Il Lazzarone Brings a Taste of Naples to the River Market

Il Lazzarone is officially open for business.

But the River Market pizzeria can’t say it serves true Neapolitan pizza—yet.

Owner Erik Borger opened the second location of the restaurant he started in St. Joseph, Missouri, on March 11, and he’s already working toward getting the KC pizzas approved by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the Italian regulatory body with strict standards for what does and doesn’t quality as a real Neapolitan pizza. Key characteristics include individual sized pies with a soft, thin crust that shows charred spots from the oven, but to be truly authentic, pizzas must be prepared according to very precise rules.

Il Lazzarone owner Erik Borger. Photo by Zach Bauman.

Borger’s St. Joe pizzeria is one of just over 500 in the world that meet the stringent requirements, and he’s aiming to have the necessary paperwork together for his new River Market spot within 30 days. An inspector from the AVPN would visit soon after it is submitted to make sure everything is being done according to guidelines.

While his eyes are on the Neapolitan prize, Borger is more than content with his new surroundings and bringing a taste of Italy to Delaware Street. Dishes include classic marinara and margherita pies as well as other pizzas that are Italian in nature, Borger says, pointing out the l’uovo pizza topped with an over-easy egg. Pesto is made from scratch and mozzarella di bufala is flown in from Italy’s Campana region. (Borger recently received a $1,500 shipment but thinks it’s too delicious to pass up. “I knew when I opened, even though it was in the Midwest and very far away from any ports, I had to have this cheese,” he says.)

In addition to a variety of red and white pizzas, the menu features antipasti and desserts, including Fritto Nutella, fried dough with Nutella and powdered sugar served as an homage to Naples’ love of the hazelnut spread.

To round out the restaurant, Borger brought in Dominic Petrucci, of Cellar & Loft and Julep, as lead bartender.

“This place is obviously about the food and about the oven and about Erik and about Italy,” Petrucci says. “That’s what the whole place is about, so I can’t go and try to compete with that. What I can do is complement it.”

His cocktail menu primarily consists of dry drinks along with a few sweeter, dessert-style options, all priced $8-12 to encourage patrons to treat themselves and try new things.

Highlights include the Grigio Martinez, a take on the classic Martinez cocktail turned gray to mimic the charred spots on Il Lazzarone’s pizza crusts, and the Chiarinia Massani, made with Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin, Cointreau, lemon, egg white, oregano and Chartreuse Green and named for Petrucci’s great-grandmother who emigrated to the U.S. in 1906. Il Lazzarone also features extensive wine and beer lists, apertifs, digestifs and housemade vermouth.

It’s those personal touches and the passion behind them that could turn Il Lazzarone into a beloved River Market spot, which is what Petrucci and Borger are hoping for.

“We have so many neighborhood people all the time and that’s what we wanted,” he says. “We could have gone into Westport, somewhere else downtown, Crossroads—all beautiful places available right now—but this is where we want to be. We wanted to serve a neighborhood. We wanted to get to know our customers. We wanted to be a local gathering place.”—Kelsey Cipolla