Restaurant review: RedRossa offers solid, wood-fired, Neapolitan style pies
RedRossa delivers, but if they want to stand out, they’re going to need to make some adjustments.
- Solid, wood-fired, Neapolitan style pies.
- Counter service, self-serve drinks, and super fast pizzas.
- Crispy Prosciutto Cheese Bread is as good as it sounds.
Fast-fired, Neapolitan style (or at least Neapolitan-inspired) pizza chains are having their moment, and the Des Moines metro is home to several, including the home grown Gusto (we’ll get to them another day) and imports like Pie Five and Blaze.
RedRossa predates much of that craze, putting down its roots in 2008, and they use (now practically quaint) real wood in their ovens. It’s enough to admire, even if the product doesn’t tend to inspire particular excitement.
Red Rossa’s menu is pretty simple — a list of pizzas, a list of salads, a few appetizers that riff on the dough that underscores the pizzas, and an indifferent wine and beer list (no local craft, disappointingly).
The salads were a disappointment, comprised mostly of oversized, irregular, quadrilaterals of romaine that had been cut long in advance, the fringes sadly rusted. The Chop Chop ($10 for a full, $7 for a half) in particular failed to deliver. A great Italian chopped salad is packed with flavor, bursts of tanginess and saltiness and layers of rich flavors. This was a pallid affair, with a bland balsamic vinaigrette doing nothing to lift the sad pile of lettuce leaves or dry shaves of rosemary-sage chicken. The small scatterings of garbanzos, salami and smoked mozzarella did their best but were too scant to register.
The Walnut Gorgonzola salad ($9/$6) suffered almost the opposite problem, so completely overloaded with walnuts and dry gorgonzola crumbles, backed by a pungent gorgonzola-walnut vinaigrette. It was better, and generous, but the shotgun approach to big ingredients didn’t solve the flavorless beefsteak tomato.
The pizzas were fairly solid, and in a couple instances, quite delicious. We tried nine different pizzas on our visits and each one was perfectly cooked, with a few showy blackened blisters and a tender, chewy crust. The best allowed a primary flavor to star, accented by supporting characters.
The Gabagool ($10), for instance, underlined the spicy capicola at its heart with red pepper flakes and pepperoncini, despite the best efforts of a flood of canned, pimento-stuffed green olives. Even better was the Capricciosa ($10.25), where an easy hand with the fresh mozzarella let the tomato sauce shine, accented by artichoke hearts and kalamata olives. The fresh prosciutto on top and roasted crimini mushrooms gave bursts of flavor that didn’t overwhelm. The Carne Robusto ($10.50) balanced its four meats (Italian sausage, spicy salami, pepperoni, capicola) just fine.
The pizza that you really want to stand out at a place like this, though, is the classic Margherita ($6.75). With just a few leaves of basil and some fresh mozzarella to balance the tomato sauce, the crust really stands out. Alas, the flavor that stood out the most was salt. Despite liking the roasted criminis on the Capricciosa, the Wild Mushroom ($9.50) got muddled. The Chicken Alfredo ($10.50) tasted like an experiment to achieve the least amount of flavor with the most strong-sounding ingredients (how something with roasted red onion, roasted garlic, and rosemary-sage chicken managed to be that bland, we’ll never know). Honestly, it wasn’t bad, it was just perplexing. The pepperoni on the Napoli ($9.50) dominated, but we’re suckers for good pepperoni, so this was fine.
Only one truly disappointed, the BBQ Chicken pizza ($9.75), which would have been achingly sweet thanks to a sugary BBQ sauce before the recommended $1 pineapple supplement (it was more palatable the next day, cold from the fridge).
There was, however, a true standout: the Crispy Prosciutto Cheese Bread ($8) . The crispy bits of prosciutto don’t overwhelm the way, say, bacon might. They’re rich and occasionally crunchy, building on the herby garlic and oregano. And it’s not so overloaded you don’t feel like you couldn’t eat a whole one by yourself. Surprisingly, this was also maybe the best showcase for the simple tomato sauce. Being able to dip (or pour) a hearty amount over each piece, the clean and vibrant tomato flavor cut all the richness nicely.
Staff was friendly and accommodating on each visit. You order at the counter, and food is brought quickly and efficiently. Non-alcoholic drinks are self-serve, and a kid’s meal includes a pizza, a drink, and a token to redeem a small cup of gelato for $6. The brilliantly blue birthday cake gelato thrilled our 4-year-old; the butter pecan was saccharine and tasted of artificial flavoring.
RedRossa added only a second location (in Sioux Falls, S.D.), but walking into the place you’d be excused for assuming there were dozens like it, scattered about the Midwest, so closely does it mimic a chain restaurant. Once upon a time, finding a blistered, thin-crust pie that values the dough with a minimalist aesthetic toward toppings would have been cause enough to get excited. These days, when variations on Neapolitan pie are practically standard, expectations run higher. RedRossa delivers, but if they want to stand out, they’re going to need to make some adjustments.
Emily Ekle works in book publishing and Derek Thorn is a user experience designer. They live together with their children in Ankeny. Emily and Derek dine anonymously for their reviews in an effort to capture the authentic experience of a customer. For questions on Des Moines Register reviews, contact planning editor James Kramer at email@example.com.
Critic's rating: 1½ stars
Food: 1½ stars
Ambiance: 1 star
Service: 2 stars
Price: $5-10.50 (more for customized pies)
Address: 12695 University Ave., Suite #100, Clive
Atmosphere: Fast casual
Recommended orders: Crispy Prosciutto Cheese Bread, Capricciosa, Carne Robusto
Drinks: Wine and beer
- Sunday–Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
- Friday–Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Wheelchair access: Wheelchair accessible
Kid friendly? Kid’s menu available. High chairs available.
Allergen friendly/Willing to accommodate vegetarians? Yes
What the stars mean
4 stars: (Extraordinary) Transcendent. A one-of-a-kind experience that sets the local standard.
3 stars: (Excellent) Superior. Memorable, high-quality food; exciting environs; savvy service; smart concept.
2 stars: (Good) Solid example of restaurant type.
1 star: (Fair) Just OK. A place not worth rushing back to. But, it might have something worth recommending: A view, a single dish, friendly service, lively scene.
No stars: (Poor) Below-average restaurant.