Our trip to Il Porto in July (selected by yours truly) was a chance to visit a local pizzeria, one that was within walking distance, even on a warm Saturday evening. This meant that Joan and I, who take turns driving to our destinations, could freely enjoy the more than decent bottle of wine we selected from Il Porto’s wine list. Il Porto doesn’t quite feel like a “neighborhood” joint—perhaps because it’s on a block that only has commercial properties—but the folks who work there were welcoming, particularly on the Saturday night when we visited. It has two distinct eating areas. One side is a proper restaurant, and the other side (the one I recommend) is more casual and closer to the counter where the slices are sold. They take credit cards and have an outdoor eating area that looks quite nice, though it’s worth remembering that Il Porto is near the Navy Yard and its unmistakable aroma.
While eating pizza each month and sharing our experiences is fun, we’ll be taking a break —not from eating pizza (of course!) but writing about it. As Joan writes at the end of her review, our lives are moving quickly (I am currently scheduled to finish not one but two books in the next academic year) and our plates are full. In the meantime, if you’re interested, you should visit these Brooklyn Pie Joints: Fornino Park Slope • Motorino • Lucali’s • Anima
What We Drank
Primitivo Puglia Autentico (Canaletto 2006)
What We Ate
Rucola e Parmigiano: Arugula, mushrooms, shaved parmigiano
Mista : Tomato, shaved carrots, mixed greens, balsamic vinaigrette
Lobster Spring Rolls
Rucola e Prosciutto Mozzarella, prosciutto di parma, arugula, & shaved parmigiano
Sotto Sopra Mozzarella, fresh tomato, finished with shaved parmigiano
Il Porto was my choice. I stumbled on it last year when I was zipping around Brooklyn looking for furniture for my home office. Hungry, hot, and a little bit lost it appeared like an oasis in a block of warehouses and eighteen-wheelers. The “slice side” is super cute without being precious, and I was amused to see the truck drivers hanging out in such a quaint area where you’d expect to see hipsters and their female equivalents. I had a great slice, chatted with the burliest men I’d seen all years (NB: I am an academic, and academic men tend NOT to be burly), and went on my way. Since I didn’t know the neighborhood, I had no idea where I’d just been, and it took me the better part of a year to find the place again.
It was great to find it again, but I must confess that the décor and ambiance of the place didn’t work for me. The proper restaurant side is trying too hard and in a borough full of amazing musicians, artificial keyboard music (even with a good vocalist) seems a crime. Kinda like eating Domino’s Pizza when Luigi’s is right around the corner.
Joan’s appetizer was a lovely idea that didn’t quite work for me. A lighter wrapping would have allowed for less frying and better flavor and you can call the filling lobster all day. It tasted like shrimp to me. Our salads were quite good, but I confess that I was worried.
That worry melted like the perfect slice of buffalo mozzarella when our pizzas arrived. The Rucola e Prosciutto didn’t match up to a similar pie I tried at Fornino’s in Williamsburg, but the Sotto Sopra, which is like the Margherita’s sassier big sister, was absolutely delicious. Dessert was too difficult for me to actually enjoy it (the tastes were good but the texture was all wrong), but it was a nice ending to a decent meal.
Overall, I felt that Il Porto has the right ideas about food, but the execution is hit or miss. I will most definitely go back (it’s on my way home from school), if only because it was my first Brooklyn pizza experience.
There’s no place like home.
It was one of this summer’s alarmingly scorching July days and we were hot, tired and not in the mood to travel, so we stayed in the neighborhood, content to spend some time together, decompress and hopefully enjoy a reasonably good meal. Who knew we’d strike gold right on our own backyard?
Il Porto is on an industrial and rather unsightly stretch of Washington Avenue in our Clinton Hill neighborhood, but it’s fairly spacious with one side comprising a regular slice joint and another that is a dining room which also has outdoor seating. I think we were all immediately put off by the loud and somewhat incongruous live music (singer/electric piano player singing in – Spanish? Italian? Portuguese?), which felt very intrusive when all we wanted to do was talk. The (presumable) owner was also a little off-putting, as he kept coming to our table and telling us “You look good!” This had a decidedly different feel than, say, “You look lovely this evening.” He hovered around us for a while, telling us the specials (which our waitress had already shared) and — a pet peeve of mine — refilling whosever wine glass looked the emptiest. I hate that practice – it may be good serving etiquette but the person who drinks the fastest also gets to drink the most, which is hardly fair. We quickly put an end to that, telling him we would fill our own glasses of the very good primitivo, which was smooth, round and on the fruity side (my personal preference).
Oh but wait, we were there for the food, and overall, we were very pleasantly surprised. I ordered a basic mixed salad, which turned out to be an entrée-sized plate of fresh seasonal greens with carrot strips, tomatoes and light, tasty balsamic vinaigrette which did not overpower. I tried one of Joan’s special lobster spring rolls which basically tasted like any other fried spring roll – not a bad thing, but not very memorable. But the pizza!
Or should I say, one of the pizzas, because we ordered two, and in my mind, only one of them qualified as pizza – the sotto sopra, with mozzarella, fresh tomato and a little parmesan cheese. I am not a fan of most cheeses other than mozzarella but the parmesan blended in seamlessly adding a touch of saltiness to the already tangy and well seasoned tomato sauce and the sprightly mozzarella. The crust was crispy on the edges and chewy in the middle but not too dense or overly filling – it offered that pizza gestalt I always seek, and I could not have been happier. The rucola e prosciutto, however, left me cold – a big circle of pizza dough topped with some prosciutto and a big pile of raw arugula that made it seem as if it had gotten lost inside a bushel at the farmer’s market. It was bland, bothersome and after one slice I ignored the rest, content with my real pizza, my wine and, of course, my compatriots.
It doesn’t usually take much convincing for me to order dessert, but if the truth be told, only hours earlier I had suffered the loss of a dear aunt, so I was feeling especially in need of living to the fullest. I ordered an affogato, which had a lot of ingredients listed on the menu but seemed mostly like some yummy chocolate ice cream covered in chocolate syrup and espresso, and was a satisfying end note. While Il Porto probably won’t be winning any awards or earning any Zagat ratings, the quality, combined with the proximity and pleasant surprise factor, made this particular outing one of the most enjoyable so far.
This excursion had all the ingredients for a classic Saturday Night Live skit: Cheesy lounge singer on a synthesizer? Check. Unctuous host? Double-check! Absent Tricia’s recommendation from a previous visit, these were not promising signs for a good meal. However, the arrival of our first course – salads for my companions, lobster spring rolls for me – accompanied by a decent red wine, raised my expectations. While the lobster rolls tasted more like shrimp, they were crispy and non-greasy. Now that I’ve damned my appetizer with faint praise, I can wholeheartedly endorse the margherita-type pie (sotto sopra). It was a nice balance of thin crust, tangy sauce and quality mozzarella (with a sprinkling of parmesan) that restored my excitement about the meal. The second pie was less satisfying – I’m just not a big fan of white pies (i.e., no sauce). The prosciutto was good quality but the overall impression was just too much dough offset by a lot of arugula. We ended the meal by sharing some type of chocolate dessert with espresso. At this point, it’s really hard to remember much details about the meal for a number of reasons – I waited too long to write this review; there’s too much going on in my life to focus on what was basically a decent if pedestrian meal; I’m just not cut out for the job of food critic. I still stand by my lifelong belief that I could eat pizza everyday (and did, during 7th grade), but after a while there’s not much new to say about the experience. I’d rather just enjoy the occasional good meal with friends. Period.