Back in June, brothers Peter and Danny Aggelatos opened Milkflower, a wood-fired pizzeria in Astoria. Both have upwards of 10 years experience in the restaurant industry—Danny slinging pies at his uncle's Jersey pizzeria, Peter working the front of house as a manager at various restaurants—but this was their first venture into restaurant ownership. They built much of the restaurant themselves, and now have earned a steady stream of praise for Danny's Neapolitan-style pizzas, which he tops with things like housemade mozzarella and vegetables from the nearby rooftop farm, the Brooklyn Grange. Here the brothers discuss learning how to make pizza, doing their own thing, and where to get a good slice.
How did you come to open this place?
Danny: Well, I've been making pizzas for like 10 years now, and I've always wanted to open a pizza place and use my own creativity instead of working for someone else all the time.
Where were you working before?
Danny: I was working in New Jersey. Nowhere special. Nothing like what I'm doing now. I was making pan pizza, and I really wanted to break out of that to make true pizza. I just wanted to use fresh ingredients as often as I can. A really good sauce, a really good bread, no sugars in our dough, just salt, water, and yeast. Just really good pizza dough. And finally my brother was like, "Let's just do it." I really wanted to just do pizza. We have some appetizers on the menu, but I strictly came here to do pizza. We're trying to do the best we can, you know? And I think it's doing a great job.
Peter: Danny's been making pizza for quite a while, maybe 10 or 11 years. And I was in the restaurant business for like 12, 13 years. But I was working more front of the house than back of the house. I said, "You know what? There's no pizza on the block," and I asked Danny if he would try to do something together. I would take care of everything outside, he would take care of everything in the back of the house.
Danny: Yeah, that's how it started.
Did you go somewhere to learn how to make the kind of Neapolitan pizza you make now?
Danny: No, I figured it out. I was always on the Internet reading and figuring out what to do. I mean, pizza's pizza. If you learn how to make one type of pizza, you can always learn how to make the other type of pizza. I didn't know how to really use the oven. We had the oven for about a month before we opened, and I was in here day and night, cooking pizza all day with my brother, just trying to figure things out. It took us a good month to feel comfortable selling pizzas.
Did you have any particular pizzerias that you wanted to emulate?
Danny: I mean, I eat any type of pizza, it doesn't matter to me. But there's a lot of wood fired pizzerias on the scene in New York City that are really great. Motorino is probably one of my favorites that I feel like serves really good pizza. But I wanted to come here and do my own thing. I would like to be talked about with them, but not resemble them exactly.
So Peter, do you also make pizza here?
Danny: He makes pizza now.
Peter: [Laughs] Yeah, I make it now.
What's it like to work together as brothers?
Peter: Good. We enjoy it, it's fun, and we've been talking about it for many, many years, and finally it came true. We finally did what we want to do.
Were there any big surprises when you were opening? Or in the months since?
Danny: There's been a lot of surprises.
Peter: The biggest surprise, I think, was the commitment. Just being here, just making sure that everything that we wanted was up to our standards. And it still is one of our biggest challenges, but we're still doing what we can to keep that as consistent as possible. Any other challenges?
Danny: I mean there's challenges every day.
Peter: Besides being here seven days a week?
Danny: Yeah, exactly.
[Peter and Danny Aggelatos by Krieger]
Is there anything that you wish had gone differently?
Peter: I would't want anything different. I think it went this way for a reason, and everything is new to us. I mean, this is what we've always wanted to do, and we're having a lot of fun with it. I think everything is going the way we want.
Danny: Yeah, we're happy.
How did you end up in this neighborhood, in Astoria?
Peter: I was living here before we found this space for about six years. And we grew up in Jersey.
Danny: Yeah, he lives here and I was living in Jersey, and he mentioned that there was an empty spot on the block and the rest is history.
Any favorite spots in the neighborhood? For pizza or otherwise?
D: Polito's for a slice. I probably go there three times a week. It's right up the block, it's an easy slice and a Coke. I eat pizza every day, it's a problem that I have. But there's a lot of great places around here.
Peter: If you would say non-pizza, I would say Queens Comfort. It's probably the best comfort food you can get.
Danny: [Not in the neighborhood], he also recently went to Bun-ker and loved it. He's been telling me to go.
Peter: Yeah, Bun-Ker's great. They come here a lot, but I'd never been there before.
There are some pretty old Italian spots in this neighborhood. Is that something you thought about opening here?
Peter: I know we're making pizza, I know pizza is Italian, Danny loves making pizza, and I know he was trying to do what he wanted, his way. But do we have any classic dishes here?
Danny: I mean, besides the margherita and the pomodoro, which are always classic staples that should be on every pizza menu.
Peter: We're just having fun. We're making pizza the way we wanna make pizza, and we're having fun with it. We're not trying to do anything classic.
How is your pizza different from all the other places?
Danny: I'm gonna say, topping-wise, we have a lot of different toppings than other people offer. You know, Brussels sprout and egg pie, corn and bacon pie, and so forth. We just try to do something different instead of keeping the same toppings. But I mean, it's based on classic Neapolitan pizzas, so it's pretty similar in many ways. But, I feel like we're trying to do our own thing here.
Do you have a favorite pizza on the menu?
Peter: I like anything with meat on it.
Danny: I love all the pies, I don't really want to take any of them off, but sometimes you gotta change. The pomodoro, which is the least selling pie, is one of my favorites. It's something that I love, but people don't understand it. It's garlic, fresh oregano, fresh tomatoes, and that's it.
What do you want to do in the coming months or years that you're not doing yet?
Danny: Oh there's a lot of things.
Peter: Yeah, there's a lot. I mean we're looking at new menu items, there's always new things to do when you open your own place. And that comes with time also. Menu items are the thing that we're really focused on right now. I mean it's the food that we really care about. And that's what it pretty much boils down to.
What kind of menu items?
P: Danny's always trying to rotate some pizzas, always looking to change up on some appetizers, some salads. We're trying to go towards seeing what we can get that's in season now that springtime is coming up. What we can get ahold of, what tastes good.
· All Coverage of Milkflower [~ENY~]
· All Coverage of Pizza Week [~ENY~]