by Elissa Karg
Did you know that cities across America have restaurants named “Brooklyn Pizza”? We know about Chicago pizza, that deep-dish, fork-and-knife affair, but what distinguishes pizza made in Brooklyn? As it turns out, Brooklyn is considered the home of the North American pizza, brought over by Italian immigrants who settled in Brooklyn neighborhoods.
The owners of Brooklyn Pizza in Birmingham describe their pies as New York-style pizza cooked in a brick oven, fueled by coal or wood. This method creates a thin, crisp crust that snaps and shatters when you take a bite. Co-owner Sam Abdelfatah insists that the crust be hand-formed; this is one place where you can still watch the pizza chefs flip a disk of dough in the air, landing it on two fists. The process takes about 20 seconds, but the technique takes years to master.
Brooklyn Pizza fuels their ovens with oak, a hardwood that burns very hot. Four pizzas are made at a time, and they cycle through wood-fueled and gas-fueled parts of the oven.
We ordered the restaurant’s namesake, the “Brooklyn,” which begins with a coating of pesto (a zesty mixture of fresh basil, oil, garlic and nuts made on the premises) and is topped by black olives, roasted garlic, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and rich, creamy goat cheese. This was a terrific pizza both in concept and execution. The combination of goat cheese and pesto is one you might want to try on pasta.
The walls are papered with photographs from Brooklyn, including scenes from the famed Nathan’s at Coney Island. (I can remember going to Nathan’s as a child; my father really hyped it up, and I couldn’t believe, when I got there, that the fuss was about hot dogs.)
On another evening we got the “Primavera,” which didn’t achieve the level of perfection set by our first experience. A very thin layer of tomato sauce and cheese was topped with spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, red onion and bell peppers. The flavors never seemed to meld. This time we ordered carryout and ate at home; the reheating of the pizza may account for some of our disappointment.
Other combinations include Mexican (with jalapeños, ground beef and cheddar cheese), three-mushroom/three-cheese (shiitake, portobella and field mushrooms with mozzarella, fontina and Parmigiano-Reggiano), four-cheese (add smoked gouda), margherita (plum tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil), Greek, BBQ chicken, and grilled shrimp (with sun-dried tomatoes, pesto and garlic). For an extra $2 on a large pizza, you can order pepperoni or sausage (both beef-based; no pork is served).
Brooklyn Pizza started in 1985 as The Big Chill, a cappuccino bar and gelateria. The transition to pizzeria came in 1995 with the addition of the big brick oven. Ice cream, gelato and Italian ices are still made on the premises.
The gelato, which is made from a light cream, was delicious, though pricey at $2.25 for a small, $3.50 for medium and $4.50 for large. Flavors include watermelon with chocolate chips, mango, banana coconut and hazelnut. Ices come in lemon, lime and grapefruit. Here’s one for the kids: Halloween ice cream, studded with everything that might come home in a bag of treats.
Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.