Giuseppina's: Is it Lucali East?
691 Sixth Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215 (map); 718-499-5052
Pizza Style: Charred, thin crust New York pizza, whole pies only, top shelf ingredients.
The Skinny: Like his brother Mark (owner of Lucali), Chris Iacono uses a gas- and wood-fired oven to produce thin crust New York-style pizzas with a Di Fara-inspired blend of three cheeses and impeccable toppings, all in a warm and romantic ambiance.
Price: Plain pie, $22; toppings $3 each except artichoke topping is $8; garlic and basil, free. Notes: Dinner only. Closed Tuesdays. Beer and wine. Cash only.
I knew Chris Iacono could make good pizza. Before opening his own place last year, he made pies for about three years at his brother Mark's excellent pizza restaurant, Lucali. But as I headed for the first time to Giuseppina's, the place he opened last year at the corner of 20th Street and 6th Avenue in Brooklyn, I wondered how Giuseppina's would compare. Specifically, would Chris's dough and brick oven achieve the same level of thin, chewy-crunchy brilliance? (Yes.) Would the sauce be the same? (Yes.) Would Giussepina's, like Lucali, provide a candlelit experience worthy of date night?(Yes.)
With Lucali as small and busy as it usually is, Giuseppina's presents an excellent option for easier access to this brick-oven buffalo mozz version of New York pie—especially if you live in Park Slope or Sunset Park. Giuseppina's, in fact, (sort of) takes reservations. They suggest calling the same day, at 5 pm. When I called prior to going, they happily offered to hold a table for eight at 6 pm on a Saturday.
For the most part, Giuseppina's is very much like Lucali. The pizzas are sharable eight slice jobbies cooked in a hot wood and gas-burning brick oven until lightly charred on the bottom and along the edges. The cheeses used match Lucali's: a blend of Italian buffalo and American low-moisture mozzarellas, Parmigiano Reggiano, and an option for ricotta as a topping (more on that later). The sauce is also the same: a concentrated potion of sweet tomato magic. Most NYC pizzerias top round pies with an uncooked sauce; Giuseppina's and Lucali distinguish themselves by using a cooked sauce based on their grandma's recipe (some old school Italian-Americans would refer to this red liquid as "gravy"). The crust is very thin, almost cracker-like at times. And despite a preponderance of crispy air bubble pockets—especially near the edges—a Giuseppina's slice holds together when folded for New York-style eating.
But don't walk with this slice. You must stay for the atmosphere. With the pizza oven to his back, Chris works from behind a three-sided marble countertop and faces into the candlelit room. Arranged behind wine bottles and more lit candles on the front counter are pizza ingredients for all to see: white balls of buffalo mozzarella floating, crowded in a bowl of foggy white liquid, long-stemmed artichokes lined with grill marks, a messy-looking tin of Calabro brand fresh ricotta, portobello mushrooms, shallots, red bell peppers, onions—and a mandolin for thin slicing. With employees on either side, Chris controls pizza prep and watches over the results as they emerge from the oven. (Before sliding a pizza off of the peel onto a serving pan (or into a box), the pie finisher sprinkles the surface of each pan/box with bread crumbs. "It helps the pizza stay crispy," Chris told me. Crispy it is. Even after a pie has cooled, the crust—at least near the edges—retains its crunch. )
I tried three pies.
The first was half-sausage/garlic, half-pepperoni ($26.50). Standard Hormel-type pepperoni is not my thing: it leaches too much grease and tastes processed. Not the case at Giuseppina's. This is an all-beef pepperoni and it tastes more like paprika-dosed actual meat than machine-made flavored meat. I much preferred the pepperoni half to the sausage.
Second was straight-up cheese and tomato ($22). Three cheers for a good plain pie anywhere. Because Giuseppina's sauce and blend of cheeses stand out as they do, a plain pie here is essential eating: zero distractions from good, simple quality.
I had to loosen my belt for the third pie: portobello mushroom, tomato sauce and mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, and basil ($28). Wow. (Like Lucali, Giuseppina's offers garlic and basil as gratis toppings. Do it.) As a topping, ricotta can elevate any pizza to higher plateau: its creaminess—almost like the cream component of a burrata—adds a dimension to the pie that leaves me wondering, "Why don't I do this more often?"
I live four blocks from Lucali, but getting a table there can be difficult. Giuseppina's offers essentially the same product: Grandma's sauce, cheese, and toppings. Simplicity. Great crust. Warm atmosphere. Oh, and excellent calzones.
Giuseppina's is closed Tuesdays.
Michael Berman is a photographer and writer based in New York. He publishes multimedia food stories on his blog www.pizzacentric.com; and more frequent, sometimes mundane Twitter observations at @michaelberman.