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If you’re a pizza hound, then you probably already know that Fornino’s Michael Ayoub is branching out to Park Slope, where he’s converted the former Tempo space into a three-storefront dining room, bar, and prepared-foods takeout annex. This is a homecoming of sorts for Ayoub, who pioneered the neighborhood’s Fifth Avenue restaurant row as the opening chef of Cucina at that very same address precisely twenty years ago. The exciting news here is not only Ayoub’s triumphant return, but that the glass-blowing, herb-growing, mozzarella-making pizzaiolo is forsaking the Naples-style pies he perfected at the original Fornino in Williamsburg for the slightly obscure grilled variety.
In certain pizza-purist circles this is big, explosive stuff like Dylan trading in his folkie guitar for a Stratocaster. I’ve already done brick-oven pizza, and as a chef, I like to challenge myself, says Ayoub, who unashamedly admits to having practiced the dark art of grilling pizza in his Long Island backyard for years. Grilling pizza, he adds, affords the opportunity to rethink toppings. Cheeses and cured meats that couldn’t withstand the 1,000-degree heat of his Williamsburg oven are fair game for the grill, he says, and on his seventeen-pie menu, you’ll find everything from the Funghi Misti pizza (wild mushrooms, taleggio, and truffle oil) to the Vinny Scotto (bel paese, mozzarella, pecorino, ricotta, cacciatorino, and red-pepper aïoli), a tribute to his late friend and grilled-pizza master.
Still, pizza whether it be shoveled into a wood-fired oven or plopped down onto a gas grill has its limits, and Ayoub is hedging his bets with a massive menu of antipasti, salads, pasta, and entrées, with nothing over $20. One more bit of pie-man minutia: Ayoub will be shaping his in perfect circles (as opposed to the usual grilled free-form ovals). Why? To be honest, because they’re easier to find plates for, he says. And I’ll be able to fit them in regular delivery boxes.