The quality isn't quite a secret. A few minutes into a recent meal at Marta, a young fashion editor tells me she booked her table 28 days in advance, the same advance noticed required to secure a spot at Eleven Madison Park, one of the country's best and most expensive restaurants. It's the type of ridiculousness that makes you throw up your arms and declare, WTF, until you realize that so many folks stay away from Brooklyn pizzerias like Roberta's and Paulie Gee's for precisely the opposite reason: they're for walk-ins only.
So alas, even though the reservation policy makes you want to accuse Danny Meyer of being all button down and Basic, you realize he's doing something just differently enough to make you think the old school way can feel as compelling as the new school way. And luckily Marta reserves about half of its seats for walk-ins like me who don't plan their margherita encounters a month out, no matter how awesome those encounters are.
And those pies, which come courtesy of Maialino chef Nick Anderer, are awesome indeed. They're crisped up in one of two black ovens that are about the size (and price) of a Mini Cooper, with chimneys rising up to the fourteenth floor. To the left of them is a custom-built Infierno charcoal grill (roughly $40K) that spews Cirque du Soleil flames. Looks like Danny Meyer, the force behind such Michelin-starred venues as Gramercy Tavern and The Modern, still has a few tricks up his sleeve, not to mention a tolerance for risk.
Meyer and Anderer are no doubt aware that the New York Pizza Gods have had a tendency to punish the off-the-beaten-track efforts of even the most experienced operators. We all remember Keith McNally's Pulino's, which first served crunchy square cut pizzas when it debuted. It closed last year. And as for Michael White's Nicoletta, with its leaden, Wisconsin-style pizzas — it's still open, but few pizzerias have been the subject of such poor reviews.
Anderer will fare better. Some have compared his pizzas to those at Mario Batali's Otto, but Marta's are airier and lighter, with an almost lo-cal taste that evokes the ethereal bar pies of Eddie's on Long Island. The crust, cooked for two to three minutes at 700F (compared with about 60 seconds at 900F for a Neapolitan), boasts a slight chew, growing crunchier towards the outer rim. It's the closest a pizza can approach cracker status without fully achieving it.
If a Neapolitan pie is about showing off good bread, Marta's pies are about showing off good toppings. Without appetizers, one could easily finish two Marta pies. Some stand outs:
Margherita: This one's an ode to tomatoes, with a racy, Riesling-like acidity. The basil is strong, nearly medicinal, with the milky house-made mozzarella a bit overwhelmed by all the strong flavors.
Amatriciana: The tomatoes are softer here, with a kick of sweet onion, a dabble of stinky Pecorino and a punch of funky guanciale. The flavors are so clear you could close your eyes and you'd know you're eating a riff on the namesake pasta dish.
Goat sausage: This is a fine ode to the musky Maghreb taste of goat, tempered with a lemony kick of kale.
If you threw this many chanterelles and maitake mushrooms over a Guy Fieri dish it would still taste good
Fungi: If you threw this many chanterelles and maitake mushrooms over a Guy Fieri dish it would still taste good; what makes this pie brilliant is how it balances the earthiness of the mushrooms with a bit of sweet onion and bitter thyme.
White truffle: Anderer himself shaves the pricey petals over your fontina and ricotta pie; too bad the truffle doesn't have the same intoxicating pungency as it does at spendier restaurants. Still, at $60, it's a decent enough introduction to the pricey ingredient.
Tripe: Why does it taste so tripe-y? Because what appears to be a standard tomato sauce is really the organ meat's braising liquid. The pie is topped with sharp leaves of mint to awaken the palate. It is perfect.
Carbonara with potatoes: This looks and tastes like Anderer took a very un-kosher knish, spiked with guanciale, egg, and pepper, and smashed it over a pizza with his fist. This is your new favorite brunch dish.
What does one drink with pizza? Good French bubbly. Marta has what might be New York's best list of non-exorbitant Champagnes, with fifteen selections by the bottle at $99 or under, and three by-the-glass pours, including a vaguely sweet and apple-y Vilmart & Cie ($19), a soft and fruity Paul Bara rose ($22), and a Fleury 95' extra brut ($29), which packs the nose of a Fig Newton and the tartness of a Warhead candy.
And there's more than just pizza. Start off with fritto misto, a bevy of briny bianchetti, pillowy skate and tangy shrimp that are all so delicately fried that tempura would be a more accurate title. Skip the rabbit meatballs (not enough sauce), the fried pasta balls (a mushy mess), and the forgettable octopus salad.
Entrees are serious business, like a $100 dry-aged porterhouse packing a clean, intense beefiness (though no real dry-aged funk), or hefty duo of lamb chops (grassy and juicy) flanked by charred lamb ribs and minty lamb sausage. Skip the ho-hum pork ribs in favor of a life-changing trout saltimbocca, a big-ass fish that's practically pink from a layering of nutty prosciutto. Finish off with a buckwheat tart, studded with rice pudding and fresh apples shards.
Maybe in this Neapolitan-heavy world, we could use a few Martas here, there, and in Outer Mongolia. I'm sure Danny Meyer has us covered.
Photographer: Daniel Krieger