They might not have secret code names or a cadre of armed bodyguards following their every move, but make no mistake, chef Matthew and Emily Hyland are the reigning “first couple” of New York City pizza. What started three years ago at Clinton Hill’s instant-hit Emily has blown up — not unlike the puffy charcoal bubbles on one of their leopard-spotted crusts — into a mini-empire of salads-and-small-plates-slinging pizzerias that reference a broad range of pie styles, culminating in the opening of their third outpost, and first in Manhattan, this past June in the West Village. The three parlors are all connected stylistically but remain clearly defined in their individual pursuits.
Pop into their snug, homey Brooklyn flagship for thin-crusted pies with whimsical toppings (Sichuan-peppercorn oil, cheese curds, chorizo) and dough bearing a pronounced, near-Neapolitan yeastiness, or for the purposely scarce Emmy burger. An unbridled, dry-aged affair draped in aged Grafton cheddar, caramelized onions, and gochujang aioli, the burger is only available to twenty-five lucky customers a night. Initially thrown together on a whim, the creation cements chef Hyland’s status as one of the city’s burger bigwigs.
Last year, at Emmy Squared, their boxy Williamsburg shop opposite the BQE, the duo made a second splash, this time by ladling finishing stripes and swirls of sauce — from tomato to tomatillo, vodka, and, yes, ranch — onto crispy, ultra-cheesy Detroit-style square pies. Burger fiends at this branch get their fill with “Le Big Matt,” a fast-food-inspired double-patty behemoth.
Their newest digs sit on the quiet corner of Bedford and Downing streets, taking over what was for two decades the effortlessly charming Blue Ribbon Bakery Kitchen. Perhaps hoping to channel that venue’s longevity, they’ve wisely left the low-slung space’s design largely unchanged for this sequel to the Clinton Hill original. The cozy bar up front is just as neighborly under the Hylands’ stewardship, with barkeeps pouring uncomplicated cocktails ($12-$14) like the Pimm’s-adjacent Jimm’s Cup; mostly old-world wines, many of which range $40-$50; and a dozen craft beers and ciders sold on tap and in cans ($7-$12).
The newest iteration of the cultish Emmy burger ($26) melds the original’s onions and spicy sauce with dual patties, American cheese, and pickles. It’s as gloriously overloaded as ever, with bursts of creaminess, brine, and beefy funk. Robustly crunchy curly fries are a much-appreciated upgrade, and they’ve also (thankfully) done away with any restrictive burger-ordering measures. Meat freedom!
The reconfigured Emmy burger is a sure triumph, but it isn’t the best bun-bound item here; nor is the relish-slicked lamb burger ($24) with green-papaya slaw and papadum wafers. That honor goes to the duck sandwich ($18), piled high with meat shredded from legs cured with those tingly Sichuan peppercorns and cooked in their own fat. Besides the lettuce, cucumbers, and scallions on top, it’s the synergy between the spiced bird, soft pretzel roll, and “Xiannaise,” a trademarked condiment built around hot Chinese mustard, that cranks this sandwich up to eleven.
Downstairs, diners can catch a glimpse of the action as the kitchen crew tends to the circa-1860s wood-fired oven — “an amazing artifact of immigrant cooking,” as Hyland puts it, and a draw at this address ever since it was discovered and restored to glory by Blue Ribbon owners Bruce and Eric Bromberg. Hyland, whose ancestors owned a bakery on Elizabeth Street “around the same time this oven was built,” is plainly excited by the prospect of working with such a unique link to the past. These days the antique furnace churns out cast-iron roasted small plates and, more importantly, roundish thin-crust pizzas ($14-$22) that nod to New Haven-style “apizza,” meaning they’re slimmer and slightly crispier than what you’ll find at the Brooklyn Emily; the standout riffs on the white-clam pie that legendary pizzaiolo Frank Pepe made famous.
The Hylands have also brought along their convection-baked square pies ($15-$24), making this the first location to serve both styles under one roof. Here, though, the twelve available pan pizzas are closer in thinness to New York’s “grandma” slices, while still sharing the fun sponginess and crunchy, burnt-cheese edges of a Detroit slice. For an updated classic, try the Street Fair, which revels in a nostalgic mix of onions, crumbled sausage, and cherry peppers. The Madre offers less conventional thrills with puréed green tomatillos and soft fresh chorizo. Another tips its crust to barbecue bistro Pig Bleecker, with smoky bacon and miso-infused queso. And you can thank former cook Tim Nguyen for the Korean hot-wing sauce in the For the Nguyen, which tastes exactly like what you’d want to eat at a K-town sports bar, with the sauce, radishes, and smoked chicken all wrestling with buttermilk blue cheese for taste bud sovereignty.
Intense as it is often intensely satisfying, Hyland’s YOLO approach to cooking and pizza-making means that you might not have room for dessert, which could explain why there are only a couple available each day. Behold the s’moresbie, a rich chocolate pudding version of Clinton Hill’s s’mores calzone, here topped with torched marshmallow and graham cracker crumble. Like so much of the food at Emily, it’s imbued with an irreproachable regressive charm perfect for sating your inner child, or any children you may have in tow.
35 Downing Street
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 8, 2017