Federal Hill has become a melting pot in recent years, offering a wide range of ethnic cuisines, as opposed to traditional Italian fare that we’ve become accustomed to. Sure, you can still find plenty of Italian eateries, pizza parlors, and sandwich shops, but “the Hill” is still quite different than it was many years ago. Just ask the old-timers. Other than a few longstanding restaurants that have become landmarks on Federal Hill, newcomers have been scarce and very few there have been able to compete in the “authentic” category. Trattoria Zooma first opened in 2004, but recently underwent a number of exciting changes to catapult themselves into the upper echelon of authentic Italian.
Every single aspect of Zooma now has Italian roots. Chef Marcello Florio, from Pescara, Italy, leads the kitchen and is best known for his pasta. Chef Alessandro Mastroianni, from Naples, is an acclaimed pizza chef from the mother country. Manager, Armando Bisceglia, is also from Naples and is an expert of Italian wines, especially when pairing with food. This culinary powerhouse is like the trinity of Italian cuisine and are proving they’re a force to be reckoned with on Federal Hill.
Every great Neapolitan restaurant needs great pizza and Zooma offers plenty of them. Whether you are looking for original varieties or innovative offerings, Zooma has the best of both worlds. We started with the “Montanara” which is unlike any pizza I have ever tried. This mind-blowing pie is not found on the regular menu. It’s found on an exclusive “secret menu” and can be ordered at anytime, as long as you are “in the know”.
The dough of this pizza is deep-fried and then finished in the wood fired oven. Essentially it’s like a zeppole the way it’s fried and baked which causes the dough to become puffy. Forget about cronuts, Zooma is about to start a new food craze for fusing the zeppole with pizza. They should call it the “pizz-eppole” or maybe the “zep-pizza”. Either way, it’s outrageously delicious!
The thick, fluffy dough holds up well to the juicy cherry tomato sauce. Finished with Buffalo Mozzarella and Basil, it’s traditional toppings served in a new way. Do yourself a favor and order this pizza when you visit Zooma!
The Tre gusti pizza is perfect for a large party or those looking for some variety. I started with a slice of the Margherita which was wonderfully light and refreshing. Simplicity at it’s best. I then progressed to the middle which was made with creamy ricotta and salty salami. This paired especially well with our red wine. The last portion was white pizza topped with arugula and parmigiana. This turned out to be my favorite slice, but then again, if I ate in reverse order, I bet the Margherita would have been my favorite. You really can’t go wrong with whatever side you start with!
Manager, Armando Bisceglia, recommended two wines which he paired with our meal. First, we tasted a white wine called Lacryma Christi Del Vesuvio. This wine was made with grapes from the Campania region around Mount Vesuvius. It was crisp and remarkably balanced. It paired especially well with our pizza but I would also recommend ordering it with seafood.
Next, we tasted a red wine called Lacryma Christi Feudi di San Gregorio made from the same part of Campania. Armando informed us that this wine is one of his favorites in the world. For only $10.50 per glass, I couldn’t agree more! In terms of quality in price, it doesn’t get much better than this. It is complex with earthy with mineral notes, yet finishes surprisingly smooth.
This seafood stew had all the delicious flavors of the ocean. Made with clams, mussels, and shrimp, the broth was incredibly aromatic. Using a combination of squid ink and regular tagliatelle, this zuppa highlighted a pair of their handmade pastas.
If you are a frequent reader of Front Row Eats, you may know that I visited Italy over the summer. This dish transported me back there!
I’m already sucker for anything with Speck. Now try wrapping pasta within this salty Smoked Prosciutto and I’m sold before the plate even arrives. The pasta was made with a fontina based cream sauce, pine nuts, and chopped parsley. Even without the Speck, it was a solid dish. With the Speck, it was a home run!
We had a wonderful experience at Trattoria Zooma from start to finish. Immediately as you walk through the door, you can see the chefs making the pasta from scratch. You can smell the pizza baking in the wood fired oven. You can hear the staff speaking Italian to one another. Zooma is doing things the old-fashioned way. It’s authentic. It’s traditional. It’s the way Federal Hill should be.