Peperoncino in Brooklyn: A Re-Visit
While the orginal Slicemaster Adam Kuban is on a bit of a summer hiatus, we thought we'd update a few of the reviews of Slice Past.
It's rather amazing to read back through eight years of Slice archives—eight years of pizza reviews!—if only to get a sense of the vast range of places we Slice'rs have eaten our way through. But it's also fun to watch just how much pizza culture has evolved over those eight years, in New York in particular.
In 2004, the northern reaches of Park Slope were still a rather pizza-barren area, Fourth Avenue had yet to go (in Adam's characterization of Fifth) "from grime to prime," and a little place called Franny's* had just opened on Flatbush. And the pizza-interested media were feeling bullish about Neapolitan pizzeria Peperoncino, which opened up on St. Marks and Fifth, barely a block from Franny's.
In the Village Voice, Robert Sietsema wrote that "From the oven proceed some of the best Neapolitan-revival pizzas in town, giving Franny's on nearby Flatbush Avenue a run for its money." Our own Adam believed Peperoncino's pizzas "represent some of the best Neapolitan-style pies I've had lately."
I've lived in the neighborhood for nearly four years, walk by Peperoncino ten times a week, and had never even thought to stop in. Could it still possibly be comparable to Franny's? It seemed unlikely, but we had to know.
* If you really want to feel like times have changed, check out the map in the post—a PDF screenshot of a MapQuest page. Sexy.)
The menu seems essentially unchanged over the last 8 years, with all Adam's previous favorites still on there, along with the l'oro di Napoli—a gold-leaf topped pizza that seems about as dated now as high-tops and Scrunchies. Tempting though that was, we opted instead for one meat-heavy pie (pizza con salami calabrese, tomato-based with thin salami rounds) and one veggie-heavy one (a 'ciorta smoked mozzarella, eggplant, roasted peppers, and onion).
The better of the two was the pizza con salami calabrese ($13; pictured at top), the cured sausage bleeding spicy oils all over the mozzarella-tomato pool. It's intense stuff, wisely sliced paper-thin so that it doesn't dominate the pizza. Milky mozzarella, a bright and well-seasoned tomato sauce—the effect is very much "pepperoni pizza," though with every element classic Neapolitan. And the all-important crust? It's bronzed pretty lightly—no major charring action here—and not all that puffy; true to style, it's soupy-middled. But it's nicely crisp-chewy, the end crusts pliable, a little airy in the middle, with a decent amount of color on the underbelly. It's a classic, if not perfect, Neapolitan pie. Do I think it compares to Franny's? Nope, but I would totally buy that it was one of the better places going in Brooklyn back then. (In plenty of American cities, this would still be the best Neapolitan pie around.)
The a 'ciorta ($14.50), on the other hand, fell short in half a dozen ways. I liked the smoked mozzarella, which melted appealingly and added a smoky flavor the pies didn't otherwise have too much of. But the eggplant rounds were cut too thick and improperly cooked, with hardly a trace of salt or oil—they kept that insipid raw eggplant taste, despite being cooked through. Peppers, too, were undercooked and unwieldy, and the shower of dried oregano... I mean, nothing needs that much dried oregano. I felt as if Peperoncino here proved itself better at making pizza than making other food. It just wasn't prepared correctly.
A re-visit to Peperoncino was a pleasant surprise, in some ways—here were some totally respectable Neapolitan pies, just down the block, that I otherwise never would've discovered. The problem is that, between Franny's, Campo de' Fiori, and South Brooklyn Pizza... there's a lot of pizza that, frankly, I'd rather be eating, within about a 3-block radius.
But that's a pretty good problem to have.