Dr. Pepper: Peperoncino ("little pepper") recently opened in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Saint Marks Place (above). Owner Nino Gagliardi (top right) makes Neapolitan-style pies in his beehive-shaped wood-fired oven (above left).
Location: 72 Fifth Ave., Park Slope, Brooklyn, 11217
Getting There: 2/3/4/5/B/D/M/N/Q/R to Atlantic Ave.-Pacific Street complex; walk east to Fifth Ave., then south to Saint Marks Place
Hours: Dinner, daily, from 5 p.m.; brunch, weekends, 12-3 p.m. Payment: Cash only
Nicely charred, thin, crisp, chewy Neapolitan-style (about 10-inch) pies. Wood-fired oven.
The Village Voice on Peperoncino: "From the oven proceed some of the best Neapolitan-revival pizzas in town, giving Franny's on nearby Flatbush Avenue a run for its money.... If you're in a festive mood, get the signature L'Oro di Napoli ($16), named after a 1954 Vittorio de Sica film in which Sophia Loren plays a two-timing pizza maker. This garlic-strewn and tomato-free pie features two buttery cheeses, with fragments of gold leaf arrayed across the top, which glint in the firelight. The foil is flavorless and chemically inert, so it goes through your digestive system untarnished—look for it the next day before you flush."
Shortly before 2 p.m. we entered the tasteful wood-clad dining room and easily grabbed a table for five. One bottle of San Pellegrino later, we had decided upon our menu for the afternoon. To start, two salads: the gran fiore rucola (arugola dressed with balsamic vinaigrette and peppered with goat-cheese-enclosed grapes rolled in chopped pistachios) and the insalata dello chef (fennel, corn, celery, tomatoes, and hearts of palm in a lemon dressing). In general, I like to cut to the chase, eschewing salads, soups, and starters in favor of pizza, but I can see one of these salads working its way onto my tab on all subsequent visits to Peperoncino—the gran fiore. Its sweet-and-savory cheese-and-pistachio-covered grapes were absolutely addictive.
For pizza, we decided the five of us could handle six pies. Chef-owner Nino Gagliardi, a native of Naples, produces, no surprise, Neapolitan-style pies. That means small, thin, 10-inch pizzas, which in turn means six of them were by no means in excess. Our pies (below, clockwise from upper left): the Napoletana (tomato sauce, capers, and anchovies), the Margherita (tomato sauce, fior di latte, and basil), the diavola (tomato sauce, fior di latte, and spicy sausage), la bella Italia (a sauceless pie topped with cherry tomatoes, fior di latte, and pesto), the a'ciorta (again, sauceless, topped with smoked fior di latte, eggplant, roasted red peppers, and onions), and the salsiccia e friarielli (fior di latte, sausage, and broccoli rabe).
The five of us were impressed with the crust. While a bit thicker than nearby Franny's, it's still thin by most standards, and our pies all exhibited a perfect crispness while remaining pliable. There were nicely charred bits here and there along the bottom, with little puffy bubbles here and there on top. It's clear that proprietor Nino Gagliardi, who trained in his family's restaurant back in Naples, knows his stuff. Consensus was that la bella Italia was our favorite, with its zippy pesto topping. The Napoletana, the cheeseless anchovy-and-caper pie was the least favorite, judging by the fact that, at meal's end, the only thing left on the table was one lonely slice of this pizza.
This trip was the second of three I've made to Peperoncino in the last two weeks, the latest being this past Friday. The diavola was my favorite on my first visit but was later eclipsed by la bella Italia, the quattro formaggi (four cheese: fior di latte, fontina, Gorgonzola, and Parmigiano), and the pizza do' mare (tomato sauce, calamari, mussels, clams, and shrimp) of subsequent visits. This was primarily because I found the diavola's spicy sausage a little too tamenowhere near my idea of spicy. The quattro formaggi, on the other hand, uses high-grade cheeses, and the pungent Gorgonzola was creamy and savory. The pizza do' mare (from my Friday visit) was packed with seafood and flavor, with a nice brininess that made up for the mildness of the sauce.
Yes: the sauce was on the mild side. It's fresh, no doubt, but could stand some more seasoning, which might explain our love of the pesto-topped pie. The cheese, though, left me with nothing to complain about. Excellent fior di latte ("flower of the milk") starred on most of our pies, with a few exceptions.
While I thought there could be a few improvements made, Peperoncino's pizzas represent some of the best Neapolitan–style pies I've had lately.
After the meal, S.B., an Italian-speaking member of our lunch crew, stopped by the oven to let Mr. Gagliardi know how much we had liked the meal. During their conversation, S.B. learned the origin of Peperoncino's name. There's an old Neapolitan good luck charm shaped like a horn, Mr. Gagliardi said, while moving pies in and out of the oven or rotating them for even cooking. The horn is a talisman against malocchio, the evil eye, and it just so happens to look like the short, red peppers for which the restaurant is named. So, at once, Peperoncino references cooking and good luck, both of which Mr. Gagliardi hoped he'd have plenty of in his new Park Slope venture.
With the excellent crust and the interesting variety of pies he's serving, his good-luck charm must be working.
Dinage And Signage: The dining room (above left) at Peperoncino is woody and warm, almost like an old ship's captain's quarters or a mountain cabin. One member of our party, an art director by profession, pointed out that she liked the typeface chosen for the restaurant's signs, particularly the curves on the Z's. Oh, those art directors!