Brooklyn’s Best Pizza Part 1: I’ll Take Lucali over Grimaldi’s & franny’s

by

If I could only eat one more food, everyday, for the rest of my life, it would be pizza. And I feel blessed to live in a city where there are so many pizza possibilities, the downside of which is an over-saturation of mediocre pizza within Manhattan. As a result, I focused my attention on Brooklyn and what better way to do it than by trying as many as pizzas as I can. I’m already on a mission for NYC’s best wings, so how about Brooklyn’s best pizza? And what better way to start than a mini pizza tour: three places, three people, three delicious pies. Which one is modeled after the famous DiFara’s? And on a day of pizza, did a 5-cheese, secret recipe calzone steal the show?

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The Tourist Trap

Grimaldi’s

19 Old Fulton Street
Brooklyn, New York 11201
718-858-4300
No Delivery, Cash Only
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 11:30AM – 10:45PM, Friday 11:30AM – 11:45PM, Saturday 12PM – 11:45PM

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To answer the question everyone is asking, no, Grimaldi’s is not worth waiting an hour for. Its coal oven pies are very tasty and topped with homemade fresh mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes. But for all the old school Italian feel of the red and white checkered table clothes, the green, red and white uniforms, the maps of Italy, and the manager you wouldn’t want to owe money to, this is more a pizza factory than a pizza restaurant; the experience is less about customer service and ambiance as it is about churning out pies and turning over tables for tourists and non-city dwellers. Service is inattentive and once the check has arrived, $16 for one unevenly cooked pie, you better be ready to evacuate your table so the next party can be seated.

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Disappointment focused on the haphazard construction of the pie. Poor sauce and pepperoni dispersal ($2 per topping, half or whole pie) made for awkward slices. Your best bet for decreased waiting time and attentiveness is to go after 7PM, that way you also miss the re-building of the fire, an event which takes place between 4PM and 6PM daily and could extend your wait time an extra 30 minutes if you happen to be on line while it takes place. Another unfortunate side effect of the fire re-building is that pies which emerge from the 850 to 1,000 degree coal oven may arrive slightly undercooked, as I encountered, resulting in a dough that’s denser that one would expect from a coal oven. Grimaldi’s, which surprisingly has only been open since 1990, is good but not great. If you want coal oven pizza without the wait and the trip to Brooklyn, check out one of the two Angelo’s locations in Manhattan, just don’t order delivery.

The Hip Pick

franny’s

295 Flatbush Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11217
718-230-0221
Hours: Mon. – Thurs. 5:30PM – 11PM, Fri. 5:30PM – 11:30PM, Sat. 12PM – 11:30PM, Sun. 12PM – 10PM

Let’s be honest, Brooklyn is hip. It’s hip to live there and hip to eat there. It’s what the Lower East Side used to be. And franny’s is the hip place to eat Italian food, from the lower case “f” in the name to the environmentally conscious mantra. Despite the pizza being the most famous menu item at franny’s, it’s telling that its not even mentioned on the introspective “Who We Are” page of franny’s website. Maybe it’s because franny’s is an Italian restaurant that serves pizza, not a pizza restaurant that serves Italian food. Pizza may be the dish that brings in curious outsiders, but I didn’t get the sense that it is where the restaurant’s pride lies.

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The surprisingly small pie ($15-$17 average) arrived on the table uncut and doused heavily in olive oil. As if it’s not troubling enough trying to cut pizza fresh out of a wood-fired brick oven, with molten cheese and brightly flavored tomato sauce daring my fingers to dive in, I was stuck contending with a thin and flimsy crust that did not aid in the slicing process. The smell of burnt wood emanating from the brick oven dominated the restaurant and our pie. If I wanted to combat the flimsy crust by ordering my pie well done, I’d be wary of an over-smoked pie. The one bright spot was the touted house-made sausage, which lived up to its billing, it was garlicky and delicious. I’m not going out of my way to return to franny’s, but if I do, it would be for the waitress-recommended clam pie and for a chance to dine in their spacious backyard garden, open from spring to the end of September.

The Champ

Lucali’s

dsc_0027575 Henry St. nr. First Pl.
Brooklyn, New York 11231
718-858-4086
Cash Only
Open Daily from 6PM to 10PM, Closed Tuesdays except for takeout

The hype for this BYOB Carroll Gardens newcomer has been varied and plentiful, it’s been called mysterious, soulful and wonderful. I just call it damn good. Although the wait for a seat in the dimly-lit single-room may be inordinately long (45 minutes to an hour and a half), it’s worth it for a pie ($18) which resembles one you can only find at another Brooklyn landmark: the legendary DiFara’s.

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Brooklyn-native Mark Iacono, the owner and main pizzaiola, models his pie after the legendary Dom DeMarco’s. Working mainly by candlelight, surrounded by ingredients and a cavernous brick, wood-burning oven he built himself, Iacono rolls his dough with wine bottles before spreading a layer of secret recipe sauce over the thin crust. Buffalo mozzarella, low moisture fresh mozzarella and parmigiana-reggiano follow before the pie is baked by the mesmerizing fire dancing off the burning logs of wood.

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Upon emerging from the oven, the pie is sprinkled with grated Grana Padano, freshly shaved Parmesan cheese and a few sprigs of basil. The marriage of texture and flavor is complete, resulting in a pie whose sharpness and creaminess balance each other. The crust, unlike franny’s, is light but exceedingly crisp and floury. The cheese is the star, especially the slices of fresh Parmesan melting into the hot mozzarella and sauce. Pepperoni (toppings are $2 – $3.50), brought in from local landmark Esposito and Sons Pork Store, is spicy and burnt around the edges but the plain slice is so good, I would suggest trying the pizza topping free to start.

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Just as taking a risk in purchasing this former candy shop with no intended purpose and no pizza-making skills has paid off for Mr. Iacono, trying his calzone is a risk that’s all reward for you. While the crust on the pizza is underwhelming, the same crust is fantastic as a home for the 5-cheese calzone ($10 small, $20 large).

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Thin, light, crispy, slightly smokey dough encases creamy buffalo mozzarella, ricotta and low moisture fresh mozzarella plus parmigiana-reggiano and a secret 5th cheese. The obligatory side-serving of tomato sauce is unnecessary because the flavor of the calzone is awe-inspiring enough on its own. Its greatness lies in its contradictory nature; creamy and stringy, salty and slightly sweet, all the differences melt in the heat of the oven to create a pocket of deliciousness.

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Lucali is better than franny’s and Grimaldi’s not just for its food but for its atmosphere and the warmth of the experience. Once you survive the wait, you enter what feels like the cozy home of a friend who would let you stay as long as you’d like, especially if you keep letting them cook for you. So be friendly, ask for Mr. Iacono, and tell him you heard the pizza’s good but the calzone is great.

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49 Responses to “Brooklyn’s Best Pizza Part 1: I’ll Take Lucali over Grimaldi’s & franny’s”

  1. Lil NYC Food Guy Says:

    I am now a very hungry boy at 8am on the train who is in definite need of some brooklyn born pizza

    Just a side note- being on this tour inspired me to go to italy…these pies, which definitely can’t measure up to the amount of tasty pizza you can find over the pond, came pretty damn close to measuring up to their roots

  2. FN Says:

    NYCFG – you nailed it. But, damn, now you’re gonna have folks inundating my neighborhood making it harder for me to get into Lucali’s.

    Good report.

  3. A Sunny View of Recession…More Lucali Love : The Feedbag Says:

    […] Blogger NYC Food Guy begins his Brooklyn pizza journey, and finds, like the rest of the world, that Lucali’s is infinitely superior to the overhyped Grimaldi’s and the sanctimonious (and equally overhyped) Franny’s. NYC Food Guy […]

  4. sarah Says:

    omg want to eat all 3 right now

  5. Ian Says:

    Did i miss something? How is there no mention of L&B?

  6. garlicandgaelic Says:

    As someone whose round belly indicates an overabundance of pizza consumption, I can say with certitude that Lucali’s far surpasses Grimaldis. It is second only to Di Faro’s in the pantheon of Brooklyn pizza joints.

    I must say, as someone whoswde blood flows with the olive oil of Southern Italy, that the Bronx has several pizzerias worth mentioning. IN the real little italy, the classic standard is Full Moon. Two friends from Naples run the place and it oozes Italy. The attitude of the men and the atmosphere of the place takes all the diners back to streets of Napoli.

    Another darkhorse for best pizza in the city is Coals on Eastchester Road in Morris Park. These people finally did something that Italians have secretly been doing for hundreds of years, they GRILL the pizzas. That is right, the barbecue on the pizza is not chicken (BTW, no self respecting foodie would EVER put barbecuse chicken on pizza), but the pizza itself. ANyone who has ever been to a legitimate Italian barbecue knows that nxt to the frying pan of sausage and peppers on the grill is usually a pizza.

    Finally, another great place is zero otto nove. Roberto Paciullo, owner of the best Italian joint in the city (Roberto’s) puts a Salerno twist on his delicious pies. When you go, try his desert pie (made with Nutella). Please try these three and compare with the Brooklyn ones. If nothing else, they will be equally as good for a third of the price.

    One more thing, growing up in an Italian home, we always saw Pizza as comfort food. With that said, no person on earth should ever wait 45 miuntes for a pie, even if the good Lord himself is in the kitchen baking them. All of these places will have you seated in a resonable amount of waiting time. Go and enjoy, but leave the barbecued chicken for Daisy Mae’s or Dinosaurs.

  7. Chris Says:

    Lucali’s’ is definitely a great value. It’s every bit as good as franny’s at half the price. A wait isn’t all you have to worry about: one recent Saturday night around 8, they weren’t taking any more names for the night! (We ended up at South Brooklyn Pizza, which is fine.)

    feels like the cozy home of a friend who would let you stay as long as you’d like

    They’re super-friendly, but don’t think they won’t get (understandably) antsy if you linger after you’ve finished eating.

  8. Mona Says:

    Hmmm I am going to have to disagree with you on Grimaldi’s. I haven’t been able to find a salty crust like theirs anywhere else! You are correct about their lack of toppings but any more would make their thin crust tear.

    As we discussed at an earlier pizza debate, I don’t think Franny’s is worth all the hype and I dont understand where that hype even came from. It’s not real pizza and does not deserve all the attention is receives. It’s a restaurant with decent pizza but it’s not “pizza!”

    Yes, yes, we all love Lucali’s and yes Marc is like the nicest (and cutest) pizza maker out there.

    Next stop for you is going to have to be DiFara’s. Let me know when you go. I’ll join you!

    There’s also a bar called Cherry Tree on 4th ave in Park Slope. They make a mighty salty and delicious pizza. I believe if you go before 6 you even get one free with the purchase another. Although, they may have ended that promotion. It’s been a while. I do recommend checking it out. It’s not typical but it is pretty tasty.

  9. Master Says:

    Food Guy, you must have your hands full with all these challenges! Although I’m inclined to agree with Ian…I don’t recall an official post regarding L & B’s Spumoni Gardens on this site. Granted, a lot of us in the food community would encourage you to try it again (perhaps in Part 2), but how about the desserts at some of these places? Nothing washes down an upside-down sicilian like a Spumoni-flavored Italian Ice.

  10. AG Says:

    NYCFG, welcome to my hood! You were a mere blocks away from where I live (when you were at Franny’s). I’m glad you found it overrated as well. I prefer Amorina, a spot around the corner I’ve told you about. I do want to try Franny’s clam pie though. Also, Bussaco, a place that opened up a few months ago on Union Street has a clam pie that is supposed to be delicious….perhaps a clam pie tour is in the works…

    Hope your holidays go well and looking forward to more eating in 2009. Let’s plan something if you’re down. Shoot me an e-mail if you want.

  11. moe Says:

    thank you will go

  12. Matt Says:

    Thanks for the advice on Brooklyn pizza. I wanted to second garlicandgaelic in saying that the Bronx has some amazing pizza options as well. Zero Otto Nove ranks among my top 3 in the entire city. Visiting Arthur Ave is a great food experience to follow up a day at the Zoo. As a student at Einstein, just across the street from Coal’s, I can also second the love for Coal’s. Aside from the grilled pizza, which truthfully took some getting used to, the atmosphere and beer selection is excellent as well. Coal’s also does great daily soups and delicious burgers.

  13. Melissa Says:

    That all looks so good… Jealousy, jealousy.

  14. TheGothamPalate Says:

    I can’t wait to check out Lucali’s! Well put on Grimaldi’s.

    If you do by the slice in Bklyn, a great place is San Marco’s on Lorimer St. in Williamsburg.

  15. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Lil NYC Food Guy,
    Right on brother. So that’s where you were during Thanksgiving break! Wish you had taken more photos to give us a real Italian pizza tour. Looking forward to the next leg of our BK tour though.

    FN,
    Sorry FN, hopefully this won’t change the wait time too much at Lucali, after all, how much worse can it get? The best bet for you is to just do take out. Thanks for the kind words. Any other pizza places in BK you’d recommend for next time around?

    sarah,
    That’s the right attitude. Only franny’s was an underwhelming experience. Where do you get your pizza sarahspy?

    Ian,
    This is just part 1 of the BK Pizza tour. Don’t worry I didn’t forget about L&B, just didn’t have time to get to Bensonhurst during this trip. Want to come along for L&B next time? I can almost taste those delicious upside down Sicilians.

    garlicandgaelic,
    As if I haven’t been pining for a Bronx experience allready, your review just reinforced my need to check it out. Having heard about the wonders of Bronx food from you before, I have my work cut out for me. If you were me and were making a Bronx trip, what three to 5 places would you absolutely go to? Have you had the burger at Coal’s? I hear that’s good too.

    Chris,
    I genuinely felt like I could have sat at Lucali all night chatting with Mark about pizza and trying more food as it came out of the oven, maybe it was because I was snapping a bunch of photos. Either way, the wait was ridiculous, I have to agree, but we were able to drive to franny’s and put our name on that list and then get back to Lucali with time to spare. It’s all about making the time pass.

    Mona,
    What’s unique about the pizza at Cherry tree. Would you rather wait for a pie at Grimaldi’s or Lucali?

    Master,
    As I said before Mr. Master, this is just part 1 of my BK Pizza tour. I’ve been to L&B and I second the motion of deliciousness. Those upside down Sicilians are awesome. The spumoni is great too, I had a taste. You know I’m a big dessert guy but I’m always looking for new stuff, where are some of your favorite desserts?

    AG,
    CLAM PIE TOUR? I’m sold. The real clam pie is at Don Pepe’s in Connecticut but NYMag did a little roundup of claim pies a few months ago so we’d have a good starting point. I’m definitely down for a BK Food extravaganza after the New Year. Let’s be in touch.

    Matt,
    There it is, Coal’s does have great burgers. Have you been to Piper’s Kilt? I haven’t been to the zoo in ages, I hope I get to Arthur Avenue to eat before the zoo opens up again. Where do you like to eat on Arthur Ave, if you had to focus on a few places which would you hone in on?

    Melissa,
    There’s no great pizza where you’re from?

    TheGothamPalate,
    Thanks for the Williamsburg rec. I haven’t had much food there, do you have any other recommendations for good stuff? Is San Marco’s a slice joint or an actual pizza restaurant?

  16. AG Says:

    Knew you would like the sound of that, it’s a shame actually I’ve never had Don Pepe’s. We will chat after the New Year. Have a great relaxing, food-filled holiday.

  17. Da Grodes Says:

    Not that i don’t fully trust your taste, but you gotta check out Carmine’s on Graham Ave. Possibly the best pizza I’ve ever had. They also got their walls covered in Yankees memorablilia, so be sure to bring your bro, that little nation loving bastard

  18. Chris Says:

    I genuinely felt like I could have sat at Lucali all night chatting with Mark about pizza and trying more food as it came out of the oven, maybe it was because I was snapping a bunch of photos.

    Probably depends. The last time I was there, with a party of 6 or 7, they politely asked us to settle up after we had finished eating and were working on our 3rd or 4th bottle of wine. It wasn’t a big deal.

  19. Ted Berg Says:

    Did you really get to Franny’s and not make it to Wing Wagon? You’re only punishing yourself.

  20. kingofthewing Says:

    punishing yourself? awesome!

  21. LocalApple Says:

    I will agree that Grimaldi’s is way over hyped … I do however find that once in a while I will actually get a great pie there …

    My next trip is Lucalli’s I sure hope you guys are right about this one!!

  22. Rachel Says:

    holy crap i was watching daily news live tonight and saw you on tv food guy!!!! you are so much hotter than i imagined! how are you not fat?!!?

  23. Before Sunrise Says:

    You were on TV?? What were you interviewed for?

  24. mister latke Says:

    latkes! i saw the re-run at 11 last night, you were amazing food guy. this begs the question though, where can we get good latkes besides our grandmother’s house?

  25. Jack Says:

    What the heck is a latke??

  26. Phil Says:

    I actually happened to catch that too, the food guy even brought napkins. That was awesome! How come no sour cream?

  27. mister latke Says:

    sour cream??? how about apple sauce! latkes are alllll about the apple sauce phil, c’mon

  28. miss latke Says:

    a latke is a potato pancake made of grated potato, some onion, and egg with a little flour. it is fried in oil and it is delicious

  29. Jack Says:

    sounds good, thanks Miss L!

  30. Phil Says:

    Mister Latke – I’m well aware that latkes are all about the apple sauce. It’s just that sometimes they are often served with sour cream too, as NYCFG indicated on TV. He just didn’t have any sour cream at the time. I bet Chris Cotter would have loved some sour cream. What do you think NYCFG?

  31. Master Says:

    I’ve looked all over, fellow posters, PLEASE post any link to the Food Guy on TV! Having said that, not to go off-topic again, but do you eat cheesecake, Food Guy? If so, you must’ve heard about Juniors (which is in Brooklyn, so it fits the pizza quest as a nice ending).

    Anyways, latkes = jewish food. latkes + ketchup = sacrilege (which I have committed, he he)

  32. Phil Says:

    Master – here is a link to the DNL archives, but they do not appear to have the segment NYCFG was on. It was on Christmas Eve I believe:

    http://web.sny.tv/multimedia/archive.jsp?cat=dnl

    -Phil

  33. brian c Says:

    Food Guy – Are you a fan of Chinese Dumplings? If so, where can I get the best in NYC?

  34. Master Says:

    Thanks Phil, I came across that page while scouring the internet…no luck unfortunately. I even emailed SNY asking if they would post the video, but no response. Oh well.

  35. Phil Says:

    I would imagine NYCFG could post a link, no?

  36. miss latke Says:

    post it foodguy we all wanna see it!!

  37. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    What’s up everyone? Thanks for the enthusiasm over my appearance on SNY’s Daily News Live. I’m working with them to get a hold of the clip which will I can hopefully post on here soon.

    Brian C,

    As far as Dumplings go, I’ve heard a lot of good things of recent about Prosperity Dumplings on Manhattan’s Chinatown. It’s a small cart and they also sell bags of 50 frozen to bring home.

  38. AG Says:

    NYCFG, just had the Bussaco clam pie. Not bad for $10. Clams are served in the shell ontop of a somewhat thick, very garlicky pizza. Roughly sliced it was good, best part was pouring the clam juice onto the pizza.

  39. cohnballs Says:

    totonnos is among the best in brooklyn (not the amazingly crappy one in manhattan – DONT GO TO THE ONE IN MANHATTAN)

  40. E.Chabrains Says:

    cohnballs is on the money!!!

    You have to plan this date, because it is in Coney Island (Hey! it’s Brooklyn)

    Totonno’s~ 1524 Neptune Ave.

    This is hands down better than Grimaldis but do yourself a favor and make this trip, if you go to any of their other locations, you will be disappointed and never make it to the original one. This place is amazingly good, and is endorsed by the Ramones “nuff said!

  41. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    AG,
    You’re an animal. Pouring the clam juice on the pizza. Big moves. Reminds me of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Along Came Polly pouring Ben Stiller’s extra pizza grease on to his slice.

    Cohnballs,
    Dude you’re spot on. Totonno’s is truly amazing. I’ve only been there twice but both times it was killer. Classic coal oven pizza, light, airy slightly charred crust and bubbling fresh mozz with a bright, delicious sauce. Definitely worth the trip to Coney Island.

    E. Chabrains,
    I agree, definitely better than Grimaldi’s although my Grimaldi’s experience was swayed because I caught the changing of the oven. And you’re absolutely correct, if it’s good enough for the Ramones it’s good enough for me. I wonder it was before or after Dee Dee was anorexic? Where’d you hear that the Ramones endorse it? Ever seen the Ramones documentary “End of the Century?”

  42. AG Says:

    NYCFG, how’s it been? So wanted to start up the food tour/meeting talk with you. Let’s figure out a food/topic and make this happen, it’s been a longtime in the making. What intrigues you? Dumplings? Banh Mi? Falafel? Let’s talk. ginsbera@gmail.com

  43. Master Says:

    Hey Foodguy, any updates on the SNY Daily News clip?

  44. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    AG,
    Sounds good man. I’ve been pretty busy with work lately but we’ll figure something out. We need to do some Brooklyn action. Maybe Brooklyn wing tour?

    Master,
    I’ve been trying to get the clip but it hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be. I’ll keep you updated though.

  45. AG Says:

    I hear ya, it’s been busy for me as well. I’m thinking we do something after the Super Bowl. I could get down with a BK wing tour. Or maybe even a taco tour?

  46. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    AG,
    Taco tour I could definitely be down with. Sunset Park?

  47. AG Says:

    I like the idea of a taco tour. I have yet to explore the Sunset Park area so this would be a good excuse. Perhaps throw in a few Park Slope/Prospect Heights/Crown Heights spots for good measure? I’m definitely down. Some weekend after the Super Bowl?

  48. Skirrrt Alert Says:

    there is a pizza joint in brooklyn heights, corner
    of state street and court that is just unbelievable.
    it’s worth the trek and only $2.25 a slice.

    another place right by the lorimer and metropolitan
    stop in williamsburgh has killer thin crust sicilian :d

  49. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Skirrt Alert,
    What’s the name of the place?
    Only Heights spot I’ve been to is Fascati on Henry b/t Orange and Pineapple.
    Do you remember the name of the Williamsbug spot?

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