577 Lorimer St Brooklyn, NY 11211; 718-387-4861
Pizza Style: New York–style
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: This circa-1969 old-school pizzeria serves up a timeless New York slice that might be softer and less crisp than many pies but nonetheless achieves a wonderful synergy. Good Sicilian and grandma slices as well, and don't miss the espresso either
Price: Regular or Sicilian slice $2.50; espresso, $1.60
Before yesterday I had not set foot in San Marco Pizzeria since the last century. I used to live just up the street from the little neighborhood spot, it was my pizza equivalent of what an Englishman would refer to the pub they frequent most often—it was my "local." Long before all the wood-fired madness of the artisanal pizza craze and the obsessive coffee culture of today San Marco was serving up old school slices and top notch espresso. Walking through the doors was like taking a trip back in time. The place does not look any differently than I last remembered it - the long bar with a massive espresso machine at one end and the battered oven at the other dominates the space, a few tables and chairs are set off to the side, the kitchen set behind a permanently open door at the back of the room. Even the poorly sketched mural of a pizza-maker remains on the wall by the oven.
There has been a change—the price for a single slice has risen to $2.50, up more than a dollar since I last ate there. But that, of course, was years ago, and I think the price is more than fair for what you get.
To my palate, the pizza here hasn't changed since I last tried it. I doubt that it tasted much different back in 1969—the recipes and ingredients have remained the same, after all. The regular slice at San Marco is wonderful, a simple, humble even, combination of low-moisture mozzarella served over a sweet, vibrant homemade sauce on top of a soft, floppy crust that is somewhat crisp at the lip and light and airy throughout. If you want more crunch, you could always have your slice heated in the oven, the cheese can handle it and comes out with only the faintest of blistering so could stand some more heat.
But I think that it might taste best when slightly cool rather than fresh from the oven (I feel the same way about the slices at the original Patsy's uptown) and since San Marco goes through a lot of pies in a day chances are that the pie sitting on the cooling rack when you walk in will be just about perfect.
New to the menu since my last visit (which means it could have been on there for well over a decade) is the grandma slice, which differs from the standard Sicilian at San Marco in that it has slivers of garlic and comes dotted with basil leaves. While any change to such a classic and time-tested menu makes me nervous, this is a worthy addition. The bread base is the same as the regular Sicilian, which is a good thing. It has plenty of crunch but also a lovely airiness and softness within — but the toppings are more flavorful and more savory. The garlic adds a robust, hearty flavor in place of the sweeter (by virtue of the sauce) nature of the regular Sicilian.
Go to San Marco for the pizza but stay for coffee. At one time San Marco was the only place within a several block radius that had a proper espresso machine. While not as rare these days they still serve up a good espresso. A perfect New York slice, a decent shot of Joe, I won't wait until the next century to return to San Marco.