ROCKLAND—Josh Gamage, Rotary Pizza’s co-owner, operator and resident pizza maker, remembers what it was like growing up buzzing around Rockland’s rotary in the old days as a skateboarding teen. His mother even once worked as a waitress at the Chuck Wagon, a rotary restaurant, when he was a kid.
“We wanted to open a scratch-made independently owned and operated pizzeria in Rockland that the locals would feel comfortable in,” he said, pointing out all of the black and white photos of old restaurants on the wall that used to anchor the rotary in the 1950s to the 1980s. “The name of this place itself is a inside reference to what it was like growing up here,” he said.
The classic pies are all named after of those very iconic restaurants: There’s the Amalfi Caprese (a tribute to the original location of Amalfi on Main Street) which is like a Margherita pizza; the El Taco Tico, a Mexican style pizza made as a shout out to Rockland’s famed Mexican joint; The Chuck Wagon, a taste of the old west on the Rotary with its grilled steak, caramelized mushrooms and onions; the Salad Patch, a vegetarian pie and the MaiKai, a ham and pineapple delight after Rockland’s go-to Asian fusion palace in days past.
The small sit-down eatery has a sunny, light pine interior with a few tables in the back and a counter bar overlooking the open kitchen. Though the pizzas are gourmet (offering simple street toppings to fancy seasonal specialties), the casual atmosphere works on a high-low culture concept with affordable beer and wine. A can of Narragansett beer pairing exceedingly well with a good old hot slice of sausage and hot sweet pepper. Yes, they serve straight up slices for $3; not many pizza places do anymore. Gamage deliberately chose to make the pizzaria seat–and-serve-yourself and appeal to the working culture of downtown Rockland. “We didn’t want to have table service, because that only added more of an up-charge on your bill or a tip of 20 percent,” he said. “Going out for pizza should be affordable and you’re still getting great food cooked for you.”
Gamage has been a chef for 20 years, working both in the Mid-Coast School of Technology as a teacher in the culinary program while simultaneously running a catering business, Maine Coast Catering. He’d been looking for a new direction when businessman Ari Hecht proposed that Gamage take over the vacated space in his building on 10 Leland Street left by Pho Sizzle and renovate it into a pizza parlor.
Most food critics will say that the key to an excellent pizza its crust and crispness. Gamage makes his own dough (as well as gluten free dough) with crust options of sesame, garlic, and spicy flake. When it comes out of the gigantic Blodgett Master-Therm conveyor oven, the crust is springy (a welcome change from bloated convenience store hot case pizzas) and yet, it’s thin enough to rival a classic New York style pizza.
Gamage likes to have fun with the pies, experimenting with unusual flavors, such as a Picard’s Poutine: a pizza with cheese curds, duck confit and gravy and will be offering plenty of seafood options while its still in season, such as the Lobster fra Diavlo, the Scallops and Bacon and the Maine Crab Dip pizzas.
After only three weeks in business, it’s clear this place has been a hit with the local scene, cranking out nearly 180 pizzas a day. “We’ve had some people come back 10 times since we did a soft opening,” he said. Those who mourned the Thorndike Creamery’s hand-made pizzas will find a new home at Rotary Pizza.
Kicking off with the grand opening on Saturday at 6 p.m. with music by Juke Rockets and Threshers Brewing Co. coming down to offer kegged beer, Rotary Pizza is set to anchor itself as one of Rockland’s community joints. Gamage plans to hold a party once a month to celebrate with the locals.
They do take out, delivery and eat-in. Check out their website for more details: rotarypizza.me
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com