one. three. twelve: Luna Rossa

From Park Slope in January, to Williamsburg in February, we took our pizza experiment to Carroll Gardens and tried out Luna Rossa in March. While not technically a pizza joint like Franny’s and Fornino, this place is still serious about its pies. We visited on a warm Saturday night (I had on sandals for the first time all year!), and it’s clear to me we’ve settled into a bit of a routine. Not only do we always order a Margherita pizza but the three of us are usually happy to share two salads. And there’s always room for dessert. Luna Rossa is not in the middle of the restaurant row on Court Street, but it seems to be holding its own.

What we drank

A bottle of Brunellesco Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2008

What we ate

Appetizers

Tricolore salad

Argula with shaved parmigiano & balsamic dressing

Pies

Marinara: Tomato sauce, Fresh Garlic, Oregano

Margherita: Mozzarella, Tomato Sauce, Fresh Basil

Rustica: Mozzarella, Italian Sausage, Wild Mushrooms

Pizza Fact: Americans eat around 350 slices of pizza per second–Random Pizza Website

The Reviews

Karen

It’s the law of diminishing returns.

Our first bite of Luna Rossa’s hot, thin, crispy-chewy crust seemed to send all of us reeling – it seemed like the perfect balance of elements, the best we’d had yet. Getting it straight out of the brick oven, only a few feet away, was a plus. And it took a minute to realize that we were eating a marinara pizza – red sauce and a few slivers of fresh garlic – and not a margarita, as we’d ordered. The error made for a pleasant surprise, as I felt this sweet-savory sauce stood head and shoulders above the other pizza sauces we’ve tried so far. I tore through my slice and enjoyed every bite. But of course, we had to get the margarita, which has become something of a litmus test for us.

In the meantime, the mozzarella, sausage and wild mushroom pie offered a different surprise. First of all, there was no sauce – I’m still getting used to the realization that with these brick- or wood-fired oven pizzas, the ingredients listed on the menu are generally the ones you get. If no tomato sauce is listed, chances are, you ain’t gettin’ any. And I like tomato sauce on pizza. A lot. The wild mushrooms were lost for me here, but the sausage made me sit up – it didn’t taste spicy, or fennel-y, or, well, sausage-y – it tasted pork-y, and that was just fine. I missed the mushroom taste, though, and the solid layer of cheese made the slice quite a bit denser than what I was used to. The crust stood up well, but as I finished this second slice I became much more aware of my chewing.

Then, of course, the margarita. There was sauce, and the small round slices of mozzarella, and some bits of fresh basil, and it was good – again, hot from the oven and nice and crispy-chewy-charred. But somehow the sauce didn’t stand up to the mozzarella, which itself tasted slightly bland. Where was that rush of flavor that I’d had from the first slice, only minutes earlier? The basil was good but the whole thing needed a little more seasoning – salt, pepper, maybe some oregano? As I finished this slice I found myself chewing…and chewing…and by the time I had one more half slice of the marinara I started to wonder whether I was really that crazy about pizza to begin with. Then I realized, it was the law of diminishing returns – that first slice, heaven. The second, pleasurable. The third…and so it goes.

Of course, we waited quite a while at Luna Rossa, as our lovely servers appeared to be a little overwhelmed. So while my tricolore salad (which was mostly green) with a bright, lemony vinaigrette wasn’t particularly filling, I did have several slices of bread to go along with it. And wine. Two glasses. (Again.) But we weren’t in a rush and overall, Luna Rossa was a hit. Afterward I had some vanilla gelato with just-brewed espresso poured over the top. The coffee on the ice cream tasted like a delicious syrup, but espresso is generally too bitter for me so the pool that gathered under the scoops wasn’t really appealing. Thank goodness we went out dancing after that and worked off a little of that fuel. After a few turns on the dance floor, I was even ready to start thinking about where we’ll be going in April.

Joan
As a Brooklyn native, Carroll Gardens is embedded in my memory as a traditional Italian neighborhood and so it was inevitable that we would venture there for one of our pizza adventures. As we stepped into Luna Rossa, the sound of Italian ballads reinforced the feeling of being transported to an earlier era. There was something oddly comforting about eating pizza made by actual Italians instead of hipster, Williamsburg or Park Slope locavores. My comrades and I arrived hungry (as usual), so the long wait for the first course of salads was puzzling – not sure why throwing some greens on a plate took at least 30 minutes, but the salads were fresh with lemony-tart dressing. I must confess I was too impatient for the taste of our long-delayed pizzas to pay much attention to the salad. The arrival of the first pie, fresh out of the brick oven just a few feet away, made up for the wait – that first bite was a moment of bliss! It took a few mouthfuls of perfect crust (the best so far) and mouth-watering sauce before we realized that the waiter had brought us the marinara instead of margarita pizza. The lack of cheese did not diminish our happiness. I was not as thrilled with the rustica pie….it was a little too doughy and bland compared to the first one. However, that did not stop me from finishing the slice I put on my plate. The arrival of the margarita was a bit anticlimactic – it seemed a little under-sauced compared to the first one (ahhhh…..that marinara pie set a very high standard!) but maybe we were too full to appreciate its subtle flavor.

The shared desserts were satisfying — how bad could molten chocolate cake and vanilla gelato be? Any guilt brought on by over-indulgence was offset by plans to go dancing afterwards, so another successful evening was enjoyed by all.

Tricia

I don’t think I truly understood the artistry of “pizza crust” until I had the pizza at Luna Rossa. Sure I knew the difference between thin and thick, and I’ve come to understand that thin crusts allow the flavor of the other pizza ingredients to shine. But I’ve been thinking in terms only of thickness and not density. Not anymore! The crusts at Luna Rossa, on all three pizzas, were the thickest we’ve encountered thus far, and yet they were also the lightest, with the best flavor. My theory is that the thickness of the crust allows the brick-oven goodness to permeate the entire pizza more thoroughly. As a result, everything on each pie tasted a bit smokier, a bit richer.

This is, however, a crust that needs to be eaten right out of a hot oven. While I happen to like a chewy crust, I can see how it might be less appealing to those who prefer a thin crust. It settles into heaviness, which does not make it ideal for ordering to go.

The sausage and wild mushroom pizza surprised me the most. I wasn’t particularly interested in it at first, but it came out white, which allowed the flavor of the mushrooms (and these mushrooms were so wild I worried they might corrupt my morals) to emerge alongside the sausage, which tasted fresh rather than salty and cured the way pizza sausage tends to taste. It could have used something—perhaps some fresh oregano—to pull the flavors together.

Next time, I plan to try one of their fruit desserts. The cake tasted like it came out of the microwave rather than the oven, but I did enjoy the bite I had of Karen’s dessert. I think seeing that the espresso was made just for pouring over the gelato did the trick.

Decent wine, fabulous crust, and even a mediocre cake is still CAKE. All-in-all it seems like I’m three for three. And I’ve finally succumbed to the crust-is-all school of pizza eating.

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