In some neighborhoods, Italian trattorias have become as common as Greek diners once were—or maybe the real comparison is with Irish bars, which feed and liquor you at the same time. Trying to snooker the competition, each new trattoria stakes out its culinary turf, rummaging through recipe collections and the recollections of aged relatives for dishes not yet laid before the general public. The latest is Peperoncino, named after a short red chile. It set down in Park Slope not far from Al Di La and Convivium Osteria, institutions with which it shares a similar philosophy, offering salty, greasy, and garlicky fare at prices that are a bit high, but not enough to make you wince.
The room couldn’t be nicer, a corner storefront with floor-to-ceiling windows. A beehive-shaped wood oven in the corner glimmers over well-spaced tables. Maybe the service isn’t so good, but then, who’s in a hurry? Memories still linger of paccheri alla Genovese ($13), an oniony and white-wine-laced beef ragu without a trace of tomato sauce, poured over al dente paccheri. Like short lengths of cardboard tube, this pasta is so obscure that it doesn’t appear in John Mariani’s Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink. Score 10 points for Peperoncino. Delve deeper and you’ll discover that the sauce has a fascinating backstory: It was first introduced to Naples by Genoese merchants in the 17th century.
From the oven proceed some of the best Neapolitan-revival pizzas in town, giving Franny’s on nearby Flatbush Avenue a run for its money. These pies hark back to 19th-century Neapolitan models, rather than American ones. The crusts are slightly thicker than Franny’s, with small charred spots here and there. Most elemental is the margherita (four-slice pie, $9.50), topped with plainish tomato sauce and a smooth-melting cow’s-milk mozzarella called fiore di latte (“top of the milk”), rather than the usual buffalo mozzarella. If you’re in a festive mood, get the signature L’Oro di Napoli ($16), named after a 1954 Vittorio de Sica film in which Sophia Loren plays a two-timing pizza maker. This garlic-strewn and tomato-free pie features two buttery cheeses, with fragments of gold leaf arrayed across the top, which glint in the firelight. The foil is flavorless and chemically inert, so it goes through your digestive system untarnished—look for it the next day before you flush.
Other triumphs at Peperoncino include gran fiore rucola ($9)—an arugula salad sporting grapes coated with goat cheese and dusted with ground pistachios like a Wisconsin cheese ball; and melanzane a barchetta, an eggplant-and-mozzarella casserole that seems like a variation on Italian American eggplant rolatini. As you might expect of a Neapolitan place—where pizzas and pastas predominate—the secondi sometimes fall short. Northern Italian standard tagliata di manzo offers dry, overcooked strips of beef with a pallid dipping pesto. And that ubiquitous Tuscan standard of chicken squished under a brick (polletto al matone, $16) has been weighed down only halfheartedly, so the skin fails to achieve the desired crispness. If you must eat a non-pasta main course, head for cod guezzeto ($16), a showy Sorrento Peninsula stew of seafood, olives, and broth inundating a piece of toast. While not exactly unique to Peperoncino, it’s the only version in Park Slope. You’d have to go as far as Williamsburg’s La Piazzetta (442 Graham Avenue, 718-349-1627) to get a contrasting example.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 28, 2004