Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
Brooklyn Central, a new restaurant on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, isn't your typical Neapolitan Pizzeria. "This is not an Italian themed restaurant," says Matt Hyland*, one of the owners. "I'm very inspired by Italian food, but we wanted to make an American local place."
The restaurant, named after the old elevated railway that once ran through the neighborhood, is a collaboration between Hyland and Roberto Patriarca, who met working at Sottocasa. Hyland previously worked at The Spotted Pig and The Breslin, and Patriarca is an i Trulli alum.
Patriarca is the man behind the dough. His father owned pizza places in New York in the sixties before moving back to Italy, where Patriarca grew up and went to culinary school. He's had the simple, four ingredient dough recipe forever: a small amount of fresh yeast, 00 flour (a fine-grain flour typical of Neapolitan-style doughs), water, and salt. Patriarca gives it nearly three days of fermentation, and changes the process according to the humidity. When I visited them at Brooklyn Central, the dough was outside taking advantage of apparently perfect fermentation weather, on the patio that will open for seating when Spring rolls around.
*You may know him around these parts as BKMatt.
Hyland is the oven man. He cooks the pies in an entirely wood-burning Stefano Ferrara oven they imported from Italy. Each pie is cooked for only ninety seconds at 900-1000 degrees. For sauce, they go simple with San Marzano tomatoes crushed with a food mill and tossed with salt.
The menu is divided between Old World pizzas and New World ones, the main difference being the mozzarella and the toppings. The Old World pies are strictly topped with mozzarella di buffala imported from Italy, while the fresh mozzarella on the New World pies come from Lioni Latticini in Bensonhurst. The toppings on the New World pizzas are more experimental and far less Italian, and all of the meats come from M & S Prime Meats, which is right across the street.
It is the wide and interesting range of toppings on the pizzas that sets Brooklyn Central apart from other Neapolitan restaurants. Hyland notes that most of these pizzerias pride themselves on getting all of their products from Italy, and "are reluctant to break the Neapolitan pizza mold." His inspiration comes in working away from that mold and experimenting with toppings in ways that aren't seen a lot on an otherwise traditional Neapolitan pie. "I love junkfood pizza" he says, "and I couldn't stand the lack of pepperoni on Neapolitan pizzas."
He started playing around with toppings while working at Sottocasa, where he would serve them for family meal. Those were the pies he started submitting to My Pie Monday. In fact, My Pie Monday inspired him to continue experimenting with his pizzas.
The restaurant came together quickly, in less than a year. Both Hyland and Patriarca, after many years in the business, were ready to do things on their own terms. They're still awaiting their liquor license, and are serving non-alcohlic mixed drinks until it arrives. When it does, they're looking forward to a small but personal wine list, as well as wine on tap, a local beer list, and a cocktail menu of 5-7 items that their bartender is creating.