The best pizza in New York? I think I’ve found it…

The best pizza in New York? I think I found it on Sunday night at Lucali Brick Oven in Carroll Gardens.

Pizzaiolo Mark Iacono, owner of Lucali Brick Oven, is a natural. A marble mason by day, he built a beautiful wood-fired oven and open kitchen in an old candy store on Henry St. in Carroll Gardens. The previous owner’s name was Lou and he and his wife Valerie’s daughter is named Kalista, so they called their pizzeria “Lucali.” To watch Mark make pizza is like going to the ballet: his methodical movements are graceful and steady and his timing impeccable. He makes only pizze and calzoni: his crusts are perfectly salted, the thickness consistently ideal, and the toppings are pure and simple (pepperoni, onion, mushroom, basil, and sometimes sausage from the local pork store). For my table, he recommended a pizza with tomato sauce, cheese, and basil: he uses mozzarella di bufala, domestic mozzarella, and then a pinch or two of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Also on Mark’s recomendation, I tried the “five-cheese” calzone: stuffed with ham (he rips the slices by hand into small strips), ricotta, mozzarella di bufala, domestic mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, and a fifth cheese that he wouldn’t reveal. It was insanely good…

I asked Mark, a Carroll Gardens native, how he learned to make pizza: “I just remembered the way they used to make it in the old days,” he told me.

“Mark just wanted a place,” said his lovely wife Valerie, “where everybody liked the pizza.” He has certainly succeeded.

There are no menus at Lucali, it’s strictly BYOB, and the waits are long (up to three hours on some nights, Mark said). Seems that most patrons are locals who leave their number and wait to be called when their tables are ready.

Above: I paired the pizza and “five-cheese” calzone with a gorgeous Joseph Roty 2003 Marsannay. The combination — the excellent pizza, the earthly wine, and the setting — was purely transcendental.

I rarely drink espresso after dinner these days but had to try Mark’s (he is the only one “allowed” to touch the machine, his wife told me). It wasn’t good… it was divine.

Lucali Brick Oven
575 Henry St (and Carroll)
Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY 11231
(718) 858-4086

I’ve been eating pizza all week and below I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite places.

BENSONHURST

Above: Si parla italiano (Italian is spoken) at Da Vinci in Bensonhurst (one of NYC’s vibrant Little Italys).

Da Vinci
6514 18th Ave (and 65th St)
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, NY 11204
(718) 232-5855

Da Vinci is my all-time favorite NYC-style pizzeria. The crust is always perfect, not too thin and not too thick. The pizzaioli are always super nice and it’s great to see the families and kids there and hear Italian spoken. Be sure to order a slice with “fresh” mozzarella.

CARROLL GARDENS

Lucali Brick Oven
575 Henry St (and Carroll)
Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY 11231
(718) 858-4086

See above

EAST VILLAGE

Cacio e Vino
80 2nd Ave (and 5th)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 228-3269

Truly top-knotch sommelier Eleonora Tirapelle (left) at Cacio e Vino (“Cheese and Wine”). She used to work at the famous Bottega del Vino in Verona. Note how she’s bound the cork to the bottle using the foil of the capsule. The night I was there I had an excellent Origanata, a Sicilian-style pizza with anchovies and oregano (hence the name). My friends and pizza experts Charles and Michele Scicolone (check out this profile) like the pizza there but they go for Salvatore Fraterrigo’s Sicilian specialities. “Salvatore is from Trapani,” says Charles, and he makes some of the best Sicilian food outside of Sicily. His pasta con le sarde, ‘pasta with sardines,’ a traditional Sicilian dish, is incredible. He uses dill in the place of the wild fennel they use in Sicily, but it’s better than most restaurants in Sicily.”

GRAMERCY

La Pizza Fresca
31 East 20th Street
(btwn B-way and Park)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 598-0141

“La Pizza Fresca is the best pizzeria in the city for Neapolitan-style pizza,” says Charles, a devotee of the restaurant. “The test for Neapolitan pizza is that you can take it and fold it again and fold again without crust breaking. The pizza at La Pizza Fresca never fails the test. La Pizza Fresca also has one of the best wine lists in Manhattan.”

Check out Charles’ recent post on where to eat pizza in Naples.

LOWER EAST SIDE

Above: Rosario’s is perhaps the last Italian-owned pizzeria on the Lower East Side. It stays open late and, man, I speak from personal experience: a late-night Rosario’s slice after a gig or show in a LES club is awesome.

Rosario’s
173 Orchard St (and Stanton)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 777-9813

Owner Salvatore Bartolomeo (left) came to NYC from Palermo, Sicily in 1960 and has run the classic downtown pizzeria Rosario’s since 1963 (note the archetypical LES would-be hipster with wanna-be Strokes haircut waiting for a slice). If you’re looking for the best NYC-style pepperoni pizza this is the place to go (he actually bakes the sliced pepperoni on each pie, unlike many pizza-by-the-slice joints where the pizzaiolo adds the pepperoni to a regular slice and then reheats it). For large parties, I highly recommend asking the pizzaiolo to bake a whole pie for you. It’s well worth the wait…

Rosario’s doesn’t have a website but it does have a fan site created by one of its die-hard patrons.

PARK SLOPE (PROSPECT HTS)

Franny’s
295 Flatbush Ave
Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY 11217
(718) 230-0221

The pizza at Franny’s is done in the Neapolitan style and many of the toppings are sourced from artisanal, local cheese- and sausage-makers. The wine list is small but really great, with a good selection of natural wines. Francine has a great palate and she likes one of my favorite Lambruscos, Lini.

What’s your favorite NYC pizza?

Above: Anthony Mangieri, polarizing pizzaiolo at Una Pizza Napoletana (photos by Kelli).

Following my post on pizza in New York City, I received a number of recommendations. Here are some of the most passionate…

Una Pizza Napoletana
349 E 12th St (btwn 1st and 2nd)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 477-9950

New Yorkers love their pizza and they love to share their opinions. No NYC pizzeria seems to be as polarizing as Una Pizza Napoletana in the East Village: there are those who swear it is the most authentic Neapolitan pizza in the city and there are others who claim it is just a would-be hipster cult destination.

Pizzaiolo Anthony Mangieri makes only four pizzas: Margherita, Marinara (above, left), Bianca, and Filetti (topped with cherry tomatoes), all of them meatless. Anthony uses sawdust to “bump the oven temp up about 70 degrees for a few seconds to add a little crunch without drying the crust out,” writes Scott. “Worked like a charm on 2 of the 3 pies we had: Marinara was suitable for the Last Supper, Bianca was on its heels and the Margherita was a little soggy which texture-wise is to obvious effect but it also washed out the flavor a bit. The keys to the flavor (for me) are the explosions of different flavors from bite to bite: a hit of salt here, olive oil there and in the case of the Marinara the beautiful oregano.”

Bleeker Street Pizza
69 7th Ave S (at Bleeker St)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 924-4466

“This slice joint stands above. I challenge you to find a better stand-up slice in town than its Nonna Maria — marinara, mozzarella, basta. With just a few tables, I’m not sure how they’d respond to wine from the outside, but it would be worth trying to smuggle in a ’61 Cheval Blanc.”

– Jeff

Di Fara
1424 Avenue J (at 14th St)
Brooklyn, NY 11230
(718) 258-1367

“Di Fara Pizza should definitely be in the top tier. It is an awesome only in NY experience. It is totally chaotic with no order there are 5-6 people deep at a counter and every once in a while the owner looks up and takes and order so you have to be proactive/aggressive. We had a simple cheese pie – it was amazing fresh basil and cheese.”

– Robert

Luzzo’s
211 1st Ave (btwn 12th and 13th Sts)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 473-7447

“That’s amore… warm coals and crusty pizza.”

Alfonso

Stromboli
83 Saint Marks Pl (at 1st)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 673-3691

“In the drunk pizza category there’s nothing finer than Stromboli on St. Marks and 1st Ave. It’s a block from the Tile Bar (which is my favorite bar in the East Village and possibly all of the city) which makes it perfect in every way.”

– Dana

Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitano [sic]
1524 Neptune Ave (at West 15th St)
Brooklyn, NY 11224
(718) 372-8606

“Totonno’s out on Coney Island is my favorite. Every time I go there with friends, we order one, and then, after we eat it, we order another and eat that. Thin crust, and more sauce than cheese.”

– Dana (bis)

16 thoughts on “The best pizza in New York? I think I’ve found it…

  1. Do you have directions for how to bind a cork to the side of the bottle using foil as done by the Somm @ Cacio e Vino? I work at a restaurant and would like to do the same for my customers.

  2. Best new Pizza slice joint has to be Artichoke on 14th Street between First and Second Avenues. Big wide pizzas, no menus or daft toppings and a good radio. If it’s good enough for Keith Richards, it’s good enough for me.

  3. The absolute best authentic new york slice without getting all fancy and without any hassle and be blown away is NY Pizza Suprema on 31st and 8th Ave across from Madison Square Garden and Penn station. This is the way Pizza tasted when I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn before all that Rays garbage starting plaguing Manhattan this is the way it tasted in Manhattan. The place looks like an ordinary Pizza shop but its not. It has been awarded top ten Pizza in NYC for several years in a row. So if you just want to walk into a place a grab aslice of real Ny pizza and be blown over without any hassle this is the place. I recommend the regular slice, the upside down slice and the fresh mozzeralla all plain.

  4. I recently tried Fornino on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg for the first time, which was pretty excellent by New York standards. It has a garden which reminded me of New Black Cat in Arezzo, possibly my favorite pizzeria in the world, run by a hyper-active man named Valerio (my Dad calls him “The Great Valerio” after a Richard Thompson song).

    For authentic Italian-style pizzeria chaos, I prefer Luzzo’s on First Avenue: they have Italian MTV and bottles of Menabrea (my all-time favorite Italian beer and perhaps easier to find in New York than it is in Italy)!

  5. Franks on 23rd between Lex and Park — a little thicker crust, sugary sauce and the guys where red and white striped shirts. It is small and it is a hole and the CUNY kids are all over the place but if I am walking by, I’m stopping and I am always happy I did.

    But Lucali in Carrol Gardens is a blast for a more dining experience.

  6. Jeremy:

    When you get to Chicago, I’ll have to take you to Spacca Napoli in the Ravenswood district. Jonathan Goldmoth, the owner, is a pizzaiolo as well and a wonderful one at that!

  7. You forgot the best pizza in Manhattan: Ventuno (21) on 21 Carmine street in the village. It’s the most like the real Napoli pizza I’ve had in Manhattan. John’s Pizzeria on 278 Bleecker is worth noting. Also, Fascati pizza in Brooklyn heights is my favorite by-the-slice place I’ve been to so far. 80 Henry Street.

  8. Pingback: Pizza, pairing, and Pasolini « Do Bianchi

  9. correction: it’s ventoto (28) on 28 carmine street. I promise the only reason you haven’t heard of it is because its too new for word to have gotten out yet.

  10. il Forno on the corner of 20th and 3rd in Manhattan is by far the best typical “New York” pizza that I’ve had i’m from NYC. Its simple tried and true crust and toppings are the best. Its prices reasonable and quality predictable. I don’t know if this pizza places normality is out of fear as the local Police Academy is adjacent and frequents the venue or what, but I can say that I’m never disappointed. Nothing Fancy, just good. The way pizza should be.

  11. I lived in Little Italy on Hester St just down from Umberto’s. Is Luigi’s on Mulberry between Hester and Canal still there? It has been 25 years, but I can still taste the droplets of garlic floating in the atmosphere as I walked in the door.

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