Without pizza, New York City would be a zestless, hollowed out version of itself. Pizza isn’t just the city’s most famous dish: it’s an essential part of everyday life. Ask a New Yorker and they will point you to their local slice joint (perfect for emergency bouts of hunger — or hangovers), the place their family’s been going since the ’70s, and that secret neighbourhood haunt that they don’t want anyone else to get word of. In other words, if you’re visiting New York, plan to eat pizza early and often — and, for those who are really after the good stuff, make sure to venture across the river for a crawl of the best pizza in Brooklyn.
The history of New York pizza begins with Italian immigrants, who, from the 19th century onwards, settled in the city in large numbers — and, happily for locals, also brought their favourite snack along with them. While you can find good pizza all over the city, many of the best and most authentic spots reside across the Brooklyn Bridge. From the Neapolitan eateries that still make their pizza the old-fashioned way — in coal-burning brick ovens, that is — to the new guard of pizzerias that are putting an inventive spin on the formula, these 10 spots have mastered the art of the perfect char and perfect chew.
Praised by the New York Times and celebrated by the city’s food loving scenesters, the relentlessly trendy Roberta’s is tucked away in a stretch of Bushwick that falls beyond the typical tourist track. Don’t let that deter you, though. Through its entryway you’ll find a veritable carnival of pizza: pies flying out of the hot oven, hungry masses waiting to be seated, and some seriously heavenly aromas wafting through the dining room.
First opened more than a decade ago in Williamsburg, Fornino has since expanded and now operates two additional locations in Brooklyn Bridge Park and Greenpoint. The menu is divided into three ‘generations’ that provide their own little timeline of the history of pizza: the first covers classic Neapolitan styles, the second expands its purview across Italy, and the third covers New World innovations. No matter which you choose, you’re in for a masterful pie.
Totonno Pizzeria Napolitana — or Totonno’s, as the locals call it — has been catering to the hungry, beach-going masses in Coney Island since opening in 1924. Luckily, things haven’t changed too much since, and the pizza here (coal-oven made) is as old-school New York as it comes. In fact, Totonno himself had the title of New York’s first pizzaiolo (he transformed Manhattan’s Lombardi’s from a humble grocery store into the city’s first pizzeria). Good thing he headed down to Brooklyn to open his own spot.
Motorino is an Italian-inspired spot for pizza in Brooklyn, run by a Belgian pizzaiolo called Mathieu Palombino. Got it? Good. Now that that’s covered, make haste to the pizzeria’s Williamsburg outpost, where you can opt for the classic Margherita or go in for something a bit more adventurous — like the Colatura di Alici, topped in fior di latte, onions, grape tomatoes, white anchovies, olives, and chilli.
In a candlelit space in the northernmost tip of Brooklyn, Paulie Gee’s awaits. More a sit-down spot than a take-away joint, the restaurant has the pizza game nailed, with its crispy-chewy crust, high-quality ingredients, and hospitable atmosphere (just try not to like the Hellboy, which comes drizzled in spicy honey). Really, it’s hard to do better when it comes to pizza in Brooklyn — which is good, because Paulie himself is likely to make the rounds and ask how things are going.
How good is Lucali, even among the other top spots for pizza in Brooklyn? So good that celebrity chef David Chang, of Momofuku fame, counts among the regulars who queue up for hours for a taste of the restaurant’s pies and calzones. Though owner Mark Lacono famously opened Lucali back in 2006 almost by mistake (he had no pizza-making background at the time), his pizzas are the stuff of legend, thanks to their perfect crust — and his grandma’s secret sauce recipe.
L&B Spumoni Gardens
Deep down in Bensonhurst, L&B Spumoni Gardens has achieved local landmark status, thanks in part to its famous square pie. These aren’t the crispy, super-thin slices you’re likely to find elsewhere across town: rather, the Sicilian-style pizza has a hearty, bready crust, which is topped first with cheese before being ladled in red sauce and finished off with olive oil and salty pecorino. For a delicious and nostalgia-inducing glimpse into New York’s lesser-known pizza styles, it’s a must.
Written by Claire Bullen
Image credits: Di Fara © Di Fara, Motorino © Motorino, Roberta's - Millenium Falco © Roberta's