Brooklyn Gourmets Battle Old-Style New Yorkers for Fine Pizzas
Pizza may be a sloppy slab of comfort food, tomato sauce dripping onto your shirt, mozzarella dangling before swinging loose across your chin. Or it may be a gourmet option with the finest ingredients.
It’s no surprise both styles are available in New York.
At Franny’s, in Brooklyn, pizza is finger food for the discerning diner. Owners Francine Stephens and Andrew Feinberg emphasize sustainable agriculture and renewable energy. By contrast, John’s Pizzeria in Greenwich Village is a traditional joint where the rules are: No slices, no credit cards.
Franny’s develops long-term relationships with farmers and other suppliers, which are listed on the website: The grass-fed organic beef is from Grazin’ Angus Acres; the wild herbs, mushrooms and flowers are foraged in New England by Evan Strusinski of Forgive Me My Trespasses, Wild Edibles.
Feinberg, who is also a chef, says he focuses on a minimum number of excellent ingredients for each dish. The Argentine- born general manager, Martin Gobbee, was formerly head maitre d’ at Del Posto and the service is efficient and friendly.
(Cesar Ramirez, whose Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare holds three Michelin stars, didn’t hesitate when asked for a lunch recommendation in Brooklyn: “I love Franny’s,” he said. “It’s very seasonal, very organic. They care about their ingredients.)
The room is plain, with wooden floors and bare-brick walls. There is a bar on your left as you enter and the kitchen on show at the far end. You may have plenty of time to look around because Franny’s doesn’t accept reservations. When you do make it to the table, you’re offered tap water and you may be tempted, as I was, by cocktails such as L’Eva: Apple-infused Bulleit Bourbon, Amaro Montenegro and fresh lemon juice ($13).
There are about a dozen appetizers, three pasta dishes and 10 pizzas. I started with a special ($20) of wood-roasted wild mushrooms (including matsutakes, porcini) with gremolata (chopped parsley and garlic with lemon) that was exceptional in the purity and depth of its flavors. I’d have been happy to be served it in the fanciest of restaurants.
Chef Jonathan Adler’s resume features Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Arzak in Spain, Le Manoir and St. John in the U.K., all of which are indeed fine restaurants. The pizzas are exceptional, with the crispest of thin bases and beautiful toppings. I tried the white pizza -- no tomato -- with ricotta, buffalo mozzarella, garlic, oregano and hot peppers ($17) and may have to return to Brooklyn one day to sample some others.
With a Spice of Life Series “Warrior” beer from Sixpoint Craft Ales, Brooklyn, my bill was $62.
If Franny’s represents a modern approach to a traditional dish, John’s Pizzeria of Bleecker Street, harks back to an earlier, less complicated age. It was founded at the same location in 1929 and serves coal-fired brick-oven pizza, the bases suitably charred and with a wide choice of toppings.
You’re likely to have to line up outside, and when you reach your table, there is little waiting. Pizzas are $12 for 14 inches and $14 for 16, with toppings at $2 a pop. Order a pizza and a beer and there’s no need to spend more than $30. I ordered so many toppings, the pizza couldn’t support the weight. Families and children are welcome: They probably make less mess.
The walls are plastered with posters and other surfaces filled with carvings, the rock ‘n’ roll music is alarm-clock loud (80 decibels) and the service tends to be brusque in a way some people find charming.
While it’s not exactly my style of dining, the line outside shows John’s has no shortage of fans after 80 years. Now that’s what I call a sustainable restaurant.
Franny’s is at 295 Flatbush Avenue. Information: +1-718-230-0221; http://www.frannysbrooklyn.com/. John’s is at 278 Bleecker Street. Information: +1-212-243-0450; http://www.johnsbrickovenpizza.com/about.html.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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