making Burrapizza Cafonata.

    The Balas Brothers film Executive Chef Salvatore Gagliardo making Burrapizza Cafonata. | Photo by Taylor Markarian.

    “Roman style pizza was missing here,” co-founder Lamonaca says. “I really wanted to bring what I grew up eating back in Rome as a kid. So I started my project of making this Roman style pizza, but then the pandemic started and everything halted. The only thing I could do was to start making pizza in my oven.”

    He tried various recipes and posted photos about it on Instagram. Then friends and family began messaging him asking for some. At first he was unwilling to accept payment from friends, but when one of them gave him a homemade cocktail as thanks, it sparked an idea for his wife and business partner Paola. Rather, it would be more accurate to say that it triggered a memory.

    “My grandfather, Paolo, was a farmer who was also a bit entrepreneurial,” she says. “Together with his friend Nicola, they opened a movie theater in the small village of Basilicata, a very rural region of post-World War Southern Italy. Instead of [paying] to see movies, villagers would bring whatever they grew on their lands: vegetables, oil, fruit, as well as eggs, cheese, sausages and sometimes even chickens if it was a large family! These are memories my father always described to me as I grew up.”

    The ancient system of bartering for goods became the pandemic-era business model for the couple’s daring New York pizza. After restrictions eased and they were finally able to open their brick-and-mortars with Executive Chef Salvatore Gagliardo, paper money became the norm. But they still barter from time to time!

    Akabu “Junmai Ginjo” in front of a neon-lit rendering of the Roman Colosseum at Unregular Pizza.

    Akabu “Junmai Ginjo” in front of a neon-lit rendering of the Roman Colosseum at Unregular Pizza. | Photo by Taylor Markarian.

    From origin story to pizza toppings, Unregular Pizza lives up to its name.

    “In New York, everybody loves pizza,” Lamonaca says. “But there’s a lot of pizza options, so we wanted to be different and creative — in a word, unregular — and mix things up.”

    In that sense, pairing their food with sake almost seems like a logical next step — especially in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world.

    “We found ourselves in the middle of midtown trying to pair up Roman style pizza with sake that’s from Japan,” Lamonaca reflects. “In my opinion, it doesn’t get more New York than this.”

    Maybe sake isn’t the first drink you’d think of when eating pizza, but the Japanese beverage actually has much more lactic acid than wine, making it the best companion for a cheesy slice.

    Fresh Burrapizza Cafonata is topped with burrata cheese.

    Fresh Burrapizza Cafonata is topped with burrata cheese, tomato sauce, pepperoni, hot honey and ‘nduja. | Photo by Taylor Markarian.

    When Tippsy visits their 37th Street location, we pair their pizza with Akabu “Junmai Ginjo,” a juicy, fruity sake from Iwate prefecture that features notes of apple and apricot. This International Wine Challenge gold medal-winner proves to be a winning partner for the flavors of the Burrapizza Cafonata, from the rich tomato sauce to the spicy ‘nduja to the mild, spreadable cheese.

    “I really like the pairing of this sake with the burrata especially,” Lamonaca says. “Burrata’s fresh, it’s smooth, it’s a very nice and mild flavor. I think this pairs well with the juiciness and touch of acidity. If you eat a bite of the Cafonata and then you sip a little of this sake, it’s just an orchestra concert in your mouth.”

    The right sake goes well with any world cuisine. But don’t just take our word for it. Watch the Tippsy chef video series for more on this and other amazing sake and food pairings, and order some pizza and sake to your home for a tasty night in.

    Taylor Markarian

    Taylor Markarian

    Taylor Markarian is a culture journalist whose work spans the food and beverage, entertainment and travel industries. She is passionate about world travel and learning about different lifestyles and subcultures across the globe. Markarian is also the author of “From the Basement: A History of Emo Music and How It Changed Society” (Mango Publishing, 2019). Explore her work by visiting her portfolio.

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