Saraghina: Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn
How 'bout the weather lately, right? Not too hot, not too cold. Not humid. Perfect for pizza under the stars. Taking my own advice from earlier this year (9 NYC Pizzerias with Great Gardens), I made my way to Saraghina in Bed-Stuy to catch up on things.
First, what I love about Saraghina: the garden. It's up there in my all-time favorite NYC outdoor-dining spaces. Much more than an afterthought, the entire restaurant almost seems to have been built around this moderate-size patio overgrown with vines, strung with party lights, and decorated with vintage motel signs. It feels like a friend's backyard rather than the restaurant it is, inviting you to linger and have that extra beer or glass of wine.
I like the overall vibe there, too. Yeah, it's what Nina Lalli once termed a "Ball jar joint," a trend that seems a little 2009, but I still like it. It's laid-back, all farmhouse-like, and the whole thing seems to attract a truly diverse crowd — from among the longtime African-American community that's long called Bed-Stuy home to the non-black newcomers who have moved to the area in recent years.
I like the pizza, too, but I don't love it. On a recent night, our party of four sampled a trio of pies and found them a little wanting. The crust, though crisp and chewy and moderately puffy at the rim, could have used more salt, more flavor. Once past the smokiness of the more well-done parts of the cornicione (what Italians call the edge of the pizza), there was very little we tasted beyond a sort of white-bread inoffensiveness.
While my companions complained about the lack of salt in the sauce as well, I found it fine. I'm happy with minimally treated canned tomatoes, and evaluated on its own, the sauce was tomatoey enough. Often a great sauce can almost save a wan crust, and here the sauce was merely good.
The cheese was creamy, milky tasting, applied in cherry-size nuggs across the pies. Enough cheese, I thought. Nowhere near as stingy as some other Neapolitan joints can be with the stuff. At its best, fresh mozzarella tastes like the milk it was recently made from, which is to say not particularly bold. So once you've got a mild crust and mild sauce, even the best of mozzarellas is not going to help much.
There are eight pizzas on the regular menu — four of them suitable for vegetarians. We moved on from the Margherita to ...
... the Prosciutto & Funghi. Here, we hoped for a little more zing. And there was some, but not as much as you'd imagine from a pizza topped with ham and mushrooms. I preferred the Margherita to this one. But in the lineup, the Prosciutto & Funghi was better than ...
... the Ortolana, Saraghina's vegetable tour de force. Before this one hit our table, my neighborhood-based dining companion warned me that the vegetables might be cut a little too thick. But we were happy to find that this wasn't the case at all. All veggies were bite size and cooked through, but now we found there were almost too many, yielding a soggy crust and mishmash of flavors in which nothing could hope to stand out on its own.
I wanted to love Saraghina's pizza, because I certainly love the everything else about it. For me, as an interloper in Bed-Stuy, I'd say you could avoid a special trip. It's good for the neighborhood, if you absolutely need a wood-fired pizza fix.