Rome’s newly reopened Mazzo
In January of 2019, one of Rome’s hottest restaurants, Mazzo, closed its doors. I was living in Bologna at the time, and I remember reading about its success and subsequent closure, wishing that I had been able to see what all the fuss was about.
In July of 2019, I moved back to Rome, and have been living here ever since. A few of my foodie friends talked about Mazzo occasionally, saying that they missed it, they wondered if it would reopen, and that they hoped so.
Well, in November, our collective wish came true, when Mazzo made its comeback.
Previously located in Centocelle, the new Mazzo is just down the street from my house in San Lorenzo. As you may have guessed, this makes me very happy.
As soon as tables became available for booking, I reserved for two as fast as my fingers could type, and Jeremy and I managed to get in for their “preview” – a tasting menu they ran for the first couple of weeks of Mazzo 2.0.
Mazzo’s origin story
Perhaps one of the coolest duos in Rome’s food world today, the rockstar couple behind Mazzo, Francesca Barreca and Marco Baccanelli, has a long history of cooking and traveling together (for more check out this article, in Italian, which I’m paraphrasing in this section).
For their first “tour,” they went by the name “The Gastronauts: Italian project,” and blended visual art, music and cooking as they made their way through Europe. In 2006, they returned to Rome and set up shop in Centocelle, changing their name to “the Fooders” and opening up a catering service. The article above attributes the start of Centocelle’s “gastronomic boom” to Mazzo 1.0.
There wasn’t just food on the menu, though: Francesca and Marco continued to mix art and dining, with exhibits and cultural events held in the space, too.
Unfortunately, the 2008 recession took its toll on the catering business, and the Fooders decided to convert the space into a restaurant. It wasn’t easy, so they chose the name “Mazzo,” from the expression “fare il mazzo,” which means, essentially, to work extremely hard. Our closest equivalent in North America would be “to bust your ass” (how elegant).
As I mentioned above, Mazzo in Centocelle closed its doors in January 2019. The space then evolved into Legs, which cranks out fried chicken, chicken burgers, fries, housemade sauces and craft beers from Artisan (another San Lorenzo fave). It’s still open today. If you want some of the goodness but don’t want to go all the way to Centocelle, you’re in luck: Legs Go opened for takeaway in Ostiense in early 2022.
As the Fooders prepped for another world tour, COVID-19 fell like a cloak across the globe, making it difficult, but not impossible: They were able to make it to Tokyo, Lisbon, Paris and London.
Fast forward through COVID, and here we are in late 2023, with Mazzo opening new doors in San Lollo. The article I cited above reports that the restaurant will have two distinct spaces: a wine bar in the front and the dining area out back. When I went, only the dining area was open, so that’s what I’ll cover below.
Dining at the new Mazzo
Like I said above, we had a tasting menu. I really enjoy these kinds of experiences, because I generally find that I end up trying new things and liking foods that I typically wouldn’t order when left to my own devices.
The menu started at home with a twist on a Roman classic before taking us to other regions of Italy with a dalliance in France. We ate against a backdrop of music played on vinyl and sipped a sparkling white natural wine.
My barometer for what makes a good tasting menu is “Did I want more of everything?” The answer at Mazzo was yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.
All of the following cost us €50 per person – a veritable bargain for such a stellar meal.
Trippa fritta alla romana (Fried Roman tripe)
As I understand it, the trippa fritta was one of the Fooders’ greatest hits in their Centocelle location. Roman tripe is normally stewed with tomato and mint, but Mazzo transforms it into a much sexier snack, frying strips of the tripe golden brown in a thick batter and setting a nest of them on top of tomato sauce. Sweet and salt come in as mint leaves and pecorino.
Cruda di manzo, burro al pino mugo (Raw beef with pine butter)
I was a really picky eater as a kid, and my mom always cooked ground beef to a temperature that might have been called Very Well Done after the Jack-in-the-Box-E.-Coli scare of ’92. If someone had told me then that I’d one day be devouring a plate of raw beef, I probably would have cried.
I almost cried over the raw beef with pine butter at Mazzo, too, but because it was so delicious. The presentation was playful. The meat appeared as a kind of thin-looking patty, with the butter smeared on the side of the plate like a blob of mayo that had been scraped off of a knife.
I ate a forkful, but quickly realized there was nothing to chew. Forest and field mingled and melted; their delicate flavor deepened by a few flakes of salt and darkened with black pepper.
Pane, scapece invernale, formaggio di capra (Bread, winter scapece, goat cheese)
Typical of the summer, zucchine alla scapece combines roasted zucchini with mint, vinegar and my best friend, garlic. Although it originated in Campania, it’s commonly eaten in Rome during the warmer months when zucchini abounds. In this iteration, the dish was adapted to the winter season by the Fooders, who swapped out the zukes for Roman broccoli and cauliflower.
I expected this course to be my least favorite, but it turned out to be as surprising as the others. It was also visually pleasing owing to the flourish of kale that sat atop the otherwise mostly beige conglomeration of bread, goat cheese and winter vegetables.
The dish was crunch, cream, crisp, and pucker, and it, like the others, left me wanting more.
Maiale e patate alla mugnaia (Pork meunière with potatoes)
If you’re familiar with Italian dining, or if you’ve read my complete guide to the Italian meal structure, you might be wondering where the pasta course was. I was a bit puzzled at first, too, but my puzzling gave way to joy when I saw that the meat was not preceded, but instead followed, by TWO pasta dishes.
Anyway, I’ll get to the pasta in a second, after I’m done gazing wistfully out the window as I remember the tender pork, which was served in the typical French “meunière” style, i.e. floured and fried and served with warm melted butter and lemon, and the velvety potatoes that turned to cream on the tongue.
Borrowed from the Emilia Romagna region, the first Fooders pasta dish on the menu was spoja lorda, which look like ravioli, but without the firm borders – each puffy pillow is full to the edge with ricotta.
Normally, spoja lorda are served in broth, similarly to tortellini in brodo, but the Fooders made another slight shift here by drizzling the pasta with a thick veggie reduction instead.
It was my first time having spoja lorda, and I looooooooved the Fooders’ dense version. It was perfect for a chilly December evening.
Ruote pazze alla genovese di pannicolo (Pasta wheels with genovese)
This was the dish I was most excited to try, being a fan of both Genovese and pannicolo, which I first had at Trecca. My excitement was not misplaced. Genovese, a Neapolitan pasta dish that combines heaps of slow cooked onion with beef, isn’t widely known outside of Italy but hell, it really should be.
The Fooders’ Genovese was dreamy, with thick wheels of pasta dressed with a sweet, meaty pile of sauce and a snowstorm of parmigiano.
Cremoso di cioccolato, agrumi, olio extravergine d’oliva (Creamy chocolate, citrus, extra virgin oliva oil)
Cremoso di cioccolato has a texture that’s close to pudding. Mazzo’s version was fit for royalty, ornamented with a thread of golden olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, and crowned with a candied orange slice.
My final thoughts on Mazzo 2.0
After our meal, Marco emerged from the kitchen and checked in with the tables along the wall, one of which we were seated at. I was really struck by this – a duo like the Fooders, whose every venture has earned a reputation for excellence, could easily be cocky. Instead, he wanted to know what we thought. We told him our honest opinion, which was that everything was delicious and that we couldn’t wait to come back again.
I can sum up my final thought on Mazzo in two words: More, please.
Via degli Equi 62 (San Lorenzo)