But what are New Haven pizzas, anyway? As baked by Frank Pepe’s, Sally’s, and Modern Apizza — New Haven’s top three pizzerias — they tend to be oblong, thin-crust, with or without tomato sauce, and often with the addition of Pecorino. (Historically, more bakers ended up in New Haven, which is why it’s thought to have better pies.) Baked in a coal oven at temperatures that sometimes reach 900 degrees, they have much in common with the pies at Lombardi’s, John’s of Bleecker Street, Totonno’s, and Patsy’s. The most famous “apizza,” as they are commonly called, is certainly the clam pie at Frank Pepe’s.
Now Brooklyn has its own apizza at a place named, appropriately enough, Lala’s Brooklyn Apizza. It is located on the roof of Grimm’s Brewery at 990 Metropolitan Avenue, near Catherine Street, in East Williamsburg, and has been open just a week — with Joe and Lauren Grimm working with pizzaiolo Esther Stilwell. The expansive place has long picnic tables both shaded and in the sun and a bar at one end. At the other end lies a squarish beehive oven with Grimm’s inscribed on its face. The pizza beer garden has sweeping views of Brooklyn and Queens.
The restaurant is several floors up a winding stairway, and many parents emerged toting babies and strollers huffing and puffing after the long climb. Some waited with numbers on their tables while other customers played Uno as they enjoyed their beer and pizza.
The menu is spare, listing only seven pies in three categories — but the first two pies, listed as “Brooklyn Style Apizza,” offers 11 additional ingredients that customers can add to red and white pies, including such head-scratchers as egg yolk drizzle, shallots, and mashed potatoes.
A friend and I started out with a gem lettuce salad ($14), which you might miss because it’s on the flip side of the pizza menu. It came in a bowl and was delicious, with plenty of lettuce, shallots, garlic bread crumbs, and watermelon radishes in a minty vinaigrette. We also ordered three pies, as follows.
Red pie, $16: This pie was very much like the pies I’ve tasted in New Haven, with the relatively stiff crust measured in millimeters. Even with the sparse Pecorino and mozzarella added (for $4 more), it didn’t register as cheesy. I’d definitely get this pie again, and it is relatively unique in the city, though Rizzo’s in Astoria and John’s of Bleecker Street come close in thinness of crust. Unlike the small, puffy, and pricey Neapolitan pies offered all over town, the tomato sauce here is really tomato sauce and not squished canned tomatoes.
Clam pie, $29: I have no complaint about the quantity of clams, though they weren’t particularly flavorful — pre-chopped by F. Rozzo of the Fulton Fish Market, a cook tells me. Pretty sure that when the clam pies of New Haven are made, some clam juice spills onto the pie, because New Haven’s clam pies have an engaging bitterness that comes from the bivalves, and Lala’s could use more of that strong flavor. Instead, it sported a Riesling butter sauce. It was a beautiful pie to behold.
Cozy pie, $24; with bacon, $6 more: Of course we got bacon, and together with the generous dollops of mashed spuds and pickled cherry tomatoes, this is one of the best pizzas I’ve had lately. The Benton’s bacon added the smoky flavor one always hopes for from a wood oven. Is it cheating to use bacon? Definitely not when the pie tastes this good. The tomatoes could have been boring, but they were pickled, which gave the pie a sour note. Now, this is real Brooklyn apizza.
Lala’s Brooklyn Apizza is the most exciting new style of pizza to emerge this year, and one that will doubtlessly be copied in short order.