I wonder how the people of Naples ate their tomato flatbreads in the 1700’s. I mean, if they wanted it for dinner, did they just eat them in the dark? Not knowing which topping they ended up with? Or did they eat them by candlelight huddled around an old table?
Well, I don’t think Mark Iacono was necessarily trying to re-create the pizza eating of ole when he took over an old candy shop in his childhood neighborhood, but at Lucali (his very popular pizza spot in Carroll Gardens), you will eat your pizza by candlelight. Alright, there are also very dim electric lights and indoor plumbing, but it was so dark in there, I really had to rely on my very refined palate to decide whether I had the artichoke or the pepperoni pie in my hand.
I’ve been hearing about Lucali more than any other pizzeria in the last few weeks. Everybody simply raves about the place. I was warned that the wait could be very long and that it’s both BYO and Cash Only. But it’s definitely a new favorite among the food community and I realized my pizza journey would not be complete without a trip out to this quaint little spot.
The restaurant was not at all what I was expecting. It’s completely unmarked, except for the crowd of people outside and a chalkboard proclaiming today’s fresh ingredients. See, Lucali serves nothing but pizza and calzones. Seriously, nothing. No drinks, no sides, no dessert. I’m lucky we got a round of water. And I guess it’s that sort of minimalism that makes this place interesting.
That and the romantic, dark atmosphere. Now, I’m sure many will disagree with me here, but it didn’t feel like a place that should be serving pizza. I wanted a full meal (appetizers, entrees, desserts) to enjoy with my bottle of wine and linger over candlelight gazing into my dining partner’s eyes. But instead we get pizza. Messy, greasy, old school pizza. Not the most romantic of dishes.
I was happy that Iacono was behind the bar making the pizza himself because I hear it can be inconsistent when he is not presiding over the festivities. I think the girls in my group were also pleased because they kept talking about his good looks and one of my single female friends even decided to introduce herself to the pizza heartthrob.
Watching the pizzaiolo at work reminded me of pizza legend Domenico DeMarco (from Di Fara) except this guy moves about five times faster. The technique was very much the same and as I learned later, Iacono studied DeMarco to perfect his pizzas.
And I’m not sure if it was all the hype or what, but these pizzas aren’t quite as good as Domenico’s. Sorry. The pies were huge (they better be for about $30 each) and I noticed some of the corniciones (end crusts) had cracked. I picked them up and they fell apart. I’m all for thin crust, believe me, but they have to stay intact. And the other thing I noticed was that the dough was rather dry. I’ve heard Iacono say that he’s still working on his dough so maybe this won’t be a problem in the future.
I did think all the toppings were very fresh. Over the course of two pies, I tried artichoke hearts, mushrooms, garlic, pepperoni, and shallots. My biggest gripe was that they were way too-expensive. I mean, $3 for garlic?? For that price, I could have a year’s supply from the grocery store. And a year’s supply of bad breath, to boot!
The cheese was creamy and the tomato sauce had nice acidity to it. The basil was well-proportioned and fresh. I did find the body of the pizza to be a bit wet, which was (I guess a nice) contrast to the dry crusts. And the flavor (thanks to the fresh ingredients) was pretty tasty.
I’m grateful that I had a group of five friends to help me with the bill because it ended up being rather cheap. But if it was just me and one other, we would have spent more than I want to for pizza. I think the pizza is over-priced (even with all the fresh produce) and doesn’t touch the quality and deliciousness of Di Fara (a similarly expensive pizza meal). And whether those working class Italians of yesteryear ate the pizza by candlelight or not, I can guarantee their bill came out to a lot less than 60 bucks.
Is Lucali the best pizza in NY? Many people would say yes, but my rating of 7 out of 10 shows that the place has potential but the fresh ingredients and romantic atmosphere are not enough to make up for the dry crust and the expensive pies.