“We have this character, Uncle Tascio,” Borger says. “We were in Italy for a few months a couple of years ago. In Palermo, off the beaten path, this guy we were with says ‘Hey, watch out for the Tascio around here.’ I’m like, what are you talking about? He’s like, ‘They’ll be perched on their car, yelling at girls, gold chains all over, chest hair sticking out, and they’re just loud and obnoxious.”
Borger knew right then: “If I ever open a New York pizza place, I’m going to call it Pizza Tascio.”
Borger, who is well-known to Kansas City pizza geeks as the founder of Il Lazzarone did get around to planning that New York-style joint, which should open at 1111 Burlington in North Kansas City at the end of next week. When it came time for a logo, he emailed Palermo.
“I wrote to them to get the .JPEG file for this dude,” he says. “Some guy from northern Italy messaged me and said ‘That character is not even authentic Italian, you need to work on that artwork. I’m like, the Palermo Visitors Bureau sent it to us.”
Borger grew up in the Hudson Valley, just north of New York City.
“Being from New York, pizza has always been the highlight of life,” he says. “We could get the local pizzeria’s pizza instead of school lunch in elementary school. It was just ingrained in life. Coming out here, it was a culture shock.”
Borger’s father was in pharmaceuticals and the family eventually moved to St. Joseph, where pizza meant Pizza Hut—growing up, he’d only eaten at the Hut because of Book-It.
Borger had been accepted to culinary institute at age eighteen but didn’t go, instead studying exercise physiology and getting a job at a hospital. Things changed when his father came down with cancer. “He just didn’t have an appetite, so I started making him pizza,” he says. “I just went down this rabbit hole trying to make my dad the best pizza I could make him.”
They didn’t have Ooni back then—if you wanted to make real pies at your house, it was a major undertaking.
“I found this oven online, and then it turned into me bringing this six-thousand-pound Whole Foods brick oven that they were selling into the garage and running gas lines. It was quite an operation. I think at one point I had six pizza ovens running in the garage, just testing different ones. It was pretty intense.”
He took a leave of absence from the hospital to open his own Neopolotin pizza place, Il Lazzarone, in St. Joseph and then in KCMO’s River Market district.
With young kids he didn’t get to see enough, Borger decided to take a step back and handed the keys to Il Lazzarone to an employee with instructions to pay him back as he could. Then the third generation stepped up.
“Four years later, the kids just want to make pizza every day,” he says.
Pizza Tascio pies aren’t like ll Lazzarone—they’re actually closer to Borger’s roots.
“I never mastered New York-style, I’m going to be honest with you,” he says. I got into Neapolitan, and after my dad passed away we went on a road trip to twenty-three Neopolotin-certified places across the nation.”
You can see Borger’s pizza nerd bonafides in the details. Like the tomatoes he’s using, California-grown San Marzanos from a farm run by Phoenix pizza king Chris Bianco.
“Going into this I just wanted to make the best New York pizza anywhere,” he says. “I spent a year on the crust. I went through every hydration level. I went through every different flour on the market, every different tomato on the market. Honestly, I couldn’t find anything better than the Bianco.”
He also uses oo flour, which is totally counterintuitive for a New York style, but worked best with his recipe.
Pizza Tascio is at 1111 Burlington in North Kansas City, right by Chicken ‘N Pickle and Borger hopes to be open next week.