Stracci, which means “tatters” in Italian, mirrors more than just creamy Stracciatella cheese. In our current state, passing closed restaurants here and there on once-bustling streets can leave some communities shattered, making memories, first dates and celebrations nothing more than rags.
Thomas Cardarelli, chef and owner of new food outlet Stracci Pizza, (pronounced stráh-chee) always wanted to start something of his own — a high-tech, casual pizzeria. Then, the pandemic hit. His friend asked: “Why not get a food truck?
Cardarelli, who studied jazz at NYU, brings that same creative spirit to his cooking style. He makes pizza the way one plays jazz music, pressing the dough delicately like piano keys, and for a moment, you are transfixed on nothing but the silent, yet methodical process going through his head.After a decade spent working in New York’s culinary world, Cardarelli moved to Alexandria with his wife, Annalisa Cardarelli, and worked at Vermilion as their executive chef until COVID-19 struck last year. To navigate the pandemic while the restaurant is temporarily closed, he bought a 20-foot trailer and turned it into a pizzeria with a fine dining palate that was takeout-accessible. “It’s humble beginnings,” he said. While he serves as chef, his wife manages the marketing aspect of the business.
After falling down the “pizza rabbit hole,” Cardarelli wanted to bring a new style of pizza to the area that differed from the mom-and-pop Neapolitan style pizza. He discovered Roman-style pizza, the budding centerpiece of Stracci, that requires a certain handling and musical delicacy. Unlike
Neapolitan pizza, the dough is naturally fermented in cold temperatures for up to 72 hours and is baked at a lower 600 degrees. Its texture is crispy and airy, like the first bite of fresh-baked sourdough bread, and it permeates the food trailer with an overwhelming aroma. Cardarelli tops his pizzas with homemade Stracciatella, fresh mozzarella soaked overnight in cream and then tattered, an homage to the Stracci’s double entendre.
The menu is unpretentious and simple with a focus on seasonal, quality ingredients. A selection of appetizers and greens focuses on those chef-driven skills he picked up along the way, with citrus salads and artisan breads speaking for themselves. The dessert should not be overlooked, especially the marcona almond tart, which let my mind wander with awe at its simplicity.
The pizza, however, he lets tell his story. The Erminia, made with garlicky spinach, artichokes and fontina cheese, was inspired by a family member who ate spinach everyday as if it was the elixir to longevity. The Brooklyner, topped with pepperoni, sausage, Stracciatella, ricotta, chili pepper and honey, reminds the couple of the great pizzerias they loved in New York and the ones that are no longer there. The traditional Stracci, with Stracciatella, tomato, basil, and olive oil, is simply a delicious pizza, with space to write your own story.
Right now, you can pre-order pizzas online for pickup, or until they run out of dough. The Cardarellis aspire to expand their availability to “keep up with the dough,” and hope to grow into a warm, inviting neighborhood restaurant.
Cardarelli noted that Stracci Pizza represents more than the tattered world in which it was born into. What matters most are the challenges — the rags — it will overcome.