#THROWBACK Q+A: Anthony Russo, Founder of Russo's New York Pizzeria Chain
Russo’s New York Pizzeria has locations across the United States, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and soon, Doha. Anthony Russo credits his fresh ingredients stance for the successful expansion and many slices of famous New York cheesecake sent in from New York.
You have a Honolulu location, lots of mainland ones and a Dubai restaurant. Do you adjust the pizza to local tastes? And in things as small as dough consistency, too?
Absolutely. We want customers in every market, whether locally or internationally, to enjoy their experience at Russo’s. A big part of that is incorporating local cuisine into dishes.
At our Ewa Beach location in Hawaii, we created a pulled pork pizza as a specialty. Dishes like the Calamari Fritti – along with other seafood – is really popular there. SO, we also added in more pasta entrees with seafood, using whichever fish is in season on the island. Things like Salmon Piccata and Tuna Piccata are always a big hit.
The menu in Dubai is really reflective of local and traditional cuisine. Seafood dishes there will have more white fish. As far as meat, anything involving lamb will fare very well – for instance our Lamb Rigatoni is popular. We also took into consideration local seasonings, and added ingredients like saffron to risotto dishes to give it that comforting flavor.
Additionally, the Middle East is not nearly as big on alcohol as we are here in the U.S. So in place of a traditional bar that serves alcoholic beverages, we put in a fruit juice bar. Customers can choose from fresh pineapples, mangos and other fruits to create their own drinks.
How can someone enjoy your food in a less greasy means while still getting the cheese and other pleasurable ingredients? Is there a specific healthier dish (though not ‘diet ‘ food?)
Since opening our restaurants, we’ve abided by the Russo family promise: “If it isn’t fresh, don’t serve it.” All of our pizzas and entrees are made with quality ingredients that I, along with a few others, hand pick specifically for Russo’s brands. We don’t buy products in the marketplace that are mass-produced because they’re full of junk. I go through careful procedures to hand pick ingredients, and develop the recipes myself to maintain the integrity and freshness of the produce.
We also use only 100 percent, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, which is made from olives picked from my family’s grove in Southern Italy.
As far as healthier dishes, you can enjoy something small, but hearty, like a Minestrone Soup, which is prepared traditionally with all fresh vegetables. We also have chicken and vegetable entrees that offer high protein and a low calorie count. Of course, our gluten-free options are a favorite amongst those who not only suffer from Celiac disease, but for people that abide by a gluten-free lifestyle.
Whether you want to eat light or go a little crazy, our menu accommodates everyone.
Do men and women have different favorite picks at your restaurants? What are they? What do both men and women like equally?
Men gravitate more towards the meat dishes. For instance, our New York Village Pizza is big favorite. It has spicy Italian sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, and beef… It’s a big favorite amongst the guys.
For women, they’ll go with a bit of a lighter pizza option, like the Margherita Pizza. It’s definitely not as heavy. The Mediterranean and Caprese salads are also favorites among female diners.
The common denominator with both men and women is the pizza. Whether it’s a house specialty or a build-it-yourself pie, everyone comes to Russo’s for the authentic, New York-style pizza.
You sell New York-style cheesecake. I’m always really confused how to differentiate authentic from the imitations. How Do I know I’m eating a real one when I dine out, including at your restaurant?
At Russo’s we import our cheesecake from an authentic, Italian bakery in New York City, Pasticceria Rocco (Rocco’s Pastry Shop). Every single Russo’s location has Rocco’s cheesecake.
The easiest way to tell an authentic, traditional cheesecake from one that isn’t is in the texture. If it’s smooth and creamy with an airy finish and your fork slices through it easily, than you’re eating the real stuff. If it’s very dense and thick, and feels heavy, most likely it’s not an authentic style cheesecake.
Same question for the pizza. How do I know I’m eating authentic Manhattan style pizza? Is it all really skinny crusts, more cheese and light on the sauce?
A good New York-style pizza starts with a thin and crispy crust, and will be topped with fresh sauce and mozzarella. It’s not necessarily about how much you put on it, but about the quality of the ingredients.
But in case you’re still skeptical, here’s a good way to determine if it’s truly New York-style pizza: You should be able to fold your slice in half, and it should be able to stand up straight when you lay it on the crust
This article originally appeared en español on my ELLE Spain blog.
ELLE Spain discontinued their freelance blog journalism program in 2016. I have republished it on NicoleRussinMcFarland.com once again so my journalism may live on. I am grateful for the experiences I had from 2011-2016 writing for my personal Spanish language blog, revista ELLE for providing the blog, and the time from all of my interviewees.