If you're a pizza-obsessed New Yorker but not a Staten Islander, you may have made the journey out to Shaolin to visit some of the island's iconic pizzerias: Denino's, Nunzio's, Lee's Tavern, or Joe & Pat's. If that's you, you know that getting over there is half the fun — the ferry ride and its cheap beers and amazing views, the unique charm of Staten Island. But, as a Queenser, I'm just gonna say it: Sometimes it's just not worth the trek. Which is why it's a pretty big deal that the folks behind Joe & Pat's have essentially brought their pizza to Manhattan by way of Rubirosa Pizza & Bar.
Rubirosa, on Mulberry Street in Nolita, is helmed by Angelo "A. J." Pappalardo, son of Joe & Pat's Joe Pappalardo, and you'll find the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Anyone familiar with Joe & Pat's will instantly recognize the pizza at Rubirosa. It is a carbon copy of its Castleton Corners forbear, where A. J. began working at age 12. A patchwork of good-quality fresh mozzarella covers a bright-red swath of slightly sweet crushed tomatoes — all atop an ultrathin crust that is crunchy at the edges but gives way to a crisp and pliant middle.
The pizza menu is virtually identical to the one at Joe & Pat's, and A. J., a veteran of Esca and Osteria del Circo, also has some old-school Italian red-sauce fare on the bill, too: pastas, ravioli, manicotti, chicken- and meatball-Parm sandwiches.
We ordered two small pies on a recent visit, a Classic ("from a 50-year-old family recipe) with meatball ($18), and a plain vodka pie ($15), whose savory sauce is made with vodka and Parmesan (the alcohol is supposed to bring out different flavors in the tomatoes) and infused with pancetta.
Both were excellent, but the vodka pie was addictive, as it is at Rubirosa's other sister pizzeria, Pier 76 in the Saint George section of Staten Island.
I appreciated the diminutive size of the meatballs on our classic pie, which are presented whole as marble-size nuggets — as opposed to the sliced meatballs you often find at other pizzerias — but they were a little dry. They'd likely be good in the pasta dish Rubirosa has on the nonpizza menu.
The space is laid out as a long, narrow bar with a few tables in the front and high two-top tables along the wall parallel to the bar. It's rustic, with tin ceilings, reclaimed wood, and old-timey hand-painted lettering in the windows. A comfortable spot to settle in for a pie or two and some drinks at what is one of your best bets for pizza in Nolita right now.