About a minute after I arrived at F&F Pizzeria, a satisfying new slice joint by empire builders Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo, a crinkly leaf tumbled across the concrete floor. This wasn’t necessarily surprising. New York is enjoying a golden autumn and Brooklyn is replete with shedding trees. The shock was that the foliage was being blown in from an open air backyard. There, happy people ate excellent pizza. One could spend a quiet afternoon here in Carroll Gardens, letting the breeze tussle one’s hair while nibbling on light-as-air tomato slices. Come winter, there will be heat lamps for outdoor snacking. It’s all a far cry from a dollar slice joint.
Slice pizza in metropolitan area has been undergoing a renaissance for the past few years. Bakers employ longer fermentations, natural leavenings, and other methods to help garner as much respect for the quintessentially affordable foodstuff as more expensive pies. PQR and Bread and Salt tip their hats to Roman-style square slices, while Corner Slice and Mama’s Too mix classic roni-cup sensibilities with creative preparations.
F&F, where the entire space boasts the caramelized aroma of faintly burnt cheese, reinterprets classic New York pizza. The offerings include “regular” cheese and tomato slices, both cut into squares from larger Neapolitan pies, and square Sicilian slices. And that’s about it for now. Scarr’s on the Lower East Side and Paulie Gee’s in Greenpoint follow this same neo-nostalgic path, to stellar results. Two early visits suggest that F&F, which finishes its slices with good sea salt and olive oil, is well on its way to keeping up with its ambitious peers.
The Franks — the guys behind Frankies 457 and its wine bar, which sit on each side of the pizzeria — don’t have the same experience baking as the rest of the crew, though they do benefit from some high-powered help. Chris Bianco, one of the country’s top pizzamakers, and Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery consulted on the project. Organic DiNapoli tomatoes are imported from California; grains are milled every two weeks; and doughs are fermented for two to three days, in pursuit of bubbly, easily digestible crusts. Two of three slices achieved this effect masterfully.
The Sicilian is not one of them, though it’s not without its pleasures. The pizza, baked in a fancy Swedish electric oven, was as thick as a college economics textbook and almost seems to weigh as much. The crumb was dense and spongy, with an aggressive sourdough tang, sufficient for balancing out the richness of the mozzarella. Generous splotches of tomato sauce up the pucker factor even further. It was a remarkably delicious slice, and will be an even better one when the pizzaiolos find a way to lighten up the crust. It could’ve fed three.
The regular slice was bland and floppy last Wednesday, but more feathery and flavorful on a Friday. On that latter visit, the crust was almost weightless, while the outer lip was gently bubbly, packing a marked acidity from the fermentation. Saucing was minimal, as this style is more about exalting the mozz. The oven leaves the cheese nicely milky near the tip, but as the diner continues eating toward the crust, it becomes stiffer, almost gilded, like an umami-packed Parmesan cracker. Think of it as the professional version of charring your take-away slice in a toaster oven.
The tomato slice showed little need for improvement. Pizza makers in white coats slicked the pies with pulp the color of weathered brick. The product was so airy one half expected it to blow away in the wind. Each bite conveyed crispness, while the fruit, no thicker than a coat of paint, provided tartness and savory, glutamate-filled roundness. A sheen olive oil softened the flavors and imparted a whisper of grassiness.
One could carry this all home, but just as Jason Wang of Xi’an Famous Foods encourages patrons to take a bite or two of any noodles in the store to enjoy them at their peak freshness, the same policy should be followed here. Take a bite or two before leaving, or even better, take a seat in the garden and enjoy them amid the autumnal splendor of Brooklyn.