Happy National Pizza Day! I cannot imagine a better celebration than talking about our visit to Bobby Axelrod’s favorite pizzeria. Enjoy!
We already published Billions Season 1 Dining Guide and Billions Season 2 Dining Guide but Capparello’s Pizzeria or real life Rosa’s Pizza has become such a staple in the show that it absolutely deserves its special tribute! Bobby Axelrod, as much as he is a man of confidence, seems to feel most comfortable in his skin at Capparello’s echoing that Yonkers boy who wants to “get rich and get even” when he grows up. Every scene at this corner pizza joint reveals a thing or two about Bobby and THIS alone makes a trip to Rosa’s a MUST for me and my partner-in-crime Lewisto. And a comment on the blog from a reader, Alaston, saying “If you DO go to Rosa’s, get the Grandma slice” triggers it that we find ourselves on the M train heading to Rosa’s in August 2016.
So who folds it better? Bobby or Me?
We start with a virtual trip, revisiting the four scenes we saw at Capparello’s in Season 1 before our real trip, and highlight what we learn about Bobby in each one. Then we follow up with our real trip to Rosa’s Pizza. Bon Appetite!
Scene 1: Bobby is attached to his roots.
Lara: “You only have that exact look on your face when you’re here.”
Bobby: “The pizza is really fucking good. Take a bite.”
That is how we get to meet Bobby for the first time. A happy customer. However, he is not here today to sample pizza but to save the joint from closing so he can keep eating Bruno’s pizza for a long time.
There is a falafel place bidding to occupy Bruno’s place and the landlord is squeezing Bruno about the rent. Bobby makes a few calls and locks Bruno in for a 20-year lease and the falafel shop is going to the mall. And we find out Bruno was there for Bobby way before Bobby was there for him:
“You let me slide for weeks without paying when I was coming in here every day after school.”
A memory Bobby obviously cherishes with gratitude. And he is careful not to hurt Bruno’s dignity that he offers partnership. Bobby’s affection with Bruno is revealing about his attachment to his roots as well as him being caring and generous to those who care about him.
Who knew this Yonkers kid who went to Hofstra would turn out to be the man that he is today? Well, Bruno didn’t and this makes, in Bobby’s words, two of them 🙂
The actor who brings us Bruno, a fatherly figure with an old world charm, is Arthur J. Nascarella whom you may know from a number of films including Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s Solitary Man. He may be most recognizable, at least for me, as Carlo Gervasi in The Sopranos. It turns out Koppelman and Levien got to meet Nascarella first at a poker table in 1990s. Koppelman summarizes their first meeting in 140 characters:
We first met Arthur Nascarella, who plays Bruno in this scene, at a poker game in 1997. He had a pistol at that game. Now he's sweet!
— Brian Koppelman (@briankoppelman) January 18, 2016
A pistol at the poker table? It turns out Mr. Nascarella was an NYPD officer for 20 years. Well, I believe this explains the pistol 🙂
Scene 2: Bobby is different from the other children.
Bobby could easily take Jerome “Purk” Purkheister, the chairman of Yum Time executive board, out to dinner on the Upper East Side for a 20 ounce rib eye and a $500 Cabernet but he chooses to take him to Capparello’s. Remember Bobby Axelrod does not do anything just for the fuck of it.
“This place is the pizza of my youth. He’s been making it just like that since I was a kid.”
This is perfect demonstration of how you keep your high quality (read: more expensive) ingredients such as San Marzano tomatoes and thereby keep your good customers around for a long time. Capparello’s has been around for more than 50 years. Please notice the canned San Marzano tomatoes on display next to the cashier!
Bruno’s pizzas taste exactly like they did when Bobby was a kid where as Yum Time Scrumpets do not taste like they used to anymore: They are “colorless, oversweet, petrified.” Bruno has never let Bobby down. Yum Time has. Add to this the dramatic story of Ebinger’s and “Purk” is sold.
Scene 3: Bobby finds a father figure in Bruno.
I see it maybe because I lived it. When you don’t have a dad and it is a void nobody else can really fill but you desperately try to fill the void with someone else: An uncle. A close family friend. A teacher. I believe Bobby finds THAT figure in Bruno.
The day his 9/11 dirty laundry is made public, Bobby stops by Capparello’s seemingly to give back the check Bruno sends him for his share of the profits. But he is, in fact, there to see Bruno’s reaction to the news. Even though Bruno says he was too busy to check the news it is obvious he knows.
And that fatherly nod he gives Bobby after the first sip of wine? Well, I think THAT makes Bobby’s day. Wendy coming to the panic room to tell him he does not have to be ashamed of anything, at least, in a relativistic sense, is important. Lara standing tall beside him is very important. But the nod from Bruno is what Bobby really needs that day. Because whatever age we are, we always look for parental approval.
May I just add I LOVE Capparello’s serving wine in water glasses like the true family trattorias in Italy? Salute!
Scene 4: Bobby never misses an opportunity (well, yeah, this is not new).
Bobby sort of arranges a meeting with Bryan through Orrin Bach. What we don’t know is whether nonna pie will be tempting enough for Bryan or he will keep asking for a salad.
Orrin makes the overture explaining how Chuck has got the information on Danzig case by logging into Wendy’s private notes. Bryan’s response: “Fuck.”
And Bobby brings the opera: Bryan can come start in Bach’s law firm on his account. He comes highly recommended by Orrin. He’s just as smart as him. “More focused. Younger. Hungrier. Dangerous.” His seat is ready at the grown-ups’ table.
Bobby meeting Bryan at Capparello’s is a strategy to show Bryan it is Bobby and not Chuck that he is similar to. Bobby, like Bryan, has never had a net to fall back on. He, exactly like Bryan, came from nothing.
“You’re driven the way only someone brought up from nothing, THE WAY WE WERE, can be.”
Even though Bryan says he cannot picture it, Bobby thinks he can because this Bryan is different than the one at the settlement conference. He now knows Bobby and Chuck are not really that different from each other in justifying the means for the ends. And, obviously, defense pays better: 7 figures to start. His mom will not have to work unless she wants to. Bobby does not hear a no. Neither do we. Does Bryan want to be a lion? Or he is just happy staring at them? To be continued in Season 2. Why is Bobby doing this? Is it about getting even with Chuck who let him lose Wendy?
Now on to our trip to Rosa’s Pizza located at 7559 Metropolitan Ave (b/w 78th and 79th streets): a 10-15 minute walk from M train’s Middle Village / Metropolitan Ave station (this is what we did) or MTA bus Q54 on Metropolitan Avenue can take you to 78th street.
Since I am the blogger and Lewisto is the food critic in our household, I kindly asked him to review Rosa’s for us. This is his take on the place:
“Exposed brick walls, neon signs on the windows, just enough lighting otherwise, a couple of empty tables and a bunch of kids enjoying their slices over a good ol’ creamy soda, and a couple of folks taking care of business from slicing the pie to heating the slices to cleaning tables, this place feels more than nostalgic. The moment I got into the place, I felt like getting into my own neighborhood joint where I find solid food and comfort. No wonder Billions folks picked that place…
The pizza is pretty solid here. One can definitely get fancier pizza elsewhere, but this place is a steal at this price range. The crust is crispy and the tomato sauce is absolutely delicious and just the right amount for a NY slice. People rave about the Sicilian slice, but don’t miss out on the Margherita!”
And me being me, I feel the urge to add a few words, too: I absolutely feel like we are at Capparello’s when we get into Rosa’s because it seems Billions team has not changed the setting much other than renaming the place, placing cans of San Marzano tomatoes in display next to the cashier and removing personal pictures. And when you think about it, why would they? This should be the exact atmosphere they want for the show: an old school, no fanfare, all honest place that has probably not changed a bit in the last few decades. The TV is on and there is football — the real one! And, hey, I notice the guy behind the counter, the big guy in blue shirt, in fact, appears in Episode 3! Isn’t he the same guy? I think he is the same guy 🙂
Rosa’s has a familial feel to it. You can see kids that grew up here and stayed in the neighborhood frequent the place now with their families. Classic. And we know Bobby’s take on classics: “Well, you can’t beat a classic. Friends, cars, music.” So it is a fantastic place to create the world he comes from, the world he can be just himself. Yes, we evolve constantly in our lives, but at the end of the day, it is where we are coming from that makes our core.
We tried Nonna (Sicilian) slice, Margherita slice, and Eggplant slice. I have not asked if they used San Marzano tomatoes but I can certainly vouch for high quality ingredients because my stomach would certainly tell me otherwise 😀 Lewisto is right, everyone raves about the Nonna slice, and we loved it, but my personal favorite was the eggplant: it is like eggplant parmigiano on pizza crust – yummy combo! 😀
My only dismay is there is no wine served in water glasses at Rosa’s. They do not serve alcohol. But as Lewisto points out, their sodas are pretty good. They only accept cash but there is an ATM machine inside for your convenience.
UPDATE: Well, after our trip to Rosa’s, we were looking forward to having Bobby Axelrod fold it again at Capparello’s in Season 2, but he really did not have the opportunity to do so. We saw him picking up his family pizza order in Episode 1 Risk Management where Bruno introduced him to his nephew Marco… and the rest is Sandicot!
We know the father-son relationship is over when Bruno puts it quite clearly as Axe stops by for a slice and probably for some fatherly advice when Lara left him:
“You’re my business partner. So, you get the slice and a coke on the arm. But that don’t buy you a conversation with me.”
Well, Axe had to think twice before breaking this old man’s heart with breaking into his house with Hall in the wee hours only to drag the old man to his nephew’s office for a Hal-style interrogation, and more importantly telling Bruno “there will still be a finder’s fee” when he drove all the way from Yonkers to Axe’s house to tell him not to screw Sandicot.
I don’t know whether Bobby’s confession to Wendy in Season 2 Finale Ball in Hand that all decisions he has made since they worked down in Lower Manhattan together after 9/11 were WRONG included the wrong he did with Bruno. I genuinely HOPE, in Season 3, he somehow makes it up to the man who let him have pizza without paying for weeks when he was a young boy. As Wendy rightly points out in Episode 6 Indian Four, he does not even have to do a big gesture:
“Grand gestures are not necessary. When it comes to you, Bobby, it’s the small kindnesses I prefer.”