After posting about Lucali’s, I got a message from pizza maven Paulie Gee defending their pizza. I wrote back to him and asked him for NYC pizza recommendations, and among other places he recommended Motorino and Roberta’s. In doing research on Motorino I also read about Fornino (the owner of Motorino said in an interview at the Feedbag that he thought Fornino makes the best margherita in new York). The more research I did, the more I was intrigued — here were three highly regarded, wood-burning pizza places all within a block or two of the L Train here in Brooklyn. I knew I had to visit them all, part of my ongoing quest to eat the greatest pizza in NYC.
I visited all three places in a little less than a month. In order to level the playing field a bit I ordered the individual-sized margherita pizza at each place, and if it was available I got the DOC version. I wanted to make sure I was giving each location a chance to showcase the best of what they could do.
I started out at Motorino in Williamsburg, and as I walked in the front door I was greeted by the smiling face of owner Mathieu Palombino. The space at Motorino is big and ultra modern; I could definitely see it as an attempt to recreate an authentic Italian pizzeria. The restaurant smelled pleasantly of basil and wood smoke from the oven at the rear, and the large windows let in tons of natural light. My server was unfailingly pleasant and attentive, and the pizza came out very quickly.
The pizza itself was something of a disappointment. Although it was tasty enough, there was so much sauce on the pie that by the time I got halfway through my pizza the crust was nothing more than a gray mush on my plate. I must say, though, the mozzarella di bufala was nice and milky, and very good.
The day that I went to Fornino, at the other end of Williamsburg, I had a dentist appointment in the morning so I hadn’t eaten anything all day. Because I was so hungry I ordered a special salad as well as the pizza, and it was delicious — frisee with roasted beets, goat cheese, walnuts and dried cranberries, topped with a lemony dressing. There was also a chunk of great, chewy focaccia on the side.
The pizza was great — a bit over-sauced, perhaps, but the crust was crisp enough to hold up to it. There was nice charring on the outside and the buffalo mozzarella was very good as well. The pizza was much better than the one I had at Motorino.
The service at Fornino was spotty — I had two different servers helping me but they also ignored me for a lot of the time. They seemed to know most of the people who came in to eat and spent most of their time talking with their friends. And as soon as I pulled out my camera and took pictures of the salad, they turned down the lights a little, which seemed like a passive-aggressive jab at me, but maybe I’m just paranoid.
In his email, Paulie Gee said that he recommended Roberta’s, in Bushwick, for its atmosphere and its toppings. It might not look like anything from the outside, but I have to agree with Paulie Gee — Roberta’s had the best atmosphere out of the three pizzerias I visited.
The interior is made up of mismatched tables and chairs, and cords of wood for the oven are stacked up alongside the walls. The windows look out onto an alley that is host to an old rusted dumpster. It had the burning wood smell that was becoming quite familiar to me. I felt like I was at home.
Since Paulie Gee had recommended the toppings, and because Roberta’s does not offer a DOC version of their margherita, I ordered the margherita with artichokes (Roberta’s also offers some not-so-traditional toppings, such as potato and egg).
The pizza was the most perfectly charred of all three that I had, and the mozzarella was also excellent. The sauce was a little thin and tangy, but there was a nice sauce-to-crust ratio. I was glad to have the artichokes, which gave a little bit of necessary texture to the pie. My only complaint was that as I picked up the slices, the crust sagged a little bit at the pointy end and the cheese and artichokes slid off. Luckily I had a fork at the ready to scoop them up. It also lacked the accent of fresh basil that the other two pizzas had.
While none of these places were as good as Una Pizza Napoletana, they were all quite good. I’m sure my pizza at Motorino was not the norm; when cooking by hand in a wood-fired stove anything can happen. In fact, Donny went to Fornino separately and was not happy with his pie. The following “rankings” are based on only the one visit I made to each place. Each place has something to recommend it.
Best Overall Pizza: Fornino
Best Atmosphere: Roberta’s
Best Service: Motorino
Thinking back on it, the combination of the great atmosphere and good pizza at Roberta’s trumps everything — it’s the one place out of the three that I wouldn’t hesitate recommending. It may be a trip to get there, but it’s well worth it.
I’m glad that Brooklyn is home to so many great pizzas; it’s yet another reason I love living here. I have only one question: where should I go next?
Fornino — 187 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn
Motorino — 319 Graham Ave, Brooklyn
Roberta’s — 261 Moore St, Brooklyn