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A Slice of Queens

That Rocco's was once Highland Park Cleaners is not hard to imagine. This tiny hut could have been little else, save for a hotdog stand or one of those mailbox places that charges you double to ship fruitcakes at Christmas. It's easy to imagine plastic bags stuffed with suits and shirts being handed over the counter instead of cardboard boxes of pizza and foil tubs of pasta. But if necessity is a mother, then McKinney Avenue is one hell of a pizza matron.

"It boggled my mind that this neighborhood didn't have a pizza place," says Rocco's owner Frankie Carabetta. Like the McKinney Avenue Tavern, Rocco's is a partnership between Carabetta and Ed and Michael Ruibal of Landscape Systems of Texas. And the pizza is reasonably good.

Meat-lovers pizza is a suicide-by-coronary pie, heaped with minced and mangled flesh: Italian sausage, meatballs, pepperoni and Canadian bacon with fresh garlic to help with digestion. The crust is moist and firm with a crisp undercarriage. It could have used a bit more cheese goo, though, to help the meat slide down a little easier. The big surprise here was the four seasons, a vegetarian pizza spread with artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, red onion and strips of basil. The mix contained little tasty contrasts to relish, such as the rustic artichoke tartness butting up against the sweet nip of the sun-dried tomatoes.

But the real surprise was the calzones. They're big, crisp, stuffed to the gills with gooey ingredients and sport a nice spicy edge. Plus, our meat-lovers calzone came with a rich, tangy marinara that had an edge of sweetness cast most likely from bell pepper.

Pastas are hit-and-miss. Rocco's trio, a red sauce frenzy with cheese-filled ravioli, manicotti and lasagna paved over with a thick melted layer of mozzarella, suffered from pasty ravioli and mushy, compressed lasagna.

Pasta à la Angelo was even worse. Founded on a tangle of linguini in a roasted garlic cream sauce, the mix of sun-dried tomatoes, basil and mushrooms, and slices of dry, grill grit-infested chicken were sequestered in a pasty sauce that had started to coagulate, taking on a grayish hue. Stick with the pizzas and the calzone, the basics that work.

Carabetta claims 70 percent of Rocco's business is delivery, 20 percent is takeout, and just 10 percent is dining in. For the latter, Rocco's has four tables near the front takeout window and five more in the back. Carabetta claims his little dry cleaner-cum-McKinney Avenue pizzeria is bringing lots of dough in the window, a flow that should only increase once it gets a license to serve beer and wine.

"I come from New York, from Queens, where there's a pizza place on every corner," says Carabetta. "Why am I the one moron to come up with this idea?"


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