The Nine Essential Pizzerias in Brooklyn

Paulie Gee's
Paulie Gee's
Dominic Perri for the Village Voice

There were 23 Italian restaurants on our list of 99 Essential Restaurants® in Brooklyn, and nine of those were pizzerias. That could make Italian Kings County's official fare — and pizza its official dish. Here are the nine places where you can get an essential pie; consider this a guide to the most exalted pizza in the borough.

The Nine Essential Pizzerias in Brooklyn
Dominic Perri for the Village Voice

Di Fara Pizza, 1424 Avenue J, 718-258-1367 Half a century ago, Domenico DeMarco opened the doors to Di Fara Pizza, a petite Midwood pizzeria in an unassuming corner storefront where Avenue J and East 15th Street intersect. New York's patron saint of basil-snipping works with enlightened Zen, kneading dough into imperfect shapes and taming the flames that roil beneath his metallic beast of an oven. This is quintessential Brooklyn (and New York City) pizza with blistered crust; rounds (or "regular," here) are made from mild, slightly yeasty dough, while squares are chewy and thicker. The winning formula for Di Fara's pies: mozzarella, a sprinkling of grated hard cheese, and lively San Marzano tomato sauce. But it's the ritual of it all that's captivated generations of New Yorkers and world-traveling pizza fans; the way DeMarco tends to each pie, anointing it with herbs, more grated cheese, and a generous drizzle of olive oil. All this folklore and fanfare has led to serious waits during primetime hours and occasional closures due to private parties. You can always get there early and join numerous others waiting for DeMarco (and the five of his seven children who run the shop with him) to unlock the doors. Our favorite power move, however, is to place a pizza order at Di Fara and walk around the corner to sibling Italian comfort food restaurant MD Kitchen. Because what makes a two-hour wait for bread, sauce, and cheese better? Shrimp parmigiana heroes.

The Nine Essential Pizzerias in Brooklyn
Dominic Perri for the Village Voice

Franny's, 348 Flatbush Avenue, 718-230-0221 Francine Stephens and Andrew Feinberg, the couple who opened Franny's more than a decade ago, met at Savoy, Peter Hoffman's now closed Soho temple of greenmarket cooking. There they discovered a mutual love for Italian food and dovetailing perspectives on sustainable agriculture. And so they knew that when they eventually opened a restaurant together, it would showcase those interests. At the suggestion of a family member, they settled on pizza — despite the fact that "I'd never cooked pizza before," says Feinberg. No matter. Soon the kitchen was turning out blistered pies painted with tangy marinara and topped with fresh mozzarella that easily competed with the best pizzas in the city, and people were coming in droves, clogging the entryway of their small shop with hours-long waits. (Though Franny's has since expanded into bigger digs down the street, the wait has followed.) Beyond turning out good pizza, Feinberg and Stephens were early adopters of the farm-to-table mantra that has become ubiquitous in our restaurant industry: They vowed from the beginning to be transparent about where all of their ingredients and supplies come from, and they led by example in developing relationships with Greenmarket purveyors. Above all, they are strong believers in restaurants being an integral part of their community, and they continue to push Franny's to be what makes it so charming: the ultimate neighborhood restaurant.

The Nine Essential Pizzerias in Brooklyn
Dominic Perri for the Village Voice

Juliana's, 19 Old Fulton Street, 718-596-6700 Patsy Grimaldi made pizza for more than 60 years, first at Patsy's Pizza in Harlem under his uncle, then at some other NYC coal-fired pizzerias, and finally at Grimaldi's, the restaurant he opened with his wife, Carol, on Old Fulton Street in DUMBO in 1990. After building an international following for that parlor, the owner was ready to retire, and in 1999 he sold the business, brand, and name. A few years later, though, Grimaldi became distressed by the legacy of his coal-fired pizzeria, and so he began to toy with the idea of getting back into the business. When Grimaldi's was evicted from its original home, Grimaldi partnered with Matthew Grogan, a longtime fan and former Wall Street warrior, and came out of retirement to reclaim the address — and the original coal-fired oven. After the space went through a major renovation — everything had to be replaced, refurbished, or rebuilt — they opened Juliana's in December 2012. They've added classic pasta dishes, soups, salads, desserts, and egg creams to the menu, and they've upgraded the wine list and added draft beer to account for the neighborhood's changing tastes. But the team hasn't broken from the original vision at Grimaldi's: They're obsessively focused on preserving a slice of New York pizza history. "We are trying to redefine what authentic New York–style pizza is," says Grogan. "We're not trying to be Neapolitan, Roman, Sicilian — it's New York–style pizza, the way it was introduced in the early twentieth century." The coal-fired oven turns out pies built on crisp and airy crusts with the yeasty complexity of fresh-baked bread. For the margherita, which remains the signature pizza here, the mozzarella is soft and creamy, the sauce vibrant and piercing, the basil fresh and verdant. All flavors come into focus with a last-minute hit of salt, applied after the pie comes out of the oven and rests, bubbling, on the pass.

The Nine Essential Pizzerias in Brooklyn
Dominic Perri for the Village Voice

L&B Spumoni Gardens, 2725 86th Street, 718-449-1230 Sprawled out over multiple buildings and fenced-in areas, Brooklyn's most famous Italian-American dining complex is part ice cream parlor, part pizzeria, with a broader Italian restaurant thrown in for good measure. Founded in 1939, L&B Spumoni Gardens remains in the care of the Barbati family, whose patriarch immigrated from Italy and set up shop in Gravesend to peddle his frozen treats. The trailblazing pizza operation came a decade later, and chief among its offerings are enormous trays of square Sicilian pies, sold in whole sheets or by the slice. They're wholly unique among the New York pizzas, the dough left chewy and dense, the cheese melted directly onto the bread and smothered in sweet tomato sauce. "Spumoni" refers to a frozen dessert that's less ice cream than sherbet, a mix of candied fruit-studded vanilla, chocolate, and nut-filled pistachio with an almost grainy quality. While the two casual operations are L&B's real draw — the place gets packed and boisterous whenever the weather's halfway decent — don't miss out on the sit-down restaurant, which expands on its neighbors' streamlined menus with a roster of Southern Italian classics.

The Nine Essential Pizzerias in Brooklyn
Dominic Perri for the Village Voice

Lucali, 575 Henry Street, 718-858-4086 Here is how you approach a meal at Lucali: Put your name on the list and then wander down the street to pick out a bottle of wine — you're going to need to kill some time before you get a table, and the restaurant is BYOB. Consider pairing your pizza with something special — these pies deserve it. Former marble fabricator and longtime Carroll Gardens resident Mark Iacono opened Lucali on a residential street in 2006, teaching himself to make pizza in order to save a candy shop he'd loved throughout his youth. He built everything in the space, including the wood-burning oven. Today, as it did nearly ten years ago, the restaurant makes and serves only three items: pizza, calzones, and meatballs. No antipasti. No salads. Not even white pizza. The pies here are Neapolitan, with a heavier focus on traditional New York style, and they come out of the oven slightly charred and smoky, with a super-crisp crust and a tangy marinara made from Iacono's grandmother's recipe. Calzones, filled with sweet ricotta, are a sleeper item — do not forgo them when you visit. Toppings are basic: pepperoni, hot peppers, grilled artichoke hearts, et cetera. Nothing at Lucali is overcomplicated, but everything is dialed in and delicious. Accept your spot in line and concentrate on choosing a good bottle.



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