Originally posted March 20 on http://birraitaliana2014.blogspot.com
When Leonardo Di Vincenzo approached Manuele Colonna, the great Roman publican, in 2007 about opening a high-end pizza joint with only Italian craft beer on tap, it took some convincing. At the time, Leonardo was struggling to get his new brewery Birra Del Borgo off the ground. Even so, he was convinced of his new idea that eventually Colonna conceded. The idea was to open a pizzeria, but this would be one of the most original pizzerias since the conception of pizza in Naples. The notion soon proved to be genius. Bir & Fud would become in short time one of the most important elements in the Italian craft beer movement.
The model of beer with pizza isn’t a new one. In fact, the concept was created by Italy’s big beer companies early on. The main reason for the now long-held association of beer and pizza was simply because the beer industrialists were seeking a common thread throughout Italy. Not a very easy task in a country racked by extreme regionalism. But alas, during the late 19th century, there it was—pizza. Italy had only just been united by Garibaldi’s Risorgimento and formally recognized as a country in 1861. As a fledgling new country built out of city states much of it remained fragmented. The Neapolitan invention of pizza became nationally popular when Queen Margherita and King Umberto I of Savoy visited Naples. The Queen was presented the pizza, a special recipe made for her, one with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil. The three ingredients made up the three colors of the new Italian flag. The pizza is today’s cheese pizza in America, but in Italy it is still called the Margherita.
From that introduction, the pizza spread throughout Italy. It was the only common food thread from north to south. The industrial beer companies pounced on the new food concept and began to associate beer with pizza. The pizza was as exotic to Italians as beer was; the two made a match that continues to be a common association in Italy.
When Leonardo brought the idea of a pizzeria with beer to Colonna, it wasn’t necessarily a concept Colonna was willing to jump into. After all, the still fledgling Italian craft beer movement was doing everything it could to detach itself from this big beer association. It was a thorn in its side, to be blunt. At the dawn of the movement, Teo Musso, one of the four pioneers and perhaps the most influential brewer in the country, had painstakingly worked to get his beer on the tables of fine dining restaurants. He maneuvered his beer onto the table by first creating beautiful bottles to match those of wine, and then introduced them to the top 500 restaurants in Italy. For the better part of the movement Italian craft beer had been mimicking Musso’s move and placing their beer onto tables meant for wine. And for the better part of the movement, Italy only had a market in the wine world, beer was just a sibling fighting to be at the grownup table.
But Leonardo had a twist to the taboo. Bir & Fud wouldn’t just be any pizzeria. No, it would be something truly special. Enlisting Italy’s up and coming pizza maker, Gabriele Bonci, knighted by Vogue magazine as the Michelangelo of pizza, the pizza at Bir & Fud would be something of its own topic. Bonci’s 200 year-old-mother yeast and gourmet toppings, along with Colonna’s extraordinary ability to bring in great Italian beer directly from the brewers (since there is limited distribution in Italy), the match would recalibrate an old idea and infuse two old familiarities into something unique. Food critics condemned the waste of Bonci’s gourmet pizza on beer, but with hard work, Colonna and Leonardo were able to bring the union home even to the hardened critics.
But from the beginning, something didn’t sit well with Colonna. Though the concept was truly an important move, Colonna knew something wasn’t quite right with their idea. When Colonna visited Teo Musso’s and Leonardo’s collaboration, the impressive, Open Baladin, Colonna saw the mark Bir & Fud had missed. Open Baladin brought Italian craft beer front-and-center like no other, featuring 40 taps, all pouring Italian craft beer. As Colonna gazed at the 40 taps, he realized Bir & Fud’s concept was flawed. Italian craft beer shouldn’t stand alone at their restaurant; rather, it should be showcased along with other great, well-known craft beers from around the world. But there wasn’t much he could do now. Bir & Fud had been launched. Then serendipity made its move.
During a regular inspection by officials, it was realized the kitchen, which had been through thousands of inspections over a few decades through other restaurants, was not to specs. This is after all Italy. Having to make the changes to the kitchen, Bir & Fud would have to be shut down. Seizing the opportunity, Colonna revamped the seven-year-old Bir & Fud.
Still the great pizzeria it was intended to be, Bir & Fud reemerges like Botticelli’s Primavera, illustrious and splendid with a freshness equal to that of spring. Like the barrel of a gun, the bar stretches under a vaulted ceiling offset by shades of octagonal wood tiles made from wooden barrels. The bar has been extended where the kitchen once was. Tapas and finger foods will replace the food once being served in the old kitchen. The taps will feature thirty standard beers and six hand pumps, but not all will be Italian craft beer. As for pizza, well, the pizza will remain the same, but the pizza oven has been updated.
The sleek new look, the new international classic beers along with the Italian craft beers, tapas and Bonci’s pizza all come together to make a successful concept more concentrated. After all, who can doubt the great Colonna, a man who is a support column to the beer movement as one of his concepts comes to fruition just as Colonna intended it to be.
Check out Bir & Fud at Trastevere on Via Benedeta 23 if you’re in Rome or take a look at the pub at www.birandfood.it.