Anthony "Rocco" DiGrazia at Rocco's Little Chicago Pizzeria (Credit: Jackie Tran)
Anthony “Rocco” DiGrazia grew up on Chicago’s south side and went to school in Champaign for a degree in anthropology before moving to Tucson in 1992 for archaeology graduate school.
That didn’t end out working as planned. However, a restaurant space that was formerly El Pollo – followed briefly by Manhattan Grill – was up for grabs. On December 26, 1998, Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria officially opened for business.
1) What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?
My grandma’s Slovenian stuffed cabbage, cooked in sauerkraut and bacon. My Dad and I would fight over the last ones in the pot and I’ve still never eaten any like them. It was the first recipe I begged to learn how to make. Still the taste of my childhood.
2) What are you eating these days?
My girlfriend Gretchen and I have been catching up on all the new places downtown and around town. There is some fantastic stuff being tried and perfected by younger chefs and old salts alike.
3) What was the first dish you remember cooking?
I was shown how to make an onion and potato frittata by my grandfather, apparently the only thing he could cook. I went omelet crazy for a few months at age 12 after that.
Deep Dish Slice at Rocco’s Little Chicago (Credit: Jackie Tran)
4) What concept, ingredient, or food trend are you experimenting with these days?
I’ve been digging into a cookbook I brought back from Sicily this summer, with Italian dictionary in hand. Lots of simple, fresh, and vibrant Mediterranean flavors without much messing around. My kind of cooking for sure.
5) Who would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?
I never met my great grandmother Josephine, but I would love to have had a chance spend time with her in the kitchen and learn some family dishes that just didn’t make it through the depression and the very hard times they had.
6) What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?
Seattle has got to have the best mix of fresh ingredients, traditional ethnic and cutting-edge chefs, and good drinking I have ever come across. And the dim sum. Dude.
7) Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?
A whole bag of Pat’s greasy french fries. Omygod.
8) Which three Tucson restaurants do you frequent the most, aside from your own?
My teenage kids only talk to me when we’re eating out, so I spend a lot of time at their faves like Jun Dynasty, Chef Alisah’s Restaurant, and Luke’s.
9) With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?
Gimme my Grandma’s chicken and farina dumpling soup and some of her upside-down cake for dessert. Then fry me.