Get Your Motorino Running in Williamsburg


There are now nearly a dozen places in town claiming to make the true pizza of Naples (that’s Italy, folks, not Florida). Many of these are quite good, though the scanty one-person pies often come with a penalty in the form of sky-high prices, haughty pizzaioli, or pretentious wine lists. Don’t be alarmed that newcomer Motorino throws its hat in with this crowd, because, contrary to form, its pies are lush and shareable. Priced from $9 to $16, each could satisfy a pair of diners if they also ordered an app or two. But underneath it all, Motorino—named after a Vespa-like motor scooter—is really just a goosed-up neighborhood pizza parlor.

Though inspired by Naples pizza, Motorino’s pies are cooked in a wood-burning oven that dominates the room (making the premises especially cozy in cold weather). Stippled with char, smoky, and slightly doughy, the marguerita ($10) stands up to any other I’ve tasted. It’s gobbed with plainish tomato sauce and New York’s own cow’s-milk mozzarella, which the menu comically calls by its Italian name, “fior di latte.” Throw in an extra three bucks, and you can have the pie with mozzarella di bufala, but why bother? Also close to their old-world originals are Motorino’s marinara (the cheese-less historic pie of Naples) and anchovy pie, which wisely amps up the piquancy with capers and fresh oregano.

From there, the pizzas take a wild but delicious turn. Freestyling with its pies, Motorino tosses on ingredients you’d never find in Naples: There’s a formidably tasty number with Brussels sprouts and speck, a smoked prosciutto-like ham; another features slices of spicy soppressata, the dry-cured pork salami that’s been a staple in Brooklyn for over a century. In Italy, you’d never see soppressata on a pizza.

Even more amazing is the Pugliese pie, name-checking the southern Italian region where many Brooklynites came from. This pizza deploys broccolini and sweet sausage, and who’d imagine bitter greens would make such a fab topping? These pies might be called “back constructions” by a linguist: They re-import the true pies of Naples to New York 120 years after they first arrived, and then slap Italian-American ingredients on them. “We put those things on our pies because neighborhood people like them and we do, too,” confided the manager one evening.

The sausage and the soppressata come from nearby Emily’s Pork Store (426 Graham Avenue), and you can also get these wonderful products as appetizers. Another way Motorino distinguishes itself from the other Naples-pie places is in the breadth and creativity of its menu. There’s a list of big salads, of which the Tuscan bread salad called panzanella ($9) is my favorite. The selection of cold cuts includes, in addition to imported prosciutto and mortadella, the spicy, domestically produced neck-meat ham called coppa ($5 each). You can also regale yourself with cheeses from a selection of 10 that usually contains a couple of locavoric varieties from New York and New England.

Don’t fail to consult the chalkboard specials. One evening, there was a version of garlic knots ($5), a favorite of regular Brooklyn pizzerias. The giant stack came slightly charred and smoking-hot, copiously dusted with grated Parmesan and fresh parsley. Another evening, a friend of mine from North Carolina was astonished by an appetizer of mortadella roasted in the oven and served with Dijon mustard ($5): “Hey, this is even better than the fried bologna we have down South!” she happily exclaimed. The oven-roasted artichokes were delectable, too.

But don’t delude yourself that everything thrust in the wood-burning oven wails. Inevitably, some of the wild experiments go belly-up: A special artichoke pie ($13) sported shavings of raw artichoke on top, instead of the canned and pickled vegetable one expects. A pale floe of cheese drowned the meager shavings and obliterated the subtle artichoke flavor. Similarly, the fresh-mussel pie didn’t click: Left in their greenish-blue shells, the four mussels provided more visual than culinary interest. Stick with clam pies, dudes!

I’ve got to sheepishly admit to being a tiramisu hater. Made dozens of different ways, this sodden dessert usually looks and tastes like something scraped from the sink trap. Nevertheless, the version served at Motorino, as one of only two dessert options, is fantastic—statuesque, light as helium, and dusted with good cocoa. Wash it down with an excellent espresso, and lean back and enjoy the animated crowd that is rapidly making Motorino a quintessential Williamsburg hang. And the green, red, and white marguerita pie will put you in a Christmas-y mood.

Archive Highlights