To continue the 10 old-fashioned restaurant series, Eater critic Robert Sietsema explores Brooklyn's pizza mainstays
The first time I walked into Di Fara — Brooklyn’s most famous neighborhood pizzeria — and shared a Sicilian slice with Chowhound founder Jim Leff, who "discovered" the place, I said to him, "This is really great, but there must be lots of pizzerias equally as good scattered around the borough." It was the mid-90s and a pizza parlor perched on nearly every corner. These often dated to the 50s and 60s, when Italian immigrants and returning WWII servicemen found it easy to get into the pizza business due to a surplus of reasonably priced real estate and the recent invention of the stacked pizza oven.
But time has not been kind to these mainstays. Their premises have often become shabby, and the proliferation of chains like Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway, and Domino’s have undermined the neighborhood pizza parlor. The greatest concentration is still found in Brooklyn; nowadays, there must be fewer than half the number there once were. Each displays its own particular style. On my travels around Brooklyn, I make a point of pausing for a slice whenever one of these old places looms into view. Here are 10 of my favorite old-fashioned neighborhood pizzerias, still turning out an excellent product despite the passage of time.
Bad Boys Pizza — Situated in the midst of what is rapidly becoming the city’s fifth Chinatown, Bad Boys is a classic full-service pizzeria, rolling out such sidelines as baked manicotti, pepper-and-egg heros, and fried calamari. But the star of the show remains the pizzas, especially the fresh mozzarella pie with a soupcon of olive oil dribbled atop the cheese, and the square Sicilian, with a crust a little thinner and crunchier than most and a fragrant scatter of dried herbs. 2313 86th St, Bensonhurst, (718) 266-4848
Espresso Pizzeria — This Bay Ridge pizzeria elicits hyperbolic praise from its many fans, especially for its standard thin-crust cheese pie, with tomato sauce not too sweet, mozzarella not too rich or profuse, and a very light hand with the herbs. In fact, if we were to select a candidate for best cheese slice in Brooklyn, Espresso might win, representing a Platonic ideal of plainness. Says one fan, "It's pizza done simple, good, and right." 9403 5th Ave, Bay Ridge, (718) 833-8750
Luigi’s Pizza — This picturesque closet of a pizzeria shows every day of its 42 years, from the worn orange formica counter and glass display case to the postage-stamp-size dining room in the rear with four or five rickety tables. But most customers stand at the counter, and whether they pick a regular cheese, extra-thick Sicilian, pepperoni, or the more unusual soppressata or broccoli rabe slices, the pizza is usually hot out of the oven and rarely reheated. Tired of slices? Try the deep-fried calzones. Luigi’s served as setting for Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy. 686 Fifth Ave, Greenwood Heights, 718-499-3857
Not Ray’s — Making fun of the Famous Ray's and its imitators, Not Ray's is a normal neighborhood pizza parlor in a memorable, wedge-shaped space right on Fulton Street. The slice has a narrow "bone" (the bare circumference of the pie), the cheese is modestly applied, and the tomato sauce piquant and somewhat sweet. The slice is a little gloppier than usual and a molten cheese-sauce hybrid spills over the sides. Dying for novelty? Try the Buffalo chicken or Caesar salad pies. 694 Fulton St, Ft. Greene, (718) 855-8206
Original Pizza — Was the name, like Not Ray’s, created to thumb its nose at the once-mighty Ray’s Original chain? The pizza here is far better, with a thinner crust though still of the plain, old-fashioned slice sort. As in many neighborhood joints, the cheese is the thing — a lake of it, ramping up the protein component and the richness so that one slice is likely to do you for lunch. The location directly over the R train stop at Bay Ridge Avenue is a big asset. 6823 4th Ave, Bay Ridge, (718) 836-8055
Pipitone’s — This stalwart on the edge of Ft. Greene Park popular with Brooklyn Tech students offers neighborhood pizza with a distinctly Sicilian bent. The upside-down Sicilian has become something of a local legend — with the copious cheese nestling next to the crust, to preserve its adamantine crispness under the onslaught of the sweet, deeply red sauce. 100 Dekalb Ave, Ft. Greene, (718) 858-4376
Pizza Chef — Occupying a prime location right on Fulton, Pizza Chef is an ancient pizza parlor taken over by Muslim proprietors, who have left the interior intact but removed pork products from the menu. Instead, they lavish each slice with extra cheese, and do a special job on such local favorites as barbecue pizza: chicken chunks swimming in sweet barbecue sauce positioned above the cheese so the slice doesn’t get soggy — brilliant pizza architecture. 1512 Fulton St, Bedford-Stuyvesant, (718) 774-3043
Rocco Pizza III — Some say this sunken pizzeria on a side street was the inspiration for Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Whether it was or not, the pizzas are damn good, with a slightly thicker crust than usual, and some fairly creative toppings. The "margarita" slice is memorable, pooled with fresh mozzarella and dotted with herbs, while the lasagna slice mimics that casserole with an insane amount of delicately seasoned ground beef and wads of fresh ricotta. 330 Halsey St, Bedford-Stuyvesant, (718) 573-9200
Sabrina’s — Founded in 1977 in the shadow of the M and J tracks, this parlor is young in pizzeria years, but excels at all the classic pies and hero sandwiches. Some of the best things on the menu, though, show a Latin bent. For example, the miniature pie called an onion pizzette is about as close as you can get to a real Buenos Aires fugazetta. Other favorites include a spinach-ricotta slice that seems positively healthy, and an idiosyncratic take on a hot dog, wrapping it in pizza dough with melted cheese. Delicious! 294 Broadway, Williamsburg, (718) 387-7743
Sal’s Pizzeria — This 1967 neighborhood pizzeria is more elegant than most, with views out the big picture windows (which open in fine weather) and good wine and beer available to wash your pizza down. The eggplant slice features crisp, crumbed slices of vegetable, hillocks of ricotta, and a thin crust that invites you to eat the thing with a knife and fork. And nobody will laugh at you if you do. 544 Lorimer St, Williamsburg, 718-599-7032