Having saturated most of Manhattan and close-in Brooklyn, wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza continues to find a welcome home farther out in the boroughs, in neighborhoods heretofore deprived of great pizza. Case in point: Barboncino in Crown Heights.
In the past, I've lamented that some of these pizza trailblazers are merely good for the neighborhood, getting praise and business simply because they're the only game around. Judging by the one initial visit I made to Barboncino earlier this week, though, I'd say the place could hold its own against some of the top-tier joints in the city.
The place is the work of indie filmmaker Ron Brown and Jon Greenberg, who did time at Paulie Gee's and, before that, the original Robicelli's. It should come as no surprise, then, that the pizza at Barboncino is remarkably similar to that popular Greenpoint pizzeria.
The crust is artfully "leopard-spotted" with thin, flaky charred bubbles making for a smoky flavor. It's a thin crust, one that's crisp just out of the oven and sturdy enough that you can pick it up without glop-dropping toppings onto the plate—or your shirt. In this it skews more toward the American end of the wood-fired pizza spectrum than the more traditional, soupier-centered Italian pies.
There are a handful of starters on the menu, including a cheese plate, salumi, and more—we went for meatballs (good) and Bibb salad (remarkably* good) with a crumbling of blue cheese and just enough balsamic-vinaigrette dressing.
* Seriously, my dining companions actually mentioned how good it was.
The white clam pie will be familiar to anyone who has eaten the cherrystone clam pizza at Motorino. Like that one, the clams, tender and fresh tasting, are chopped into pinky nail–size bits accompanied by garlic, parsley butter, olive oil, and parsley leaves. It's a good pie.
The clams give you just a taste of the sea—a walk on the beach at ankle depth. They're not dragging you out in an undertow of overwhelming fishiness. There's plenty of garlic, though, and I wish there were more parsley butter, the stuff that makes Motorino's version so craveworthy. Still... Worth getting.
The cremini and sausage pizza was good, too. A diner at our table mentioned that it reminded him of a pizzeria he grew up eating at in San Antonio. It reminded me of the stuff I grew up eating on trips back to Milwaukee. In other words, it was the best of what I like to call "pizza parlor pizza" merged with artisanal intention and wood-fired blah blah blah.
Other pizzas on the menu that caught our attention: the Artichoke and Smoked Pancetta and the Eggplant and Zucchini. Beyond that, the pizza menu (above) is fairly basic, though a little more varied than a more straight-edge Neapolitan place.
The atmosphere is laid back though the staff is attentive (and friendly). The dining room is large despite the restaurant's cramped appearance when you first walk in. Seating is up a couple steps to the left of and behind the Stefano Ferrara oven.
It's only been open since October 6, yet it was packed to capacity on a Tuesday evening. As of this posting, they're waiting on their liquor license and do not allow BYOB. But our waitress mentioned that the license was pending, so do be surprised to find alcoholic libations there soon.
Barboncino is within a couple blocks of both the Franklin Avenue 2/3/4/5 and the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. If you don't live in the neighborhood, I suggest you hop one of those trains and check it out.