Forget Naples. New York continues to assert its predominance as the world’s greatest pizza town. On the street we have thin Neapolitan slices, thick Sicilian slices, and Staten Island slices somewhere in between.
We have gas-oven, wood-oven, and coal-oven beauties; slice places and whole-pie places; fresh local mozzarella, imported buffalo mozzarella, and a wealth of other cheeses; California pizza, Chicago pizza, Roman pizza, Argentine pizza, and pizzas spun by quirky artisanal makers lodged in obscure neighborhoods. And a new generation of pizzerias is arising, one that confidently surveys the marinara-drenched landscape and attempts to wedge itself into previously underserved niches.
Fornino (“little oven”) recently replaced the long-running L Café, a landmark of hip Williamsburg. Maybe that’s OK, because Fornino makes a formidable contribution to the neighborhood, and its wood-fired oven casts an eerie glow over Bedford as you exit the L train. That oven imparts a faint smoky smell to the pizzas and produces heat around 700 degrees, midway between cooler gas and hotter coal ovens, allowing a denser layer of toppings than New York’s earliest coal-oven product. Fornino uses this feature to its advantage, thickly piling potatoes and fennel sausage onto its patate e salciccia pie ($10 small, $16 large).
Fornino takes a historical approach to pizza, dividing pies into three categories melodramatically entitled Naples, the First Generation; Italy, the Second Generation; and Fornino, the Third Generation. I won’t bore you with the absurdity of this breakdown, which fancifully assigns pizzas to places. Section one features a nicely charred version of the margherita, the pie that, in 1889, dumped cheese on Naples pizza for the first time. Section-two pies showcase signature ingredients of regional Italian cuisines, with good results in the case of the Siciliana (eggplant, onions, and capers), and with dicier results in the rustica, topped with mushrooms and guanciale (cured hog jowl) that’s been sliced and fried like bacon. Bad idea! Dice it and put it on raw, fellas. Section-three pies—ostensibly invented by Fornino—are worthwhile without being wild, though I don’t imagine many of you will be sampling the $35 black-truffle pie anytime soon. The modest list of antipasti includes small clams heaped with lemon slices, garlic, and capers ($8), and a weird but wonderful salad of frisée, prosciutto, and dried fruit.
While Fornino jovially pursues its own pizza mythology, Una Pizza Napoletana is more fiercely iconoclastic, chasing the true pie of Naples with religious zealotry. In fact, saints’ images form an important part of the decor, which also includes wonderful black-and-white photos of old Naples. The menu offers only four pies, each approximately 11 inches in diameter ($16.96), based on Neapolitan models and made with unimpeachable ingredients: organic flour, Sicilian sea salt, imported mozzarella, and San Marziano tomatoes. A generous dose of green olive oil is poured on après-oven. No salads, no sides, no desserts.
If good intentions guaranteed perfect pizza, these parlors would be among the city’s best. Unfortunately, both suffer from uneven crust quality, and among the 11 pies that I’ve tasted, too many have been doughy and damp. Both places need more experience with their dough and ovens. Only then can they turn out an approximation of the true pizza.