Pete Zaaz, a four-week-old sliver of a pizzeria in Crown Heights, stands at the confluence of a number of different currents in Brooklyn dining and pizzadom. As one of my tablemates put it, "It's like the Do or Dine of pizza." To borrow some words from SENY editor Carey Jones's review of Do or Dine, Pete Zaaz is, "intentionally oddball, intentionally free-form." So there's that, and the fact that it's a basic slice joint that's doing the new old-school thing -- all with a focus on inventive, sometimes outlandish toppings.
This is a place, after all, whose most popular pizza so far, the owners say, is the Baked Potato (above), with crème fraîche, white cheddar, bacon, green onion, and purple potatoes au gratin. As an explosion of comforting flavor, it's pretty spectacular. As someone in the joint put it, this is pizza for "stoners, thugs, and hipsters."
Oh, and did I mention the Cold Fried Chicken pizza?
The sauce is made from curried yellow squash, which is then topped with fontina cheese, stewed collard greens, and pickled Thai chiles before going in the oven. Postbake, it's topped with shredded cold fried chicken. It's pretty special in and of itself. And its no surprise customers, I'm told, have taken to ordering a half Baked Potato pie complemented by a half Fried Chicken one. These things were almost made for each other.
When you learn that Pete Zaaz brings together Peter Entner of the No. 7 group and Glen Hudson, formerly of Pulino's, it starts to make sense. Fort Greene's No. 7 quickly became known for its inventive, sometimes oddball dishes, and No. 7 Sub in the Ace Hotel is renowned for its "mad scientist sandwiches." (Trivia: The pizzeria took over the space where the No. 7 family formerly baked the bread for its sandwiches.)
Pete Zaaz is a decidedly toppings-driven pizzeria.
"Our menu's going to constantly rotate," Entner says. He won't even guarantee that the brilliant Baked Potato pie is going to stick around long. "We may rotate that off and make a different kind of potato pizza that's just as great."
On special last night was a housemade–hot sausage pizza with shishito peppers (seemingly basic but very well executed). We ordered that halfsies with the "Brooklyn" pie, a standard plain pie with tomato sauce and house-made mozzarella, but with a small twist — herbed with marjoram rather than the more typical oregano or basil.
Small tweaks to the norm are commonplace at Pete Zaaz, where even the herb shakers hold surprises like dried Thai basil mixed with dried, ground jalapeno, and crushed Cheez-Its. (Entner really likes Cheez-Its).
The one pizza I'll eventually have to come back for is the General Tso's Tofu pizza, sauced with miso and also topped with cottage cheese, broccoli, and carrots. If you're familiar with No. 7 and No. 7 Sub, General Tso's Tofu makes appearances there. I'm not a fan of the sandwich version of this at No. 7 Sub, so we skipped it.
Judging only on what we sampled last night, I'd say your best bet is sticking with the weird here. The Brooklyn pizza is a fine pie, but ordering it is like going to Vegas and playing slots in the grocery store. There may be a payoff and some thrills, but you really want to go all in at big-stakes table of those topped pizzas.
The crust is very thin but crisp and rigid -- without being crunchy or too tough. Which makes sense, as it has to stand up to some heavy, wet toppings in some cases. Flavorwise, there's not a lot of complexity. It seems to be a fairly young dough, with a fresh white bread–esque taste.
Given its thinness, there's a moderate amount of rise at the rim, though the hole structure is fairly dense.
Despite a fairly pale end crust, the bottom has some nice color.
For those keeping score, it's cooked in a gas-fired oven that runs about 550–600°F, with custom-ordered thick, thick pizza stones.
Pete Zaaz is a heckuva narrow space (beautifully designed and outfitted by the owners I might add), with a counter running most of the length of the store. It's more slice shop than sit-down joint, though there's one small table in the back with some bar seating along the walls. You're not going to hold a pizza party here, though things may change when they open their garden area in spring.
I'm bullish on this place and can't wait to see what Entner and Hudson come up with next.