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
What we ate
Fornino’s Caesar Salad with Herbed Foccacia Croutons
Wild Arugula & Pear Salad with Gorgonzola
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.
Belgian Chocolate Mousse
The Margherita Classica & Calabrese
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.
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.
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.