one. three. twelve: Il Porto

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

Appetizers

Rucola e Parmigiano: Arugula, mushrooms, shaved parmigiano

Mista : Tomato, shaved carrots, mixed greens, balsamic vinaigrette

Lobster Spring Rolls

Pies

Rucola e Prosciutto Mozzarella, prosciutto di parma, arugula, & shaved parmigiano

Sotto Sopra Mozzarella, fresh tomato, finished with shaved parmigiano

Dessert

Affogato

The Reviews

Tricia

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.

Karen

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.

Joan

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.

one.three.twelve: Totonno’s

Totonno’s is one of those old school pizza parlors–seriously old school. The owner learned how to make pizza with the founder of Lombardi’s, which, as every pizza lover knows, enjoys the distinction of being the first pizzeria in the United States.  And while it’s possible to enjoy Totonno’s pies at different places in Manhattan and Yonkers, Joan took us out to its first Coney Island location. The street name, Neptune Avenue, might conjure up a mystical street where one might find mermaids and seahorses. In reality. Not so much. Imagine garages, gas stations, and an odd pirate statue in front of a junk yard (?) instead.

We arrived *just* in time, unaware that the original Totonno’s closes at 8:00. It was luck and Joan’s great driving that got us in line a few minutes before an adorably grumpy woman, who has clearly been with Totonno’s since the beginning announced, “NO MORE!”

Simple fare (no menu but a list of toppings on the back wall) and cash only!

What we drank
Lemonade Iced Tea
Coke

What we ate
Half cheese
Half sausage and garlic

Joan

The first official Saturday of summer, so what better place to go for pizza than Coney Island? The journey from the north to south end of the borough was an opportunity to recapture happy memories of riding down Ocean Parkway – in the car with my family, later on bikes with friends – on the way to the beach or amusement park. It was also an opportunity to show off my ability to name the various neighborhoods along the way for the most recent Brooklyn transplant, Tricia. I have to admit that my geography skills were at times a little sketchy – not completely sure where Ditmas ended and Kensington began – but I easily found Neptune Avenue and our destination. Upon being seated in the most utilitarian setting imaginable (no printed menus, dixie cups with no ice for bottled soft drinks), I realized that it’s really all about the pizza – no salad, no appetizer, no chaser, just one large pie. Of course, we had the required (half) margarita and one-half garlic/sausage. The first bite of a slice straight from the oven is pure heaven – this one as close to your corner pizza joint as we’ve come so far. Unfortunately, I was also in the throes of a major allergy attack, so the stuffy nose and general malaise did not help me distinguish any subtlety in the seasoning or flavor of our hybrid pie. This month, I will leave it to my esteemed colleagues to provide you with their sophisticated analyses of the mouth-feel of the cheese or the chewiness of the crust, but all I will say is, I enjoyed my three slices then went home to partake of the magic of Benadryl.

Karen

It sort of starts at the end, when, upon walking towards the car, I confessed to my companions, “I’m feeling like the pizzas are all starting to blur together.”  In other words, is there a limit on how good pizza can actually be?

Not that Totonno’s isn’t good.  The legendary pie purveyor has definitely earned its reputation by baking tasty, crisp, thin-crusted coal oven pizzas crowned with fresh mozzarella and sweetly tangy marinara.  But aside from the coal oven flavor and the fact that they serve only whole pies, no slices, you’d be hard pressed to find another reason to trek out to Totonno’s if you weren’t headed to Coney Island already.  An institution started more than 80 years ago and modeled after the famed Lombardi’s in Little Italy, Totonno’s has a no-frills interior with a tin ceiling and photos on the walls (a la Sal’s in “Do the Right Thing”), a refrigerator selection of soft drinks, Snapple and beer, a sampling of 5-dollar bottles of Bolla wine, and a toppings list that about equals that of any standard NYC slice joint.  [Caveat: I believe that the two Manhattan branches that sprouted much later have a more extensive menu all the way around.)  Our half regular and half garlic-topped pie was hot, fresh and certainly satisfying.  But even as we ate, I couldn’t think of what to say about it that I hadn’t already said, with more gusto and passion, about some of the other stellar stops we’ve made along the first half of this year-long journey.  I was hungry, it tasted good and it filled us up.  I actually enjoyed my ice-cold Snapple lemon iced tea as much as my pizza — though I enjoyed neither as much as recounting the tale of a recent date with a height-challenged, online suitor who will forever be referred to as “Tiny Todd.”

Of course, I always enjoy a trip out to Coney Island, and the fact that we were the last guests to be seated before the place closed for the night made it feel like we were indeed meant to be there.  And there is nothing at all wrong with good-quality, basic pizza.  But in the quest for the holy grail, I’d say Totonno’s is bringing up the rear.

Tricia

When it comes to the kind of ambiance I hoped to find along the way on my journey across Brooklyn’s pizza landscape, Totonno’s did not disappoint. I confess I don’t share the desire to check out the latest pizza place reviewed in the New York Times (I suspect this is because it’s ALL new to me), and standing in line to eat pizza because someone else claims it’s good is not my idea of fun.  I wanted experiences at places where the walls are covered with stories about the pizzeria’s history. And this was that place.  It was great fun catching up with Karen and Joan, but I also thoroughly enjoyed reading how Totonno’s came into being.  On a sentimental note, I was excited about the trip to this Coney Island legend because my father had his first slice of pizza somewhere on the boardwalk. He still remembers being a little boy walking along with his parents and asking what they were eating.  When my grandfather explained “pizza” to him, he asked if he could have some. The rest is history (I like to think that Etta James’s “At Last” started playing in the background).

Unfortunately, my pizza palate is suffering from a serious case of ennui (I’m convinced it’s because we narrowed our criteria too much), but even if this had been our first adventure, I think I would have found Totonno’s lacking.  The crust was fine, but I needed a lot more flavor all over the pie.  Serious flavor–salt, spice, herbs…something!  I feel about Totonno’s the way I feel about “Glee”.  I get the hype, and I’m very glad it’s there, but…

Now even an uninspiring pizza is still pizza.  And driving down a wide avenue singing along to Michael Jackson tunes is always a good time, so there are no serious complaints from me.

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.

one. three. twelve: Fornino

There was a happy pizza dance involved.  I didn’t even know such a thing existed, but I also didn’t know how naturally the phrases “speed dating” and “firing range” fit in the same conversation.  Our journey this month was to Fornino in Williamsburg.  The in-house greenhouse means that the ingredients are fresh. The vibe is casual and friendly and hip without feeling trendy.  We were seated right away—even on a Saturday night—and, though the wine list wasn’t terribly extensive, our server helped us choose wines that were quite good.  Fornino doesn’t have a website, but the menu is available on-line at different foodie websites.

What we drank

Karen and Joan: Shiraz
Tricia: Montepulciano

What we ate

Appetizers

Fornino’s Caesar Salad with Herbed Foccacia Croutons
Wild Arugula & Pear Salad with Gorgonzola

Pies
Margherita Classica: Tomato, Mozzarella, Basil, Parmesan Cheese, Olive Oil
The Al Roker: Tomato, Mozzarella, Fontina, Carmelized Onions, Sopressata, Roasted red peppers, and Rosemary
Calabrese: Tomato, Mozzarella, Sopressata Piccante.

Dessert
Belgian Chocolate Mousse


The Margherita Classica & Calabrese

The Reviews

Karen
The bar has been set.

When we started this pizza adventure, I had a feeling about what I was looking for. I couldn’t quite articulate it but I knew it wasn’t just a crispy crust, a toothsome cheese, or a savory sauce – or even some creative combination of ingredients and toppings. No, it was all of these things combined into an overall pizzalicious experience — a pizza gestalt, if you will. And I found it at Fornino’s.

Walking into this cozy, laid-back Williamsburg spot we were seated immediately and welcomed warmly by easygoing but competent servers — having just turned down a potential hour-and-a-half wait at another local hot spot, this was a relief. Feeling a little overwhelmed by the extensive menu choices, I expressed a preference or two and quickly agreed on the ordering with my companions, whose tastes run a little broader than mine in the pizza arena. A basic but appetizing Caesar salad and single glass of smooth shiraz set the tone and boded well for the main attraction. So did the sight of armfuls of pizza boxes being carried out to go, some stacked five-high.

Then the pizza arrived.

Just looking at it made me happy. It was hot, fresh and delicious-looking. Three types pf pizza, three different tastes. The Margherita was lightly layered with smooth, mildly salty mozzarella, bits of fresh basil, and a slightly meager coating of tangy sauce which, in truth, could have used a little more seasoning. The crust was thin but substantial enough to be chewy and satisfying, with enough crispness and char on the edges for a counterbalance. I can almost always go for more char but I’m weird like that, eating totally burnt toast and the like. But I digress.

The spicy sopressata on the Calabrese was new to my palate, and I found it salty, savory and just spicy enough to stand out without being overwhelming. And while I can’t really remember what exactly was on the “Al Roker” – some eggplant, maybe some peppers – I do know the ingredients melded harmoniously. But frankly, what I really liked about Fornino’s was that gestalt. I liked some elements more than others but found myself less focused on the details and more taken by how the textures and tastes of every bite came together. It even made my companions seemed more charming and personable! (Just kidding ladies, you know you’ve got it going on.) It was the pizza experience I realized I’d been hoping for. I even found myself doing a happy little pizza dance in my seat — can you beat that?

And in case you thought I’d regained my virtue by foregoing a second glass of wine this time, I ordered one of my all-time favorite desserts — Belgian chocolate mousse — and refused to share. Some experiences just need to be savored alone.

Joan
I’ll start with the moral of the story: Always follow your first instinct. After a false start and a few minutes of anxiety traveling across Williamsburg without Tricia’s trusty GPS, we were quickly seated upon arrival at Fornino. I’m not sure what earns you the title of “best pizza in the city” (NYTimes anointing of Motorino) but Fornino would be a strong contender in any contest. The ambiance and service made us feel very comfortable….our server was friendly and informative without being overbearing. The wine list, while somewhat limited, offered a smooth, fruity shiraz whose name I wish I had noted for future reference. The menu of pizza options was at first intimidating (the menu is divided into 1st, 2nd and 3rd generations of pizza….who knew pizza had a genealogy?). My must-have pizza choice will always be the margarita….but wait, there were four versions of it on the menu! After reaching consensus on the “classica” we ordered the only “celebrity” item on the menu (is Al Roker a loyal customer?) and one calabrese. The pies were as delicious as they looked, evidenced by the sighs and moans of delight as we bit into each slice. My favorite, the Roker, was spicy but balanced by sweet caramelized onions and red peppers. The calabrese was topped by a perfectly salty sopressata sausage and I had to force myself not to pick the meat off the pie to nibble on. While the margarita pie was tasty, I would have preferred a little more flavor to the sauce (Franny’s still has the advantage here, IMHO). What I really liked about Fornino’s pies was the crust – nicely charred and crispy from center to edge. Overall, the restaurant provided a nice balance of traditional and trendy.

Usually, after consuming so much dough and cheese, there would be little room for dessert. The parade of delicious-looking desserts to nearby tables was too tempting and we unanimously agreed on the chocolate mousse. It was so light and silky smooth that it hardly seemed to take up any extra tummy space and the only suggestion would be to use darker chocolate for a more complex flavor.

Footnote: I was the lucky recipient of the leftover slices which tasted even better the next morning for brunch.

Tricia
Despite the Times’ glowing review, I had no interest in going to Motorino so was happy to follow Karen’s lead to Fornino. I thoroughly enjoyed my wine, and the festive desserts paraded by our table at regular (strategic?) intervals helped me pace myself through the mostly delicious pizzas. I wasn’t terribly impressed with my salad; there was nothing “wild” about the arugula and the pear slices were too small to be properly enjoyed, but the Margherita. Oh. THE.  Margherita. It was a thing of beauty. I also enjoyed the Al Roker, but something was missing from the Calabrese. I think it would have been more interesting with a different cheese, something a bit sharper than the homemade mozzarella. The mousse was just okay, but that didn’t stop me from sticking my spoon in a time or two more than I originally planned. I’d visit again in a minute, which is not the feeling I had when I left Franny’s last month.

And I am regretting that I pushed Joan to take the leftovers. I have a feeling they would have been tasty for breakfast the next morning.

one.three.twelve: Franny’s

Located at 295 Flatbush Avenue, Franny’s is very popular, so by Saturday at 6:30 the place was already packed.  The friendly hostess told us we’d have to wait 45 minutes for a table, but either the time flew because the place was cozy and the vibe was friendly or we actually only waited around 20 minutes.

Everything you need to know about it can be found on their helpful website. One quirk that might be overlooked is that during the week the restaurant doesn’t open until 5:30.

What we drank

Karen: 2008 Valle dell’ Acate Nero d’Avola Case Ibidini Sicilia
Joan: 2008 Bisson Prosecco dei Colli Trevigiani Liguria
Tricia: Villa di Corlo Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Amabile
Emilia Romagna

What we ate

Appetizers

Crostino of Wood-Roasted Pancetta & Herb Butter
Controne Bean Salad with Pancetta and Radicchio

Pies
Tomato, Garlic, Oregano and Parmigiano Reggiano
Tomato, Buffalo Mozzarella and Meatball

Pizza Fact

More pizza is consumed during the week of the Super Bowl than any other time of the year.

The reviews

Karen
I often find that high expectations of any experience tend to dampen it, so I was worried about going to Franny’s, about which I’d heard so many raves.  Happily, I need not have worried — this pizza definitely lived up to its reputation.  The 10-to-12-inch pie was a nice size for sharing and we ordered two, though I was so hungry that initially I thought we should each order our own!  The thin, brick oven crust was wonderful — just charred enough for me and crisp around the edges, yet still tender and chewy throughout.  The toppings delivered on taste, yet were delicate enough to match the texture and flavor of the crust.  My favorite was the little meatballs, which tasted fresh and meaty without being overwhelming.  Along with our (tiny) starters, I felt satisfied afterward but not stuffed, as overly greasy or doughy pies can make you feel.  What I realized, however, is that I do think of pizza (as) a robust food, with vibrant colors, textures and tastes — so while I appreciated the subtlety here, I would have liked just a little more of everything: more sauce, more cheese, more herbs, and just more flavor overall.  It was definitely worth waiting for and I would go back in a heartbeat.  All I’d ask for from my compatriots next time is a gentle reminder that I might want to consider whether that second glass of Nero D’Avola would really be in my best interests!

Joan
Having been to Franny’s previously, my expectations were realistically optimistic. The excursion started out auspiciously…..we got a parking space right in front of the restaurant and our wait was shorter than first announced by the hostess. The appetizers were tasty but small and pricy. If we had understood the most basic Italian, we would have realized that our order of crostino was singular for crostini. Really, Franny’s….$5 (or maybe $6) for a slice of toast that was NOT topped with truffles, caviar or precious gems?  Fortunately, the pies were large enough to satisfy our appetites. While I enjoyed both pies, surprisingly (to me) I preferred the one topped with parmigiano reggiano since I’m usually a mozzarella type of gal. Franny’s pies are a little sparse on sauce and toppings but everything is so flavorful that each bite is a treat, including the delicious and perfectly-charred crust. It was a wonderful start to our year-long odyssey.

Tricia
The service here is excellent, and in a busy pizza place, good service is especially important.I wasn’t crazy about the Lambrusco I ordered as it didn’t have the full body I’ve enjoyed when I’ve ordered the wine elsewhere.  I was not at all impressed with the crostino appetizer we ordered.  The pancetta was decent but the preparation wasn’t interesting, and, for the size, it was way overpriced.  I liked the Controne Bean Salad with Pancetta and Radicchio quite a bit and would have happily made a meal of it with a side green salad.  Now to the pizza!  For my taste, I found the crust just a wee bit too thin.  I could do without the charred taste, but it wasn’t a detractor for me.  Both pizzas were good, but I preferred the smoky flavor of the buffalo mozzarella over the tanginess of the cheese in the Parmigiano Reggiano pizza.  The paper thin slices of garlic on the Parmigiano Reggiano pie added a nice zing, but I think the mini meatballs won me over.  A slightly thicker crust would have made a big difference, but I liked that the balance of cheese and sauce meant I could actually taste everything on each slice.  And after dinner I had plenty of room for chocolate cake from a neighborhood place about a block away.

one. three. twelve: a year of Brooklyn pizza

There are few things I like more than visiting with girlfriends over food. Visiting with guyfriends over food is fun too, but it’s just not the same thing. Of all the different kinds of food I like, pizza is near the top of the list. Also near the top of my list are Joan and Karen—two New Yorkers who have helped make my new neighborhood feel like home. After a Saturday listening to the two of them talk about pizza, I realized I had two specialists who share my love of pizza and that I truly live in New York’s pizza borough.

It seemed a great and tasty idea to get to know the borough through its pizza places, so we’ve come up with a plan: 2010 will be the year of Brooklyn Pizza.
Our mission is simple: one borough, three women, twelve pizza joints.

Once a month, we’re going to head out into Brooklyn and decide the difference between pizza worth the wait and pizza that is best forgotten.

My partners in pizza (sorry, couldn’t resist) know Brooklyn. As you can see from their mini pizzaographies (really, sorry, just couldn’t resist), they know from a slice.

The Trio

Karen
I’m a Yoga teacher, social worker and native New Yorker who can remember eating pizza when it was 40 cents a slice! (My elementary school years.) I love the whole gestalt of a good pizza and the flavor of the sauce is key — I’m also not a fan of an overwhelming amount of cheese — but when I think of what I like best the thing that comes to mind first is the crust, I like it well done and crisp. Especially with the brick oven pizza, that nice char is essential!

Joan
I was born and raised in Bklyn and pizza is my favorite food. I ate it everyday for lunch in the 7th and 8th grade (no kidding!) and it’s still the default option when I can’t make up my mind about a meal. But not just any pizza, as I learned by living in the SF Bay area for 8 years. Pineapple and ham toppping? I think not! The ideal slice has thin crust (preferably slightly charred), savory sauce with a hint of oregano and garlic, thin layer of whole milk mozzarella….your basic margherita pizza. I’m looking forward to the 12-month pizza adventure.

Tricia
I moved to Brooklyn this summer and am currently working on two books. I’m a bit of a pizza neophyte. I know when pizza is good, but I don’t have strong opinions about things like crust and cheese. I’ve recently started to appreciate a thinner crust, and I do know that my favorite pizzas have fresh herbs on them and a sauce that’s not too tangy. And,  apropos of nothing, I am the tallest of the trio. When I have on heels I feel like Gulliver among the Lilliputians. This may matter down the road.

A Poem for the First Day of School

I’m not cranky about the new term staring…nope not me. Not even a little bit. Not. at. all.

Did I Miss Anything?
by Tom Wayman (b. 1945)
(thanks to my friend luna for sharing!)

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 percent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
on earth.

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been
gathered

but it was one place

And you weren’t here

A poem for the last day of August

Packing and unpacking always unearths “stuff”—stuff you forgot you had and feel happy to see again, stuff you meant to throw away, stuff you thought you’d thrown away, stuff you should have thrown away, stuff that reveals you have an inordinate amount of drinking glasses and cloth napkins.

Among the stuff I found in my recent move was a poem given to me by my friend Megan in my birthday card last year. It was a tough milestone birthday that I dreaded for a full year and a half, but this poem helped give me a wee bit of perspective:

A Lady Who Thinks She is Thirty

Unwillingly Miranda wakes,
Feels the sun with terror,
One unwilling step she takes,
Shuddering to the mirror.

Miranda in Miranda’s sight
Is old and gray and dirty;
Twenty-nine she was last night;
This morning she is thirty.

Shining like the morning star,
Like the twilight shining,
Haunted by a calendar,
Miranda is a-pining.

Silly girl, silver girl,
Draw the mirror toward you;
Time who makes the years to whirl
Adorned as he adored you.

Time is timelessness for you;
Calendars for the human;
What’s a year, or thirty, to
Loveliness made woman?

Oh, Night will not see thirty again,
Yet soft her wing, Miranda;
Pick up your glass and tell me, then–
How old is Spring, Miranda?

Ogden Nash

Home sweet home

I’ve skipped a whole month of writing…anything. I have a good excuse. Really. See, my finances came together in a pretty terrific way (shocking in this economy, I know!), and I found this rather fabulous apartment the first weekend in June. So instead of moving in the dead of winter as I originally planned, I moved in the middle of a wet, hot summer…while teaching a summer course…and trying to put two book proposals together.

But I really couldn’t help it. What would you do if you found a two-bedroom apartment with hardwood floors and a tiled bathroom on the top (fourth) floor of a building on a tree-lined street in funky Clinton Hill? And what if this apartment also had a dishwasher? And it was a mere block from the subway. And it was less than you planned to pay? And the building superintendent pronounced you his first choice and announced that there will be a BBQ in your honor after you move in? Wouldn’t you drop everything, pack up your stuff, and move?

I’m all unpacked, and so, although the place is not all set up, I’ll be writing again very soon. I’ve much to tell about my new digs, my new neighborhood, and the joys of having a fire escape. I’ve got lots to say about Gates-Gate, “Mad Men,” and why it’s anti-Christian to oppose health care reform. I’ve giggled myself silly over Hillary’s Angry Black Woman moment (that’s the only way to describe it) somewhere In Africa.

So much writing, and now I’ve got a room of my own to do it in! More soon.

Congratulations, Mr. Bill.

As I write this, it’s midnight at my parents’ house. Normally, midnight in the middle of the week wouldn’t be a big deal at all, but this midnight is different because I know that my father, who would normally be in bed, is awake–probably playing on the internet. Maybe he’s watching television. Maybe he’s reading a book. This is his favorite Friday night pattern. Stay up until all hours toodling around the internet and the house until, at about 3:00, crawling into bed with the wonderful feeling that Saturday is ahead. He gets to stay up all night tonight, on a Tuesday/Wednesday, and I’m thrilled for him.

He gets to do this because after 51 years of work, he gets to enjoy the rest of retirement.

I wish I had something poignant or clever to say, but I don’t. I just know that I am deeply happy for him. He started working when he was 16 and, with the exception of the year when he looked for work after he completed his service in the Air Force, he has always worked. Always. When I still lived at home, I would sometimes hear him getting up early to go into work. He had a habit of showing up hours before the day started to get a head start on the day’s work. This meant he went to bed early and left before I was up, but I could sometimes smell his cologne in the hall, long after he’d gone.

Forgive me while I wax nostalgic for a sentence or two. My father came of age in a work force where it was possible to support a family on a single salary. It wasn’t a magical time–the military still paid decent salaries and offered full benefits to active duty members and their families–but it was a time when money matters made a bit more sense than they do today. So a young Airman who managed his money wisely could support a wife and daughter. And support us he did. My mother has worked for much of my life, but she’s always said that she felt blessed that she didn’t have to work. I “worked” in college but at the kind of jobs that college students used to have to help pay for books, gas for the car, and pizza. I don’t think I even knew how much my parents paid for my tuition. Talk about privilege. In my senior year, when he retired from the Air Force, I had to take out a student loan (that’s right a single student loan) to pay for my last semester. I think I had to borrow $1800. That’s because my dad worked.

My mom and I have been hoping for this for the last year or so. She retired last year and has been so happy, and she wanted him to be happy too. She’d say to him, “Bill, just think, everyday can be Saturday.” But he’s good at his job, and his boss couldn’t bear to let him go, and he didn’t want to leave her hanging. So we waited, and we hoped, and mom pined (quietly…mostly quietly).

And then he decided it was time. When he told his boss, she cried. My mom and I did too, but for different reasons. My mom said, “Now every night can be his Friday night.” What a wonderful reward for a man who has worked so hard for it.