Thin-crust, rolling pin-flattened pies are now flowing from the newly copper-clad, wood-fired oven at Nomad Roman, which soft-opened this week at 1305 Locust. It’s the third location for Stalin Bedon and Tom Grim, who run Neapolitan-slinging Nomad Pizza shops at 611 S. Seventh St. and in Hopewell, NJ. (the duo also have a mobile pizza truck).
At the new spot, Bedon is alternating between texting last-minute details in preparation for the restaurant’s official grand opening on October 25 and overseeing pizzaiola Emily Elgie as she smooths dough into 13- to 14-inch rounds. (Each Roman-style crust is made from two thirds the amount of dough as Nomad’s Neapolitan pies, and it’s allowed to ferment just one day, instead of three.)
Elgie has a half-decade of pizza-making experience, at Baltimore’s Johnny Rad’s, among others, and she trades technique tips with her boss as she works. “Emily’s been doing this more years than me, probably,” Stalin jokes, and then catches himself. “Wait, no, I’ve been at it longer. I’ve been doing it a million years! I was born with a pizza peel in my hand!”
Once covered edge-to-edge in sauce and toppings, pies are slid into the mouth of the wood-fired oven that has flamed at the back of oblong room the since its former days as Girasole and then Spiga. They take just slightly longer than Neapolitan pies to emerge, crust crackling and cheese bubbling, ready for finishing touches like grated truffle cheese, piles of fresh arugula or swirls of extra virgin olive oil.
A dozen varieties of are listed on the menu, from the simple Marinara (sauce, Parmesan, sea salt and black pepper; $11) to the Truffle Pecorino (three cheeses, mushrooms, a farm egg and truffle oil; $19). Five salads serve as starters ($6-$10), plus a meatball platter served over sauteed spinach ($12). See the menu here.
Pies are served whole and sliced once they land at the table. Tables are made from reclaimed pallets, polished and branded with the Nomad name, and provide around 55 seats, backed up to wooden benches and exposed brick walls from the oven at one end to the floor-to-ceiling windows at front. Another 20 seats are provided by custom-made stools, lined up along the walnut bar and at two counters, one made of copper and the other of marble, facing the cords of wood beneath the oven mouth.
Along the walls hang eight huge, antique pizza peels, which Bedon found on Craigslist and drove to Massachusetts to pick up personally. “How are you going to ship these things, right?” he says, pointing to the 10-foot wood handles. “Actually, I didn’t know how I was going to get them in my car.” His father-in-law came up with the winning idea: Stalin strapped a 12-foot ladder to the top of his vehicle, then lashed the peels onto that for the four-hour drive home.
It was worth the effort, because the timeworn tools make a striking effect hanging on the brick walls of their new home. The dining room is rustic and welcoming. “We’re not about fine dining,” says general manager Katy Hill-Ott, who opened Nomad Pizza on Kater Street, “but we treat our customers right.” The loyalty Nomad’s service and food inspires is made obvious when a man parks his bicycle outside the door and pops in to drop off a bottle of high-end bourbon for the staff. “He’s a regular guest at our other restaurant,” Hill-Ott says with a smile. “He’s as excited about this as we are.”
1305 Locust St.; 215-644-9287