It's been kind of a thing with outer-borough pizzerias lately, hasn't it? Establish yourself as a successful local joint with a reputation beyond your neighborhood, one that spans even bridges and tunnels, and then parlay that buzz into a Manhattan location. We've seen this M.O. with Motorino, South Brooklyn Pizza, and Grimaldi's. Toby's Public House is trying its hand at this migration. And just this week, a Bronx favorite, Arthur Avenue's Zero Otto Nove, opened in a cavernous space on 21st Street near Fifth Avenue. Will it meet success like South Brooklyn and Motorino or go the way of the now-defunct Fornino spin-off Cronkite? Only time will tell. But until then, we have a handful of pictures to look at — after the jump.
Zero Otto Nove
15 West 21st Street, New York NY 10010 (Fifth/Sixth; map); 212-242-0899; roberto089.com
Getting there: N/R to 23rd; F/M to 23rd
Pizza style: Salerno-style
Oven type: Wood-fired
The skinny: This is the second location of Zero Otto Nove, a spin-off of the popular and packed Arthur Avenue (Bronx) original (itself a spin-off of Roberto Paciullo's eponymous Italian joint in that same Bronx neighborhood). To the pizza layperson, the pies here resemble Neapolitan, but Salerno-style pizza is a bit more crisp, less "wet," and the edges are not as puffy. Whole pies only
Price: $10.95 to $15.95 for 12-inch pizzas, which feed about 1 person each
The original Zero Otto Nove is wildly popular, having quickly built a following since Arthur Avenue restaurateur Roberto Paciullo (Roberto's) opened it in late 2007. Both locations serve Salerno-style pizza, which could easily be mistaken for its cousin, Neapolitan-style pizza. They're both cooked in a wood-oven, both round, both a similar size (about 12 inches in diameter). Both exhibit a minimalist restraint and a focus on ingredient quality rather than quantity. But where Neapolitan pizza is often "wet" in the center, with a puffy rim (the Italians call it the cornicione), Salerno-style pizza, according to longtime Slice'r Gianluca Rottura, is a bit more crisp and not as pillowy at the edge. After trying a trio of pizzas on Tuesday night at the Manhattan 089 (Zero Otto Nove is the Italian translation of Salerno's telephone area code), I began to think of the style as a sort of "missing link" between Neapolitan pizza and New York–style.
Even on only the second night of operation the pizzeria's Margherita (the pizza we consider a standard measuring stick) was solid, well above average, yet maybe not reaching the stratospheric highs that many of the original location's adherents attribute to it. The crust is crisp, chewy, and just a bit dense, which is fine when the pizza is hot but gives your jaw a bit of a workout as the pie cools.
It's flavorful, a tiny bit sour with a hint of smokiness from the wood-fired oven, and the sauce topping it is fresh-tasting, without much in the way of seasoning apart from salt — and, boy, is the sauce salty. Not to the point of unpleasantness, but it is certainly pronounced. The fresh mozzarella is creamy and stretchy and there's a decent amount of it — for a pizza of this style.
The pizza menu comprises a number of standard numbers — the Napoletana (sauce, garlic, basil, oregano), the Marinara (sauce, oregano, basil, capers, garlic, anchovies, olives), the Quattro Formaggi — and some ZON specialties, like a couple with butternut squash purée.
The Carminuccio is a bit different from some of the pizzas you see around the city. Bright orange from a good amount of grated Parmigiano comingling with the sauce, it's topped beyond that only with basil and pancetta. Apart from the Margherita, this was my favorite of the three we tried Tuesday. One caveat: Remember how I said the regular sauce was salty? This pizza is about double that. I liked the salinity, no doubt from the generous amount of grated cheese, but two of the four at our table found it a veritable salt mine.
The Cirilo (or something like it) is what happens when I let my wife, "Girl Slice," pick a pizza from the menu.* The butternut squash purée would have probably been a nice touch but was barely discernible among the strong flavors of the "cream of truffle" and the mushrooms. I'm usually not a fan of truffle pizza, since they often mean truffle oil rather than the real deal. Here, we did not see actual truffle, and the relatively low price ($14.95) and underwhelming flavor didn't seem to indicate the presence of the real deal Holyfield. I'll skip this last pie next time I go back — maybe in favor of the "Riccardo" (butternut squash purée, smoked mozz, spicy pancetta, and basil).
Until ZON gets its sea legs, I think it's too early to say who's winning the battle of the wood-fired Italian pizzas in the area, but I already like this place much more than La Pizza Fresca and think it will probably give Rossopomodoro inside Eataly a run for its money.
* After nearly a year together, I know which battles to fight and when to raise the (red) white (and green) flag. I often let the ol' lady pick a pizza, even though the results can be a bit ... fishy.