It may be the most fun you’ve ever had eating dinner on a Tuesday. Cacio e Pepe night over at ROC on Bardstown Road isn’t on everyone’s radar yet, but this authentic Italian twist on performance dining has been drawing a crowd. “Last week, we had maybe twenty people come in for it,” says Rocco, the impossibly charming, impeccably dressed owner of the eponymous eatery. “I can cook maybe two at a time. If we get really busy, my manager, Gianfranco, can make it too.”
For the uninitiated, cacio e pepe is a deceptively simple, deliciously creamy dish involving spaghetti (in this case, ROC’s homemade spaghetti), a wheel of pecorino romano (“the Louis Vuitton of cheeses”) and red pepper. “It’s a little like alfredo, but there’s no cream,” says Rocco. “You finish the plate with red pepper.”
The dish is a classic comfort food in parts of Italy.
“My mother used to make it for me,” says Rocco who hails from Sorrentino. “But the flame is my thing. People love to see flames. Sometimes I make it shorter, sometimes I make it longer… for show business.”
Showmanship is only part of the allure at the chic three-story restaurant with its lively patio, direct-from-Italy kitchen staff, authentic cuisine and extensive cocktail menu. Rocco’s ideas flow as quickly as his words. He and his wife Stacy have spared no detail in creating an inviting ambiance. There are two smaller private dining rooms upstairs (named after daughters Allessia and Sofia), concealed screens behind the bar and in the upstairs dining room for slide shows, presentations or big games. The third floor is still being renovated for future plans that should shake up the local dining scene further once those roll out.
The smart ideas and delicious food are born of experience. Rocco and Stacy may be new to Louisville (she has family here), but they’re not new to restaurants. The recent transplants from New York have owned popular restaurants in Tribeca and Brooklyn. But the Cacio de pepe presentation is a first for them too. “The dish was a special on our Tribeca menu, but I couldn’t cook at the table,” says Rocco. “You pay by the inch for real estate in New York. I didn’t have the room! Now that I’m in Louisville, I have the room and the flexibility to do these kinds of things.”