Chef Teddy Diggs, most recently the executive chef at Chapel Hill Italian restaurant Il Palio, announced plans to open his first restaurant, Coronato, in early 2019, most likely in Chapel Hill. The news comes on the heels of the announcement that chef Adam Rose will return to Il Palio as its executive chef.
Coronato will be a Roman-style pizzeria serving pies that are characterized by their cracker-thin crust, alongside trattoria- and street-food-inspired snacks and antipasti.
“There’s a lot of different pizzas in the world, and in Italy,” Diggs says. “I’ve been to Rome a few times and I keep going back to this crust. It’s my family’s favorite crust when we do pizza night, and it’s a really good crowd pleaser. It’s also not really that focused on in [this] country that much.”
Diggs tinkered with his crust recipe for years before perfecting it. His formula begins with a naturally leavened pizza dough made from a mother, or fermentation starter, that he started over a year ago, to which he adds a touch of honey for sweetness (another common pizza Romano trait) and extra virgin olive oil to give the crust extra crunch. The pies, which boast a modest amount of toppings, cook up in three minutes in an imported Italian pizza oven. Though Roman pizzas cook at a lower temperature than Neopolitan pizzas—between 650 and 700 degrees, compared to between 800 and 1,000 degrees—the oven still yields the coveted leopard-spotted charring on the underside.
Another reason Diggs has chosen to focus on Roman cuisine is the variety of cultural influences on its cuisine, including Middle Eastern, African, Jewish, and those from other European or Italian cities, which he says will allow him flexibility and creativity as he develops the menu.
“Rome is rooted in tradition and a lot of history,” he says. “It has a lot of structure and bones to it, but in the modern day, when Rome wakes up in the morning, it has an incredible personality that is not subject to being put in a box by any means. It’s very urban, it’s a mash-up of cultures, and they have a lot going on.”
This means that for his menu, Diggs might use classic Roman dishes like cacio e peppe, pasta seasoned with black pepper and Pecorino Romano, and turn it into a pizza topping, though he’ll employ a clever technique of adding ice water to the Pecorino so that the cheese melts into a slick sauce as it bakes. Or he’ll transform filetti di baccalà, a popular antipasto dish of salt cod, into a pizza, by topping dough with slow-cooked onions, crushed olive-oil-roasted potatoes, and flaked poached salt cod. On the snacks front, which Diggs often refers to as treats, he’ll take a popular street food dish like falafel, but instead of mixing freshly ground chickpeas with mint, as is tradition in Middle Eastern cuisine, he’ll use locally grown nepitella, a wild mint that also grows in Rome.
Diggs is still looking for a space for the restaurant and, while he’s considering the Triangle at large, he envisions landing in Chapel Hill, where he and his family call home. In the meantime, he’ll start introducing diners to Coronato and Roman-style pizza by collaborating with other chefs on pop-up dinners, starting with Deric McGuffey, Il Palio’s former pastry chef and current partner in the cidery Botanist and Barrel. The pizza and cider pop-up will be held on July 14 at Botanist and Barrel’s farm, Cedar Grove Blueberry Farm. Ticket information and details will be shared on Coronato’s social media. You can follow them on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.