In a city that outsiders equate with amazing pizza, it’s a pain in the ass to actually acquire a worthy pie. I haven’t been to Di Fara in years because I’m impatient, Totonno’s is a trek, Lucali is three blocks from my apartment but it’s so impenetrable you’d think it was Waverly Inn.
I’m happy to have a neighborhood gem, something to keep my blahness of South Brooklyn food resentment in check. But they don’t make it easy to partake in the goodness.
Maybe this is what it’s like to live around the corner from Little Owl or Momofuku. At least with Momofuku you could pop out of your home late and hope for the best. The Lucali window--6pm-10pm--is distressingly short. Crowds raise my blood pressure. Just passing by Lucali and seeing groups outside the door make me jittery.
To be honest, I don’t completely understand the seating procedure. There aren’t reservations but it seems like people call ahead and I swear they play favorites. We showed up at 6pm on the dot and the room was already filled and people were being quoted 45 minute waits. I kindly let James deal and stepped outside with my sister and her husband for the long haul.
I’m still not clear what transpired but minutes later we had the biggest table in the place, a rectangular six-seater. I had to have been total happenstance and lucky timing because there were groups ahead of us. In fact, a couple who were waiting outside when we arrived were still waiting outside when we left. I’ve had so many table waiting disasters that I’m not even going to question the how or why of we scored so effortlessly.
Ok…the pizza. It’s simple and it works. I don’t always appreciate minimal done well, but I get it with pizza. There’s nothing further from a deep dish, it’s not even the same species. I’ll never understand crackly, thin crust haters.
James and I ordered pepperoni and accidentally got the basil from my sister’s olive and basil. That was easily rectified.
The dim light (Lucali always looks closed from the outside because it’s so dark) is an anathema to good photos. But you get the gist. (3/2/08)
There’s something kind of pathetic about not wanting to try a new reputedly great restaurant that’s only two blocks from your apartment. But one of Carroll Gardens’s only redeeming qualities is that it’s a fairly mellow enclave (unless you brunch, which I don’t). Crowds, scenes and foodies give me hives so I was mildly reluctant to visit much blogged about despite only being officially open for two weeks, Lucali’s (this is the current spelling, it’s gone through numerous permutations) last night but at 8pm the tiny insta-rustic room had three open two-seaters (By 9pm hordes had amassed outside the door. Is the neighborhood really that pizza starved or is it a must try new things frenzy that’ll die down?). The service is warm, easy going and you can watch the pizzas being prepared on the prominent table with a platter of fresh mozzarella, cartoonishly large grana padano wheels, and glass jar of anchovies proudly displayed atop.
Apparently, we were the only ones unaware of the BYOB policy. Every table had beer and wine while we settled for tap water and 7-Up. I didn’t notice any signage either, though a reasonable $2.50 per person corkage has been reported by others.
Despite offering seats and ambience, pizza is really the main event, the only event. There isn’t a menu, it’s a given you’ll be ordering pizza (calzones are sometimes available too) and the toppings rattled off encompassed the basics like sausage, olives, pepperoni, mushrooms anchovies and a few more. I’ll readily admit I’m not a pizza genius (heck, I love Hawaiian and have been hankering to try Domino’s misguided new Brooklyn-style pie—I love the guy lifting weights on the rooftop and Phyllis Diller lookalike hanging/yelling out the window ‘cause you know that’s what happens all over the borough). I lack the descriptive vocabulary. Yes, the pizzas are in the thin crust, crackly, charred spots, keep it simple school of Di Fara and Totonno’s. Are they better? That’s tough for me to determine. I feel the need to defer to know-it-alls in this matter.
We had pepperoni and mushroom. All ingredients were top notch. The fungus wasn’t canned, which is rare anymore. Supposedly, the sausage is Esposito and Sons and I’m sure the cheeses come from respected purveyors. For me, the cheese is what makes the difference between middling American pizza and few and far between NYC coal oven specimens. There is an appeal to the thick, processed mozzarella epidermis sealing typical pizzas but the simplicity of slightly gooey freshly sliced buffalo mozzarella combined with grated grana padano, melding with sweet basil-laced tomato sauce is potent. The overall feeling is clean and light. Two people with decent appetites could polish off a whole pie. I had to restrain myself so I’d have leftovers to enjoy the next day.
The only oddity was the photographer who set up shop just after we arrived and plied his trade throughout the length of our meal. Initially, I assumed it was an overzealous blogger but then it seemed like he was covering the restaurant for print publication. My only clue was the snippet I overheard him telling the owner, “next Wednesday,” which isn’t terribly prophetic considering hump day is food coverage central. The odd part was that he spoke with and took photos of every single diner in the restaurant, including tables that turned, except ours. Sure, that’s a strange thing to take offence at but it made me wonder why we were deemed inadequate for background color. I’m only mildly grotesque and not any more so than most of the ladies you see around Henry Street. Now, I’ll have to keep my eye out for Lucali’s reviews next week and see whose picture made the cut. (11/16/06)
Lucali * 575 Henry St., Brooklyn, NY