It’s not every day you see a 4,000-pound oven flying three stories above Boerum Hill. But that’s how Luca Arrigoni had to install the stove at Sottocasa, his new Brooklyn pizzeria.
The wood-fired beast had to be crane-lifted over the building and lowered into the backyard because the old floors of the brownstone space on Atlantic Avenue couldn’t handle the weight. Walls were then built out around the hearth so that the pizzaiolo could whip up the types of Neapolitan pies he learned to make while working at Kesté; in Greenwich Village.
Families gravitate to the sparsely decorated, whitewashed brick room, along with couples celebrating date night and groups of friends downing prosecco and divvying up slices. Solo diners linger over the newspaper in the afternoon when the sun streams in through the windows and bounces off the tight clusters of tables. Indeed, you’ll find everyone in the neighborhood. You won’t discover life-changing pizza or much you can’t nosh on elsewhere, but the chefs here prize high-quality ingredients, resulting in the type of tasty, cozy spot you’re more than happy to have around the corner. (And yes, they also deliver.)
A medley of arugula, cherry tomatoes, artichokes, and Parmesan ($8) is a fine starter, if easily replicable in your home kitchen. Same goes for the protein-rich mix of chickpeas, tuna, and capers ($9) and the bowl of spinach, creamy ricotta, almonds, and—bizarrely—sliced mushrooms ($8).
Let’s get real, though. Salad at pizza places is like diet soda. What’s the point, except to fool yourself into thinking you’re a virtuous eater? Make your calories count with carbs. You’ll find margherita and her friends on the pizza menu along with more interesting house specialties. Hats off to the $18 Laura, named for Arrigoni’s wife. It’s dressed with tomatoes and topped with mozzarella, mascarpone, speck, and a touch of fresh rosemary for a floral, piney note. And the crust? Nicely charred and puffy without ballooning with air. A little on the thicker side, but chewy triumphs over wet and floppy in my book.
The Radicchio ($17) is a study of spicy bitterness, piled high with crumbled hot sausage and lots of red chicory. It could have used a soupçon of sauce, but the smoked mozzarella lovingly rounds out the brooding sharpness. The Popeye ($14) naturally celebrates the sailor’s favorite muscle-inducing food. But spinach’s virtuousness is lessened once you factor in all the melted mozzarella and ricotta. The $14 Quattro Stagioni is highly respectable, playing host to olives, sliced ‘shrooms, ham, and artichokes: something for each of the four seasons. Pizza purists can’t go wrong with the Salsiccia ($14), a simple but spot-on sausage pie.
I was somewhat less enamored with the Romana ($12), essentially a ricotta-y margherita with the unfulfilled promise of capers and oregano. Verdure ($15), meanwhile, suffered a bit from the opposite problem: an overload of veggies, anchored by a glut of caramelized onions. And the $19 Fresca—basically a pizza sandwich stuffed with cold buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, and arugula—didn’t satisfy me for dinner. It might work midday, but it’s really more of a summer snack.
Can you carbo-load even more? Sure! Post-meal, try the homemade tiramisu lined with ladyfingers ($8), or go all in with the Nutella-slathered chunk of boxed panettone, the candied, fruit-studded Italian bread eaten around New Year’s ($9). Two sweet, yeasty slices sit in a pool of custard and slowly sop up the cream. It’s an easy dessert, an Italian Sandra Lee confection. But it might just change your outlook on holiday fruitcake: You’ll actually want it year-round.
For more restaurant coverage, check out our food blog, Fork in the Road, at voicefoodblog.com. Follow us on Twitter @ForkintheRoadVV.