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Williamsburg's Best Pizza Walks the Walk

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[Photographs: Adam Kuban]

Best Pizza

33 Havemeyer Street, Brooklyn NY 11211 (North 7th/North 8th streets; map); 718-599-2210; best.piz.za.com
Getting there: Closest train station is Bedford Avenue L train
Pizza style: Somewhere between New York–style and Neapolitan-American
Oven type: Wood-fired oven cooks the pizza, with reheats done in a small gas-fired oven
The skinny: Backed by the folks behind Brooklyn Star and Roberta's, Best Pizza makes use of an old bakery oven to make some really great wood-fired pizzas that defy easy categorization
Notes: Best Pizza has recently started delivering its pizzas; I know where I'm calling next time I'm at my Tuesday night bowling league
Price: Regular slice, $3; white slice, $3.50; grandma slice, $4

When you're ballsy enough to call your pizzeria Best Pizza, you've really gotta walk the walk.

Fortunately for this month-old wood-oven pizzeria in Williamsburg, the moniker is a study in truth in advertising. Ladies and gents, I am excited about this place. It's putting out some great, no-nonsense wood-fired pies that defy easy categorization,* with a style of pizza that gives nods to old-school New York–slice joints and coal-oven Neapolitan-American places like Totonno's or Patsy's East Harlem.

The backstory: Best Pizza opened in the space that used to house the well-received Brooklyn Star, which was helmed by Momofuku alumnus Joaquin "Quino" Baca. Brooklyn Star closed for a spell after a fire damaged the place — sparked by the very oven that now cooks some great New York–style pies.

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"Quino says that it was the oven telling us that it wanted to make pizza again," said Frank Pinello, the head pizzaman at the joint. (Longtime pizza fiends will note that the space on Havemeyer once housed Kenny Perrone's Brick Oven Gallery.)

Not to worry about Baca, though — he's reopening Brooklyn Star elsewhere — and, along with the folks behind Roberta's, is backing Best Pizza.

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From left: Akhil, Pinello, and Gavi.

Pinello, along with assistants Akhil and Gavi, makes three basic pies that are always on offer: a regular pie, a grandma pizza, and a refreshingly light white pie — all fantastic.

Bensonhurst-raised, Pinello comes to Best Pizza after having worked at Pulino's Bar & Pizzeria since its opening. Prior to that, he worked at Giacomo's Pizza in the Poughkeepsie area after having graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. The slices and pies at Best Pizza are a sort of gestalt of his slice-joint experience and his formal training.

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As we mention ad nauseam on Slice, a great New York–style pizza should be both crisp and chewy. And sometimes we get a little repetitive describing slices all over town as "crisp-chewy." But in my recent memory, Best Pizza might be the epitome of these characteristics, adding to them a sort of satisfyingly spongey-but-not-gummy texture that's almost reminiscent of a New Haven–style pizza crust.

For the true pizza nerds out there who are wondering, Pinello says the pizzeria is experimenting with dough made the same day as well as doughs that he allows to ferment overnight. The slices I sampled on two recent trips there were both from same-day batches, and the crusts from those were flavorful enough that you'd want to eat the "pizza bones."

The regular slices are topped with canned tomatoes that are run through a ricer and salted, along with shredded fresh mozzarella that's made in house.

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The grandma slice is made from the same dough but gets a different proofing method (which Pinello did not want to elaborate on). They're topped with a raw sauce made of crushed tomatoes, garlic, and finely chopped anchovies (don't worry, anchovy-haters, it adds some saltiness but you may not even notice their presence unless you're told they're there).

The same fresh mozzarella goes on the grandma slices but is sliced rather than shredded, and it picks up nice little bits of just slightly charred crunchiness from the heat of the oven.

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The white pie is a white pie for people who might not otherwise go for this style of pizza. Pinello and company take a light hand with the ricotta, adding just enough to give a slice some moisture and creamy texture but not too much that it drips all over and makes you feel bloated after eating it.

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It's topped with a very judicious amount of caramelized onion. Along the rim of the white pie (and the white pie only) is a dusting of sesame seeds whose oven-toasted nuttiness complements the slight sweetness of the onions.

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In addition to these three pies, Best Pizza offers a handful of other toppings: sliced onion, anchovy, pepperoni, pickled vegetables, garlic, and mushrooms. There are specials, too, often from locally sourced purveyors like the Brooklyn Grange Farm.

The vibe here is unpretentious, casual, and a little irreverent (if you count the wacky customer-decorated paper plates, some of them a little ribald, as irreverent). This is essentially a slice joint — just one with some really great pizza and nice attention to detail. Am I calling it the best pizza ever? I hold that card close to my vest, friends, but I would say the place can proudly display that sign without it being farcical.

Update (2/14/2011): Best's Amazing Meatball Sub

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The meatball sub at Best Pizza ($8) is perhaps one of the best meatball sandwiches in NYC right now. Pat La Frieda short rib mixed with some spices, herbs, ricotta, and pecorino Romano. And it's topped with the sauce from the grandma pie. It's killer.

There's a chicken Parm sub, too, though we thought its chunks of chicken were a little too big. But it shows promise (and the Best guys say they're tweaking sandwiches at this early point in the game).

* Not that you necessarily need to categorize pizza to the point where it becomes tedious and wankery.

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