232 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11205 (DeKalb/Willoughby; map); 718-789-5663; graziellasmenu.com
Getting there: G to Clinton-Washington; A/C to Lafayette
Pizza style: Wood-fired, thin-crust bar-esque pies
Oven type: Wood-fired
The skinny: The pizza at Graziella's is very thin crusted, crisp — almost a Neapolitan-inspired bar-style pizza. It may not be destination pizza, but every neighborhood would be lucky to have a place like this to hang out and eat at
Price: Margherita, $11 small, $18 large; ranging to $16/$24 for specialty pies
Graziella's is the kind of place you want in your neighborhood. The staff is friendly,* it's got a warm and inviting atmosphere, a good if modest selection of beers behind a large, cozy bar, and in the warmer months, the roof deck is one of the most pleasant outdoor places to eat pizza that I know of — sort of like a neat little treetop pizza hideaway. It's evident that folks of Fort Greene love the place: It's always been full when I've visited, attracting, like many Fort Greene restaurants do, a diverse crowd that reflects the neighborhood's longtime African American roots and the white hipsters who started moving to the area en masse in the early 2000s. Like I said, a true neighborhood place.
And the pizza here is in keeping with that vibe. It's not a destination pie, not one that would have the pizza geeks foaming about "cornicione" this and "oven spring" that — because there isn't much of either. It's a pretty flat pizza, very thin, with a good amount of crispness on the bottom but enough flexibility to fold in half.
The pizza is cooked in a wood-fired oven tucked away in the back of the restaurant, with the pizzamaker on display at his counter stretching dough and shoveling pies in and out at a rapid pace.
Pizzas come in two sizes, small ($11 for a Margherita) and large ($18). You could probably polish off a small by yourself, no matter how many toppings it had. The crust is that thin. The crust is also very dry. When you get to the "bones," you'll be reaching for the olive oil to swipe them in, which is a shame, because the crust does have some nice flavor to it — a little bit sour, just salty enough. The cheese and sauce come to the rescue, however, topped as this pies are with a creamy fresh mozzarella and a bright tasting tomato sauce.
Pizzas get only a small amount of char on them, surprising given the deep-brown color along the edges. A bit surprising given that they've got a wood-burning oven here. The pizzas here are more Neapolitan-inspired than Neapolitan as pizza geeks would know it. I'd almost be tempted to say they're a sort of hybrid of Neapolitan and bar style. They certainly have the thinness and flatness of bar type pies — and the convivial atmosphere here is in keeping with best bar pizzerias I've visited.
Toppings, should you get them — and I think you should at Graziella's — are generous but distributed judiciously over the pizzas. There are the American standards (pepperoni, mushroom, sausage), but some more Italian choices are on offer — prosciutto, anchovy, broccoli rabe.
And in looking at some old Slice intel only after the fact, I'm kicking myself that I didn't try Ted Allen's "Best Thing [He] Ever Ate," the baby arugula and Parmesan pizza. And another thing I'd really like to try there (although it doesn't seem to be on the menu) would be Grazilella's meatballs on a pizza. They were delicious, certainly more interesting than the ground sausage of the Pizza Vito we sampled.
I think most neighborhoods have a place like Graziella's. Maybe it's not a pizzeria, but you know the place — it may not be a destination spot, but that's OK. It's where the locals go, a place you wouldn't want ruined by interlopers anyway. I certainly have a place like that in my neighborhood that Girl Slice and I eat at at least once a week. That's what Graziella's felt like to me. Fort Greene's residents are lucky to have it.
* I'm pretty sure they made me as the Slice dude after I was there for about 10 minutes, so my service experience may not have been representative of Joe or Jane Sixslice, but I have friends in the neighborhood who attest to the friendliness. And the other patrons there seemed to receive good service, too.