Celebrating its ten-year anniversary this weekend, Prospect Park pizzeria Amorina (624 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn) has been a neighborhood joint “since way before this was at all a food place,” says Ellen Fishman, who, along with her husband, Albano Ballerini, owns and runs the restaurant, where they host and cook.
“People thought we were crazy, and that we’d never last, but here we are, a decade on.
“We live in the neighborhood. Our kids grew up here. My son is working here right now. And we’ve had servers and customers here for so long — we really know people. Last night I was chatting to a couple who had their first date here and had come in with their two children. There’s a family we see quite often — the wife went into labor here! We named a pizza after her daughter Hazel to celebrate.”
Amorina serves up Roman-style thin-crust pizza and seasonal pastas and salads rooted in tradition. “My husband, Albano, grew up in Italy,” says Fishman. “His grandmother founded an ice cream café in the 1940s, and his father worked there all his life, so when we started the restaurant here, we decided to call it after her. You see those pictures on the walls? Those are actually old receipts from the café.”
And the ice cream? “Oh, Albano still makes that. Come back in the summer!”
It’s clear from the moment you finally get a table (no reservations, entirely worth the wait) that Amorina has a clear point of view on its food. “We want it to be seasonal,” says Fishman. “I mean it. Really seasonal. Every day we make a special pizza, called the ‘Will to Live.’ Every day it’s different.”
Recent examples include chargrilled asparagus and crimini mushrooms, topped with sweetly caramelized onions and sticky balsamic glaze, and, just this week, grilled ramps on a bed of vibrant ramp pesto, topped with cherry tomatoes and fresh, local mozzarella.
“We get inspired by our CSA box, or by what’s at the market,” says Fishman. “We have farmers at Grand Army Plaza that we’ve been working with since the market was started. We have a friend who brings us wild ramps — lucky for us — and a mushroom guy, who is fantastic because mushrooms can be more year-round. Just the other night I was chatting with my husband about these great portobellos we had, and how they would go well with celery root and gremolata, maybe topped with a fresh salad. We talk about this all the time. My daughter threatens to move out because we’re always talking about ingredients. Apparently it’s quite boring in our house unless you really, really love pizza.”
In addition to the Will to Live pizza, Amorina boasts a changing menu of pastas and salads, and thick-crust, focaccia-style slices to go. “We give the chefs free rein and let them go to town,” says Fishman. “They can be a little off-the-hook improvised, and people come in specially to see what’s on.
“We want to be expressive and creative but not too weird. Honestly, it’s about being true to our ingredients and serving our neighborhood. That’s what we set out to do, and, ten years on, that’s what I think we’re doing.”