Brooklyn: Toby's Public House (a Checkup)

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Clockwise from top left: Toby's is usually packed, especially in summer, when this photo was taken. It still weirds me out when a Slice review gets posted at a pizza joint. The pancetta-mushroom–black garlic pie and a Margherita. [Photograph: Adam Kuban]

Toby's Public House

686 Sixth Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215 (at 21st Street; map); 718-788-1186; tobyspublichouse.com
Oven Type: Wood-burning
Pie Style: Neapolitan/New York–Neapolitan
The Skinny: A relaxing, laid-back pub whose name belies the fact that there are some first-class pizzas coming out of the rustic wood-burning oven here. My God, man, get the black garlic pie!
Previously: Toby's (6/30/2008) »

What would it be like if someone made New York–Neapolitan pizza in a wood-burning oven?

Not that anyone has ever asked that question*, but the answer could reasonably be found at Toby's Public House.

Because while the pizzas may be personal-size and done up under the supervision of native Italian Nicola Bertolotti in a rustic wood-fired oven in the back of this casual neighborhood bar, they seem to have moved more along the pizza continuum toward American-style pies.

This was something I noticed over the last two Saturdays as I visited Toby's with Girl Slice.**

I'm not going to get too into the whole Neapolitan/authentic/whatever issue, since that's been done to death here on Slice and since what most people care about is whether the pizza tastes good. And Toby's tastes damn good, my friends.

Where Neapolitan partisans might find a digression in style is that Toby's crust is noticeably thinner and crisper than most Neapolitan-style pies in the city and that the end crust does not get as much puff (or oven spring) as other places. Whether that's a deal breaker is a matter of personal preference.

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Without standing there near the oven with a stopwatch in hand like a complete tool, my guess is that the pizzamakers leave the pies in longer than most WFO places. I say this not only because of the crust crispness (crisp without being crunchy) but also because the fresh mozzarella is cooked until spots of golden-brown chewiness appear. Some folks howl when they see this; other folks, like me, appreciate the flavor and texture this imparts. I often see this happen on the New York–Neapolitan/coal-oven pizzas at, say, Totonno's, John's, or Arturo's. Which is another reason I say these Toby's pies have something in common with their stylistic cousins.

The sauce, too, departs from usual Neapolitan-style preparation. While many Neapolitan places in the city do little to the crushed canned tomatoes they add to the pies, Toby's seems to use a cooked sauce that's seasoned with more than just salt and pepper. Something about it gives even a Margherita pie there a hit of umami. The sauce is rich and deeply savory and just hooks you in.

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20100125-iphone.jpgSwitching gears, have I ever told you that I'm a bit of a Foursquare addict? I have no idea why I use it, because I don't really care about getting more "points" than my friends for "checking in" to different venues, and I have the "pings" turned off so I'm not alerted every time one of my friends checks in at place (it gets super annoying once you have more than four friends in your network). I guess I like "collecting" the goofy little badges (like the pizza one).

Actually, I use it for getting good tips on things. I've found that the early adopters of Foursquare have been great at adding intel about whatever place I might be at. So I checked in at Toby's the first Saturday we visited and saw (after we had ordered) that Phil C. recommended the black garlic pizza.

I guess I'm not much of a "foodie," as I had never heard of black garlic until searching for it just now. It's apparently used in some Asian cuisines and, according to Wikipedia, is now catching on at high-end restaurants throughout the U.S. It's whole garlic bulbs fermented at a high temperature, resulting in black cloves that are "sweet and syrupy with hints of balsamic or even tamarind."

Anyway, having already ordered, I filed away that info for the following week. And when we went back, I scanned the menu for the black garlic pizza. And, not seeing it ... Ah! There it is. It's actually listed on the menu as the "Pancetta" pizza (with crimini mushrooms and black garlic).

Dude. Get this pizza. It's really good. It's a great mixture salty porkiness, earthiness, and sweetness. And the thin crust somehow stands up to all the stuff on top. Thank you, Phil C.!

Toby's upskirt

Speaking of crust, there's the requisite pizza upskirt. It was too dark in the place to get an adequate cross section of the hole structure. Just be aware that it wasn't crazy poofy like Motorino but wasn't completely compact or too fine.

Having not been to Toby's in, oh, a year and a half, I had forgotten that I really liked the laid-back surroundings. It's true to its name. It's a comfortable neighborhood pub (thanks to or perhaps in spite of sports playing on four different TVs) that attracts a varied clientele (including frat-type dudes, yuppies, and whomever) that just happens to serve some first-class pizza.

Totally recommended.

*Well, I guess I've asked it, in my head, a number of times before. [back]

**Girl Slice and I visited Toby's over the course of two weekends not only because it's responsible pizza journalism (I snicker every time I type "pizza journalism") to attempt multiple visits but because we had tried to attend a friend's party nearby the week before. Unfortunately, Girl Slice had neglected to double-check the date and we showed up to party a week early. (This is not the first time she has done this, by the way. We turned up early to her friend's birthday party about a year ago and we almost did the same a few months ago. You'd think I would always double-check her math, but do I learn? No.) Fortunately, Girl Slice was hungry, and i knew Toby's was just up the street, so we ended up there. Our experience with both food and atmosphere*** was such that she suggested returning the following week, on the date of the actual party, to have dinner there again. [back]

***Girl Slice described the atmosphere as "manly" and said she wanted to go there again. I didn't know whether I should be worried about that or not. Fortunately, on the second of our recent visits, she pronounced the evening's clientele lacking in cute boys. And what am I, chopped liver? [back]

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