A warning: The best pizza in Brooklyn is so controversial a topic that it really ought to be listed along with politics and religion as things not to be discussed in polite company.
But if you never much cared for politeness, pizza is an endlessly debatable topic, and nowhere more so than Brooklyn -- where old-school pizza joints and new-school pizza restaurants are everywhere, each seeking to elbow their way into your heart (and stomach) in a crowded market. But the truth is there is no such thing as too much pizza, and certainly there is never too much great pizza.
So, as we did with Queens and Staten Island here's a look at some of Brooklyn's best pies and slices -- from no-frills pizzerias where you can grab a slice to-go to hipster meccas with massive wait lists.
What is there to left say to about Di Fara?
Forget every hipster pie you've had in a place with funky décor or cool music. Go to Midwood, where your refuge from the long waits for your pizza will be kosher bakeries instead of cocktail dens.
While you can order by the slice, you're going to wind up waiting for it anyway -- waiting to order, then waiting until there are enough slice orders to make the pie, then waiting until the pie is made. So do yourself a favor and an order a pie, round or square. Then add a slice from a pie you didn't choose, so you can try it. The slices are $5, the most expensive in the city, but they are worth the price, the wait and the journey to a neighborhood you might have little other reason to visit.
For years, part of the draw was that Dom DeMarco was the only one who would make the pizza. He's 80 now and has ceded some of the responsibility to others.
"He never tried to be the best. He never said, 'Oh, I'm the best.' Everyone else pointed that out to him," his daughter Margaret Mieles said. "What we do is so unique because we import our ingredients, and obviously, if you're doing something 51 years, if you're good at it, you become great at it. If you become great at it, you become extraordinary at it."
If you're lucky, you'll visit on a day when he's there, pulling the pizzas out of the oven with his bare hands, slicing basil imported from Israel on top, moving slowly but surely. He'll work until he's tired, Mieles said, and someone else will take over. Whoever makes your pizza, it will be delicious: a perfectly crisp crust, a sheen of olive oil that picks up the flavor of that basil, high-quality mozzarella and salty parmigiano reggiano, a tangy-sweet tomato sauce, everything in absolute balance.
(1424 Avenue J, 718-258-1367, difarany.com)
If you wanted to show someone the perfect example of a hip Brooklyn restaurant, it would be Roberta's.
The unassuming door on a lonely (but way less lonely than when it first opened) corner in Bushwick. The ramshackle tented bar where people gather to wait (and oh, will you wait) for a table. The shipping containers in the urban garden. The most beloved pizza being something you have to order off-menu. You get the picture.
Whether you love hipster, do-it-yourself vibes or merely put up with them for good food, you'll find great food inside -- including that off-the-menu pizza, The Beesting. It's topped with mozzarella, sopressata, chili oil and honey, and you should order it and feel cool for knowing about it even though, let's be real, everybody knows about it now. The spicy-sweet-salty combination is oft-imitated but nowhere does it quite as well as Roberta's.
If you're a traditionalist, order the Margherita for a beautifully done Neapolitan pie on a crust that is crisp but chewy, made with part Italian "00" flour and part all-purpose flour. It'll be worth the wait.
(261 Moore St., 718-417-1118, robertaspizza.com)
L&B Spumoni Gardens
The square pie here has inspired many an imitator, but L&B still does it the best. A chewy, thick crust is topped first with the mozzarella, then with the tangy tomato sauce, then with a sprinkle of grated cheese.
The flip of the cheese and the sauce seems simple, but it changes the whole texture of the pizza, setting it apart from other Sicilian slices and creating a different mouth feel as you get a hit of the soft, acidic sauce before encountering the snap of the cheese and chew of the curst. At the end of the slice you get to the crispy, charred edge.
You will want another. And then another. But don't forget to save room for the namesake spumoni, best enjoyed outside in the "garden" -- a concrete slab full of red chain-link tables -- on your way home from the beach on a summer day.
(2725 86th St., 718-449-1230, www.spumonigardens.com)
Gather 'round for the saga of how acclaimed pizzaiolo Patsy Grimaldi came to Juliana's after running Grimaldi's, formerly known as Patsy's.
Grimaldi learned the business at his uncle's restaurant Patsy's in East Harlem, one the city's great early pizzerias, and opened his own Patsy's under the Brooklyn Bridge in 1990. But in 1995 he was sued by the man who'd bought the East Harlem Patsy's, and the end result was a name change to Grimaldi's. In 1998, Grimaldi decided to get out of the pizza game, so he and his wife sold Grimaldi's to a customer.
Over time, Grimaldi became frustrated with the way his namesake was being run, leading to bad blood as Grimaldi's expanded but its critical reputation suffered. When Grimaldi's moved a few doors down, Patsy Grimaldi wound up reclaiming his old space with another former customer of his, co-owner Matt Grogan. Unable to use either of his own names, Grimaldi christened the new restaurant with his mother's name: Juliana.
"I thought when I had the pizza for the first time in 1990, that not only was it the best pizza I had ever had in my life, but it was the best thing I ever had in my life," Grogan said.
Grimaldi, 85, still comes in every night, and the pizza is made to his exacting standards, in a coal-fired oven and topped with ingredients like tomatoes that come from an Italian co-op that you can get only at Juliana's and one other restaurant, on the West Coast. The edges are blistered, the coal imparts a signature flavor and the decades of experience shine through in every perfect bite.
"We're not trying to make Italian pizza," Grogan said. "We're making New York pizza, the way it was first made 100 years ago."
(19 Old Fulton St., 718-596-6700, julianaspizza.com)
Juliana's may have Patsy Grimaldi and his decades-old technique, but Grimaldi's has the name -- and so it attracts scores of tourists who line up in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Juliana's has deservedly eclipsed Grimaldi's in critical acclaim, but that doesn't mean a pie from Grimaldi's isn't good enough to tempt you to play tourist for a day. The oven is coal-fired, the crust is thin, and the famous name is everywhere, thanks to a franchise across the country.
"Obviously to me, personally, Brooklyn has the best pizza. I don't know if it's our guys are all original that are here. It's like Grandma -- Grandma is always gonna make the best meatballs. She can teach you, but..." manager Gina Peluso trailed off as she described the difference between the Brooklyn location and the others. "Obviously sleight of hand changes pizza, and water changes pizza, and climate changes pizza. But we try our best."
(1 Front St., 718-858-4300, grimaldis-pizza.com)
Lucali is another pizza spot that has been so thoroughly hyped, is so critically acclaimed and well-loved, that it's hard to imagine the food will live up to it. But the laid-back, comfortable, dimly lit pizzeria run by Carroll Gardens native Mark Iacono never disappoints.
There's no paper menu: just pies, calzones and toppings. The pizzas, sprinkled with fresh basil and garlic (other toppings are extra), are extraordinary. So are the calzones, but that's another list for another day. Yes, you'll wait -- so plan on toting around a bottle of wine or two (it's BYOB), spending an hour or more at a nearby bar while you await your call from the hostess with the wonderful news that it'll be your turn to enjoy a pretty perfect pizza.
(575 Henry St., 718-858-4086, lucali.com)
Best Pizza is a Williamsburg take on a classic slice joint. There's the simple menu of pizzas and heroes, a small selection of beers and wines to wash it down, booths and paper plates both for your pizza and decorating the walls.
But this being Williamsburg, the pizzas have hip touches (a sesame crust on the white pie, for example), the oven is wood-fired and not a stacked gas oven. The simple name, spelled out in a sign that looks way older than the pizzeria's seven years, is a sort of tongue-in-cheek throwback. The soundtrack is loud rap instead of the oldies station or Frank Sinatra playlist you'll find at the usual corner place.
And the pizza hits it out of the park: the ideal unfussy New York slice, thin crust and tasty tomato sauce covered in a just-sparse-enough blanket of cheese and classed up with some basil leaves.
"We use a wood-fired oven -- it's over 100 years old. I feel like that definitely makes a difference. You get a little more char on the pies; you get a little bit of a smokey flavor to it," general manager Hugo Chino said. "We use fresh mozzarella on all of our pizza, we cook our mozzarella here and I feel like that makes us a little bit different from other pizzerias that are by the slice."
(33 Havemeyer St., 718-599-2210, best.piz.za.com)
The next time you're in Coney Island, skip the hot dogs and have pizza instead.
Totonno's was doing Neapolitan pies way before it was cool -- for more than 90 years, actually. Its founder, Anthony (Totonno) Pero opened it in 1924 after training at Lombardi's, believed to be the city's first pizzeria. Having survived a changing neighborhood, a fire and the deluge of superstorm Sandy, Totonno's is still making pies that are super-thin yet manage to hold up under their own weight, with a crust that puffs up around the edges.
When you make the trip, note the limited hours (noon to 8 p.m., with last seating at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Sunday). You can always stroll to the boardwalk afterward, to ride the Cyclone with your carb high.
(1524 Neptune Ave., 718-372-8606, totonnosconeyisland.com)
Motorino has gone worldwide, but it was a bit of a revelation when it first opened in Williamsburg in 2008.
In 2010, Sam Sifton of The New York Times declared that it served "the city's best pizza" -- a wood-fired Neapolitan pie that he deemed delicious hot out of the oven or cold after sitting a few minutes.
Start with a Margherita pie: fior di latte, basil, pecorino, olive oil and sea salt. Or upgrade to the Dom Dom: buffalo mozzarella, primo sale (a sheep's cheese) and parmigiano. Or go in an entirely different direction, with white pies showered with Brussels sprouts and pancetta or bresaola and baby kale.
(139 Broadway, 718-599-8899, motorinopizza.com)
Some places excel at pizza yet lack atmosphere, but Paulie Gee's in Greenpoint delivers both. It's loud and low-lit. You might not be able to have a quiet conversation with your date, but he or she will look great, and whatever line you were going to try probably wasn't as smooth as Van Morrison urging you to make romance over the speakers anyway.
"Overall I'm trying to create an inviting environment. I've always loved to cook, feed people, play music for them," owner Paul Giannone said.
As for the pizzas, they're cooked rapidly in a blazing hot, wood-burning oven from Naples.
"I love creating pies that have a nice contrast of sweet and savory," Giannone said.
Among the most popular is the Hellboy, with fresh mozzarella, Italian tomatoes, Berkshire soppressata picante, Parmigiano Reggiano and Mike's Hot Honey. Or try the Monte Cristo, with mild Gouda, sliced Canadian bacon and a pure maple syrup drizzle, pictured. The combination of savory and sweet will remind you of a forkful of pancakes and bacon dragged through maple syrup, a flavor profile you didn't know pizza was missing but will devour with gusto.
(60 Greenpoint Ave., 347-987-3747, pauliegee.com)
Sometimes, you just need a slice joint. Not a twist-on-a-slice joint, but just a slice joint. A place where you can engage in New York's greatest culinary tradition, exchanging a couple of bucks for a piece of hot pizza that you can fold in half and eat on a paper plate as you walk down the sidewalk.
And Antonio's in Prospect Heights delivers on that promise -- with a slice that has a crispy crust, a healthy dose of sauce and a blanket of blistered mozzarella. Like any good neighborhood pizza place should, it also offers a selection of solid specialty slices -- from the grandma to the controversial Buffalo chicken.
(318 Flatbush Ave., 718-398-2300, antoniosbrooklyn.com)
The sourdough pizzas at Wheated in Flatbush are name for Brooklyn neighborhoods, so pick your favorite 'hood and dig in.
Pictured is the Sunset Park, which features hot soppressata (which really ought to replace pepperoni for the go-to-cured-meat topping), tomato sauce, fresh and aged mozzarella, and parmigiano-reggiano. Or try the Ditmas Park, with tomato sauce, garlic, basil, pecorino Romano and olive oil.
And it's a great place to eat with the vegan in your life, as Wheated will substitute vegan cheese (and vegan sausage!) for no extra charge.
(905 Church Ave., 347-240-2813, wheatedbrooklyn.com)
Emily and Emmy Squared
When Matt and Emily Hyland opened Emily in Clinton Hill, they wanted to do something different -- a twist on wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas Matt had been cooking, with a focus on American ingredients and a different style.
"A lot of pizza restaurants are of the mentality that everything has to be Italian cheese and Italian flours and Italian tomatoes shipped in," Emily Hyland said.
That's not the case with Emily's pizzas, which Emily Hyland pegged as "New York/New Haven style" -- thin and well done, but without the puffy, char-speckled crust common to Neapolitan pies, and with the toppings more evenly distributed to avoid a softer center.
People loved it, so when the couple opened a second joint -- Emmy Squared in Williamsburg -- you'd think they'd bring the menu. Instead, they rolled out another game-changer: pan pizzas with crisp crusts and cheesy fried edges that have kept customers flocking.
Brooklyn's pizza is legendary on two fronts, Hyland said -- old-school places like Totonno's and L&B and new-school places like Roberta's -- which meant it was pretty intimidating to wade into the market and offer up something new.
"It was terrifying," she said. "And Matt always talks about, 'I can't believe that we've been able to be successful in the pizza world in New York.' We were totally terrified by it, but we just wanted to make food that we really like to eat."
(Emily, 919 Fulton St., 347-844-9588; Emmy Squared, 364 Grand St., 718-360-4535; pizzalovesemily.com)
Tony's Pizzeria & Restaurant
Tony's in Bushwick is right out of central casting -- no-frills booths, teenagers buying slices, and a case advertising a wide variety of specialty pies.
There are pizzas covered in chicken Caesar salad, pizzas stacked high with potatoes and cheddar and bacon, and even pizzas stuffed with macaroni and cheese. Tony's can pull off the simpler slices like the Margherita, pictured, topped with a healthy sprinkle of olive oil and basil.
Every borough needs its fancy, pricey personal pizza. And even if some foodies won't want to admit it, a borough needs its unglamorous mac-and-cheese pizza, too.
(443 Knickerbocker Ave., 718-455-9664, no website)
Monte's claims to be the oldest Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, though it did have a bit of a hiatus. It first opened in 1906 as Angelo's Tavern, served as a speakeasy during Prohibition and was revamped into Monte's Venetian Room in the 1930s, going on to draw a Rat Pack clientele for Italian-American food. But it abruptly closed in 2008.
It reopened in 2011 under new ownership, the Venetian part of the name (and the murals that went with it) were ditched, and the menu was tweaked to focus less on chicken parm and more on authentic Neapolitan dishes -- among them, pizza.
The pizzas at Monte's are oblong, served on boards, available in 12-inch or "Metropolitan" size (best described as really big), and deliver on the promise of a Neapolitan pie, with a puffy but crispy crust. And then there are the toppings. The Margherita pie has mozzarella di bufala; the Reale has tomato, mozzarella, fried eggplant, prosciutto and basil; and the Salsiccia has tomato, mozzarella, sausage and red onion. All are winners.
The restaurant is more under the radar than some spots on this list, with a vibe that's way more old-school Brooklyn than hipster, but it's worth a little trip back in time the next time you're in Gowanus to play shuffleboard.
(Monte's, 451 Carroll St., 718-852-7800, montesnyc.com)