Sometimes it seems like there’s nothing new to say about pizza—for all the distinctions that can be drawn, that tired cliché about pizza and sex is true: Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. But clearly there’s something about the elemental appeal of bread, tomato, and sauce that makes chefs want to conquer it, to make the simple perfect. And so two new pizza joints have opened: The West Village’s Olio Pizza e Più serves the damp, pillow-crusted Neapolitan style that has become so popular recently; Park Slope’s Campo de’ Fiore in is dedicated to square, crunchy-crusted Roman pies.
Olio Pizza e Più is run by Giulio Adriani, a lifelong pizzaiolo who moved from Italy to open this place. His hook is hardcore adherence to Neapolitan traditions, and he is an instructor in the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, a group dedicated to cataloging and preserving the ways of Neapolitan pizza. Olio sits at the busy corner of Sixth Avenue and Greenwich Street, where Go Sushi used to be, and if you snag a table outside, it makes for good people-watching. You’ll probably see someone you know.
There are 18 pizzas on the menu, some marked with accolades like “winner of European cup.” They range in price from $9 to $19, with the exception of an outlier called Argento di Napoli, which the restaurant calls its signature pizza. It’s piled with cream of broccoli, ricotta, smoked mozzarella, rapini, salsiccia (sausage), lardo, and edible silver for a whopping $30. The pizza is not yet available, and one night our waiter said it was because they have not been able to get the silver leaf. Actually, they could just run over to Jackson Heights—Indians often garnish their sweets or savory dishes with a bit of edible gold or silver, and they don’t charge $30 for it.
Aside from the pizzas, Olio’s menu runs too long, especially because it seems as if, at least right now, the kitchen can’t execute all of it well. There’s no shame in simply offering pizzas and a few snacks, but instead, there’s an unwieldy list of antipasti, primi, secondi, and insalate. And recently, Adriani has added breakfast, served all day.
Each time we ventured outside of the pizzas, we were disappointed. Zia Anna’s salad—a mix of asparagus, smoked salmon, robiola (fresh cheese), and spinach—is a disaster, composed mainly of a giant mound of completely unseasoned, undressed spinach. We choked down some tough, dry greens for nutrition’s sake. An antipasto of octopus salad with carrots and radish stuffed into a lettuce leaf tastes weirdly of tuna salad. Involtini of eggplant and mozzarella is marred by an unusually sharp, bitter edge.
We breathed a sigh of relief when we got to the pizzas. The Margherita Extra—the “extra” being halved cherry tomatoes strewn amid the tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil—boasts a crust mottled with char, and puffy ends that maintain an appealing salty, airy chew. As is the Neapolitan convention, the center of the pie is wet, and must be eaten with a fork. The tomato sauce—reportedly just crushed tomatoes with salt—has a fresh, simple vibrancy. But the mozzarella is oddly rubbery, without that milky, marshmallowy softness you expect. It turns out that Adriani got complaints about his pies being too soggy, and now he’s squeezing all the moisture out of the cheese.
Too bad, because there’s far too much cheese on almost everything. I loved the sweet-salty-smokiness of the Vesuvio, topped with grilled pumpkins, paper-thin speck, and smoked mozzarella, but the thick paving of cheese was overwhelming. The Mezzaluna had the same problem. It’s a clever pizza, made into a half-moon shape by folding over one half into a calzone. One side is stuffed with a copious amount of ricotta mixed with sliced salami. The other side is covered in yet more of that smoked mozzarella, studded with cherry tomatoes. The whole thing is so rich—who can eat mouthful after mouthful of ricotta?—that it’s hard to enjoy. I shudder to think what the quattro formaggi is like.
Only the Campagnola escapes without being drowned in butterfat. It’s a relatively restrained combination of creamy burrata, thin Parma ham, arugula, and Parmesan. The bitterness of the arugula balances things out nicely, making it easy to enjoy the char-stippled crust.
Olio seems destined to be crowded no matter what, thanks to its high-traffic location, but Campo de’ Fiori, an unassuming place hidden away in Park Slope, is the better restaurant. Italian-born Andrea Dal Monte, a former manager at Del Posto, has been working on his crust for years, and now he’s fashioning rectangular, thinnish, crunchy Roman pies and firing them in an electric oven.
The appetizers and sides are smartly simple—there’s a selection of cheeses and charcuterie, or the antipasto Romano ($12): small portions of marinated onions, silken roast peppers, peas with prosciutto, camponata, and bruschetta with Pecorino and artichokes.
As for the pizzas ($15–$18), they are sturdy and crunchy, soft on the top and crisp on the bottom. The crust tastes yeasty, though it might benefit from a pinch more salt. You can buy by the slice or the square pie, cut into four pieces.
We particularly liked the ‘Matriciana, a take on the common Roman pasta dish. Here, it’s a pie slathered with a thick, oniony tomato sauce, bits of crisp bacon, and Pecorino shavings. The Vignarola sounded like a mistake, but turned out to be oddly tasty—covered in a vibrant green-pea purée, plus dressed arugula, green beans, and artichokes, seasoned with Parmesan and lemon juice. It tastes verdant, the elements in unlikely harmony. Potatoes are a common Roman pie topping, and here they’re shredded finely and mixed with sweet onions and speck to rich, salty effect.
Campo de’ Fiori is not necessarily a restaurant to cross boroughs for, but it’s an admirably solid place, serving a style of pizza rarely seen in New York. It leaves the flash and attitude to those trendy Manhattan Neapolitans.