‘Tanked’ star opens Italian restaurant, Stallone’s, in Las Vegas
Brett Raymer has gone from filters to pizza dough, from flippers to godfather heroes, from extravagant aquariums in search of the perfect pomodoro to stroke the bucatini.
Raymer, a former Animal Planet “Tanked” star, just opened Stallone’s Italian restaurant at 467 E. Silverado Ranch Blvd. For 15 seasons, ending in late 2018, “Tanked” followed Raymer, his family members and the employees of his Las Vegas-based acrylic tank manufacturing as they built lavish aquariums for celebrities and corporations.
At Stallone, Raymer brought in Louie Zweifach as a 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 bond they didn’t realize when they met in 2020.
“We started talking. I told him names of people I grew up with,” Raymer said. It turned out there was a family “where I grew up with the younger brother, Louie grew up with the other brother. We ran parallel in Brooklyn but we didn’t know each other. We have become good friends.
Eventually, Raymer proposed that they open a restaurant together, a slice of the Old Quarter that came south from Vegas. And really, what else could Stallone have been?
“It was always going to be an Italian restaurant,” Raymer said, his voice still seasoned with his hometown. “It’s like a New York pizzeria and a pasta restaurant. 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 head chef, has an uncle named Stallone. But Stallone also relies 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 lining the walls, food served in round aluminum cans with seamed edges, and pizza sold by the slice or pie. The pizza dough is made using an old model Hobart mixer; the pies come out of a decade-old Bakers Pride gas oven (but with new pizza stones).
“Chef Louie has been making pizza for 30 years. That’s what he prefers,” Raymer said of the gear. The New York-inspired pizza crust “isn’t too thin or too thick, and it has to pass the pizza test.” Which means a slice should be collapsible, like New Yorkers eat it, but “the front doesn’t collapse.” It’s the pizza test.
Stallone’s offers 12- or 16-inch pies (plus calzones and stromboli). There is a classic Margherita, yes, but also twists on the standards. Like a pizza topped with eggplant parmesan. Or a pie topped with vodka pomodoro went. Or the 9th Island made with pineapple, a burst of crispy prosciutto and kicks of sriracha and pickled red onions.
“It’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 outside
Pastas and house specialties also anchor Stallone’s menu.
Penne in the oven? Of course, with three cheeses and pomodoro (which the restaurant uses instead of the thinner marinara). Rigatoni? It’s here, with a choice of four sauces and chicken or shrimp on the side. Lasagna? Pork, veal and beef come together in this signature Stallone dish.
What about spaghetti and meatballs? Not enough. Bucatini, hollow pasta from the Lazio region of Italy, replace 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 out.”
The meatballs (Chef Louie’s meatballs, to be exact) deserve a longer mention. Like lasagna, they unite pork, veal and beef. They are made fresh daily, not only for pasta, but also as an appetizer, as a pizza topping, and for the meatball sub sandwich (among other varied uses).
In New York, they are heroes, not submarines
At Stallone, like in New York, the submarine sandwiches are known as heroes. “Our slogan is ‘Why be a substitute when you can be a hero?’ said Raymer.
Before opening the restaurant, the business partners shipped samples of their favorite hero rolls from New York and Florida, then commissioned several local bakers to replicate the rolls. The chosen baker, Raymer said, agreed to bake the 10-inch Italian-style buns just for Stallone’s.
The Godfather, the most popular hero, piles up a chicken cutlet, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and roasted red peppers. Ham and fried eggplant are the stars of the Raiders Special.
A sausage and pepper hero, a mainstay of New York Italian cuisine, is smothered in gravy and cheese. Big Guido prepares pork four ways: ham, pepperoni, prosciutto and Genoa salami.
Technically, a lasagna sandwich isn’t a hero (it’s served on Texan garlic 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 bit of a carb overload,” Raymer said.
As in New York, Stallone’s cold heroes are wrapped in wax paper, then white deli paper, his hot heroes in foil, then paper.
“These details are for authenticity,” Raymer said of the envelopes. With nerdy hot heroes, foil is crucial. Without it, “instead of getting a parmesan sandwich, you mostly get sauce because your cheese stuck to the wrapper.”
Although Stallone’s is Raymer’s first restaurant, it’s not his first culinary adventure. He was once a partner at four local Donut Mania stores, which closed in 2019 after a rival filed a lawsuit alleging misuse of trade secrets and intellectual property.
Raymer said he could not comment on the litigation.
His hope for Stallone, he said, was “to be that mom and that place that everyone comes to.” Where life after aquariums (and donuts) plays out in pizza and pasta, heroes and meatballs.
And if reality TV came back to the call by offering a cooking show? He wouldn’t say no.