Buried on a small street near the Jewish Ghetto, the rustic bakery is touted for the sweets and savories pulled from its wood burning oven, which dates to Rome’s early 1800s. Breads in varying shapes and hues and grains were stacked alongside nutty cookies, cakes and pastries filled with creams and jams, and long rectangular sheets of pizza scattered with cheese and meat and vegetable or with a simple slick of tomato, glistening with oil.
As we stepped through the stone doorway, a still-warm slab of focaccia the length of a 1957 Fiat 500 was slid onto an ancient wood counter. Filled with cured Italian ham, chunks of tomato and Taleggio oozing from its edges, we immediately recognized breakfast. Wielding a huge carving knife in her thick hands, an old woman in a too-large chef’s toque indicated the size of the piece desired with the tip of her knife, moving it further and further and further with each acquiescing nod of my head until I was presented with a tranche the size of my meaty forearm.
We crowded into an untidy space at a tiny bar next to a woman wrapping fancy Easter breads in cellophane, curious and chatty about a life lived in California, far from Rome, from which she’d never ventured. Muttering polite responses, I cast my eyes downwards to the sandwich, wishing for quiet in the late morning din. We stood elbow-to-communal-elbow with other worshippers at this primitive gastronomic alter: men in overalls speckled in plaster dust from a nearby renovation; chic women in pantsuits and heels with heavy make-up and understated jewelry; office workers in blue blazers slung with embossed handbags hung from shiny chains; finely coiffed old women in plain house dresses shopping for the Sunday meal; and two tired tourists exhausted from weeks of travel, overwhelmed by eye-candy and clothed in the filth of human voyage. Unspoken and perhaps unconsciously, we were united by a belief in the nourishing, humanistic power of bread, a true non-denominational eucharist.
(at Forno Roscioli Pietro)