South Brooklyn Pizza
The dimly lit and oddly configured annex of the Carroll Gardens Irish bar P.J. Hanley’s produces credible pies in the unlikeliest of surroundings. “It takes balls to call a place South Brooklyn Pizza, and it takes balls not to have any toppings,” says owner Jim McGown, a real-estate developer turned pizzaiolo. He bought Hanley’s over in 2006, inherited a dilapidated coal-burning bakery oven and restored it to pizza-making condition, and then polled the neighborhood cognoscenti for pizza-making tips. “Leonardo’s was very helpful, Caputo’s was helpful,” says McGown. “But not knowing anything is really the secret.”
This unabashedly amateur approach has given rise to a distinct style: ovoid in shape, medium-thin-crusted, with a simple sauce of crushed San Marzano tomatoes and a medley of cheese, including fresh mozzarella, fontina, Asiago, and Parmigiano-Reggiano (but not, McGown takes pains to ensure, all in the same bite). It’s not the cheese combo, tasty as it is, that sets South Brooklyn apart, but its signature char. “It’s gotta be borderline burnt, so it doesn’t have that doughiness,” says McGown. But the pies we tried went beyond that and had sections as blackened as Paul Prudhomme’s favorite frying pan.
Another way McGown achieves his desired texture is by serving the pies on oak boards—a pizza epiphany that came to him at the Home Depot. The ubiquitous tin tray is a crust’s worst enemy, he believes, as it fosters liquid reabsorption, which is why the first slice at most fabled joints tastes terrific, but “the second one sucks.” Still, McGown appreciates aspects of the venerable pizzerias that came before him, most of them represented in the photos adorning South Brooklyn’s walls. “They’re not my competition,” says McGown, who restricts his menu to the single-style pie, free bread sticks, and brick-oven chocolate-chip cookies. “These are my brethren.”Ideal Meal
You don’t have a choice: pizza and a chocolate-chip cookie.
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