Updated April 6, 2022 - 12:46 pm
Brett Raymer has gone from filters to pizza dough, from fins to Godfather heroes, from extravagant aquaria to the search for the perfect pomodoro to caress the bucatini.
Raymer, a former star of “Tanked” on Animal Planet, just opened Stallone’s Italian Eatery at 467 E. Silverado Ranch Blvd. For 15 seasons, ending in late 2018 , “Tanked” followed Raymer, family members and employees of his Las Vegas-based Acrylic Tank Manufacturing as they built lavish fish tanks for celebrities and businesses.
At Stallone’s, Raymer brought aboard Louie Zweifach as his business partner and executive chef. Both men grew up in Brooklyn — Raymer in Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach, Zweifach in Canarsie — and the restaurant cements a connection they didn’t realize they had when they met in 2020.
“We got to talking. I told him some names of people I grew up with,” Raymer said. It turned out there was one family “where I grew up with the younger brother, Louie grew up with the other brother. We ran parallel in Brooklyn but didn’t know each other. We became good friends.”
Eventually, Raymer proposed they open a restaurant together, a slice of the old neighborhood come to south Vegas. And really, what else could Stallone’s have been?
“It was always going to be an Italian restaurant,” Raymer said, his voice still seasoned with his native borough. “It’s like a New York pizzeria and pasta place. I call it New York Italian.”
The crust must pass the pizza test
A real Stallone gave the restaurant its name (in part). Anthony Monte, the chef de cuisine, has an uncle named Stallone. But Stallone’s also draws on the power of familiarity. “Everyone recognizes that name, everyone knows it, so why not use it?” Raymer asked.
Stallone’s occupies a 1,400-square-foot storefront, with about 25 seats, sports memorabilia garnishing the walls, food served in round foil tins with crimped edges and pizza sold by the slice or pie. Pizza dough is made using an older-model Hobart mixer; the pies issue from a Bakers Pride gas-deck oven that’s a decade old (but with new pizza stones).
“Chef Louie has been making pizza for 30 years. These are what he prefers,” Raymer said of the equipment. The New York-inspired pizza crust “is not too thin, not overly thick, and it has to pass the pizza test.” Which means a slice must be foldable, the way New Yorkers eat it, but “the front doesn’t flop. That’s the pizza test.”
Stallone’s offers 12- or 16-inch pies (plus calzones and stromboli). There’s a classic Margherita, yes, but also twists on the standards. Like a pizza topped with eggplant Parmesan. Or a pie sauced with pomodoro alla vodka. Or the 9th Island fashioned from pineapple, a flurry of crisp prosciutto, and kicks of sriracha and pickled red onion.
“That’s our version of a Hawaiian pizza,” Raymer said. “They say Vegas is the ninth island. We have a lot of Hawaiians here.”
Pasta sauce, inside and out
Pasta and house specialties also anchor Stallone’s menu.
Baked penne? Of course, with three cheeses and pomodoro (which the restaurant uses instead of thinner marinara). Rigatoni? It’s here, with a choice of four sauces and chicken or shrimp as add-ons. Lasagna? Pork, veal and beef come together in this signature Stallone dish.
And spaghetti and meatballs? Not quite. Bucatini, a hollow strand pasta from the Lazio region of Italy, replaces the usual spaghetti.
“A lot of people don’t use bucatini,” Raymer said. “The hole in the pasta helps capture the sauce inside the pasta instead of falling off it.”
The meatballs (Chef Louie’s meatballs, to be exact) are worth a longer mention. Like the lasagna, they unite pork, veal and beef. They’re made fresh daily not just for pasta, but also as a starter, as a pizza topping and for the meatball submarine sandwich (among other varied uses).
In New York, they’re heroes, not subs
At Stallone’s, as they are in New York, submarine sandwiches are known as heroes. “Our slogan is ‘Why be a sub when you can be a hero?’ ” Raymer said.
Before opening the restaurant, the business partners shipped samples of their favorite hero rolls from New York and Florida, then asked several local bakers to replicate the rolls. The chosen baker, Raymer said, agreed to prepare the 10-inch Italian-style rolls only for Stallone’s.
The Godfather, the most popular hero, stacks a chicken cutlet, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and roasted red peppers. Ham and fried eggplant star in the Raiders Special.
A sausage and pepper hero, a mainstay of New York Italian cooking, is smothered in sauce and cheese. The Big Guido does pork four ways: ham, pepperoni, prosciutto and Genoa salami.
A lasagna sandwich technically isn’t a hero (it’s served on garlic Texas toast), but that’s beside the point when a slice of lasagna draped in pomodoro and cheese appears between thick slices of bread. “It’s a little bit of a carb overload,” Raymer said.
As in New York, Stallone’s cold heroes are wrapped in wax paper, then white deli paper, its hot heroes in foil, then paper.
“These details are for authenticity,” Raymer said of the wraps. With cheesy hot heroes, the foil is crucial. Without it, “instead of getting a Parmesan sandwich, you’re getting mostly sauce because your cheese has stuck to the wrapper.”
Although Stallone’s is Raymer’s first restaurant, it’s not his first culinary venture. He was once a partner in four local Donut Mania shops, which closed in 2019 after a rival filed a lawsuit alleging improper use of trade secrets and intellectual property.
Raymer said he could not comment on the litigation.
His hope for Stallone’s, he said, was “to be that mom and pop place everybody comes to.” Where life after fish tanks (and doughnuts) is played out in pizza and pasta, heroes and meatballs.
And if reality TV came calling again offering a food show? He wouldn’t say no.