My search for the best pizza in New York continues….
I think it’s safe to say Paulie Gee is the new Genaro Lombardi. If you know anything about NY pizza history, you know pizza pioneer Lombardi is responsible for the careers and subsequent openings of the pizzaioli behind Patsy’s, Totonno’s, and John’s. The relatively new pizza restaurant Barboncino in the underserved neighborhood of Crown Heights is owned by Ron Brown and Jon Greenberg, who practiced Neapolitan-style pizza making at Paulie Gee’s haven in Greenpoint.
I was brought here with Pizza Club, which is the brainchild of my fellow pizza blogger and friend Jason Feirman (somebody else made the reservations this time while Jason focuses on business school). I actually had not heard of Barboncino before I got the invite, but based on the crowds in the warm, brick exposed Brooklyn hang out, I may have been the only one.
We had a huge table in the back and were taken care of by a personable, casual and competent server who basically joined the party when he wasn’t helping other guests. The ordering at these get togethers is always rather simple since we get one of everything on the menu. We doubled up on a few pies and made some tweaking for the vegetarians, but I was pleased I got to taste just about everything (even some of the gelato from Il Labratorio del Gelato).
The appetizers were noteworthy, especially the crisp and bright Bibb Salad which featured roasted walnuts that ended up tasting like slightly burnt popcorn (in a good way). The burrata with fire roasted red and yellow peppers was also a good precursor for the carbs, while the white beans and pesto didn’t add much to the table.
We were here for the pizza and they started coming fast and furiously. The Marinara started us off and it was pretty solid with tangy crushed tomatoes, oregano and loads of garlic. The Margherita replaced the garlic and oregano with fior di latte and basil. It was a fine pizza. The best part was the crust, which was similar to Paulie’s wood-fired version. It was crisp with blackened blister marks throughout. Some of the pies were a little dry, while others were pillowy and tender.
The Eggplant and Zucchini was surprisingly the favorite at the table. I have to agree with everybody else. It had an unexpected kick from red pepper flakes and the vegetables added a nice earthiness.
The Sopressata Picante was good, but paled in comparison to Paulie Gee’s spicy meat pies. I preferred the Four Cheese with Pepperoni which had a nice balance between the fior di latte, gorgonzolla, ricotta, and parmigano. Each cheese added a different flavor component while working together to give the pizza an enjoyable richness.
Barboncino’s version of the classic Arugula featured fresh vibrant ingredients, although, again, I had to compare it to Paulie Gee’s Greenpointer and I then realized how perfect a squeeze of lemon would have been on this pie.
I was maybe most excited by the Artichoke and Smoked Pancetta which worked well with the blend of smoky, salty, and garlicky flavors. I do wish there was a greater abundance of artichoke pieces. Since we were sharing all these pies, I didn’t get as much artichoke as I did pancetta.
Amazingly, the Cremini and Fennel Sausage pizza had very little flavor. I found the sausage to be rather bland and overly fatty with an unpleasant texture. And I’m afraid the mushrooms didn’t add much on their own. And where was the thyme that they advertised on the menu description? I sadly couldn’t detect it. The newly added Neapolitan Meatball pie fared much better with rich, delicious meat bits next to the buttery dots of fior di latte cheese.
And that brings us to the final pie of the night. We were so anticipating the Cherry Stone Clam pie that we ordered two for the table. But this pizza got pushed aside and left for dead. I don’t think a single person at the table like this. One person even said it was the worst pizza he’s ever tasted at any Pizza Club.
What went wrong here? Perhaps we pizza snobs are spoiled by having tasted other brilliant clam pies like at Lombardi’s, Franny’s and places in New Haven. But I don’t think so. The clams here were slimy, wet, and had a funny flavor reeking of the ocean. I was betting they were canned clams, but the server assured me they are shucked fresh daily. The parsley butter and garlic did nothing to save the day here. I’ve honestly never seen so much pizza left over at Pizza Club before.
While the pies are not as innovative or masterful as the ones at Paulie Gee’s, they’re not bad. Since we tried the entire menu, we found some inconsistencies and low points, but the ones that worked, worked well. It may have also been an off night, since others have raved about the clam pie. Either way, there’s clearly pizza talent here at Barboncino. How could there not be when they trained with the master?
Is Barboncino the best pizza in NY? It’s certainly the best in the neighborhood and will work for non-fussy pizza eaters. But it only gets a 6 out of 10 since the combinations are pretty simple and some pies didn’t live up to the others.
|781 Franklin Avenue (between St. John’s Place and Lincoln Place)
Crown Heights, Brooklyn