It’s not like we need more pizza in North Brooklyn, we’ll admit that. We’ve got a healthy mix (well, at least we like to tell ourselves that pizza is healthy), what with an incredible slice crew that counts Best Pizza, Motorino, and Roberta’s amongst its ranks. But the Greenpoint / North Williamsburg area is a different story– go much farther north than McCarren Park, and you’ll find yourself in something of a Neapolitan pizza desert.
Sure, there are plenty of greasy, cheap slices to be had, but besides Paulie Gee’s –which is heaven on earth, but whose waiting list has gone the way of Roberta’s (i.e., interminable) and even then, their toppings defy the genre’s puritanism — there’s not much here to sate you impatient followers of a very specific pizza order.
That’s why we’re pretty sure you’ll be happy to welcome newcomer Sottocasa to your pizza-rotation near McCarren Park – or perhaps even make it your main girl.
I’ve noticed pizza is one of those things that either divides New Yorkers or unites them. We’re clearly a city of pizza snobs. A friend once told me that people often assume that she doesn’t like pizza, but it’s just that she can’t bear to lower her standards. “I only ever want to eat really great pizza,” she said. “Otherwise it’s not worth it.” (One of the pies that makes her discerning cut is thin crust Rubirosa in Nolita, btw.)
Most of us aren’t so extreme as to deny ourselves the pleasure of an A-OK dollar slice every now and then, but everyone has their own pizza threshold. And though the ingredients that go into a pie may seem pretty simple, there are a ton of variables that can make or break a great pizza. Obviously, we all have preferences – but there are important choices to be made if you’re paying attention: Thin crust or deep dish? Wood-fired or by-the-slice? Triangles or squares? Tons of toppings or a sauceless white pizza? Even eating habits can be a point of contention: Fork-and-knife or hand-to-mouth? (New Yorkers demonstrated their passion for the latter when our lanky Mayor insisted his “ancestral homeland” behooved him to take up utensils.) Fold-and-chomp or double-handed crust grip? Personal pies or family-style?
So to recommend Sottocasa, it’s only fair that I lay out my own personal pizza bias. The experience I’m always trying to recreate is a saucy number from Da Michele in Naples, Italy (yes, the same place that Julia Roberts unbuttoned her pants for in Eat, Pray, Love). Their pizza comes only two ways: with cheese or without (think McSorley’s beer choices: light or dark) and that’s more than enough. The treatment is traditional Neapolitan, meaning individually-sized, wood-fired, and a bit crackly and blackened on the bottom. Dollops of creamy mozzarella swim in a sea of bright red sauce. At Da Michele everyone wolfs down their pizza as fast as they can while it’s hot and fresh, the way it was meant to be. A single serving costs four euros, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of a classy slice around these parts.
Unfortunately for me, I’ve found that no New York-based pizza could hope to truly match the taste-to-price ratio that is particularly satisfying at Da Michele. Still, I’ve found some Neapolitan joints that come close enough to sate my cravings and Sottocasa is firmly in that category – I’d even go so far to say it’s the best this Naples-starved New Yorker has tasted in quite a while.
The pizza is made fresh to order in one of those fancy wood-fired ovens imported from Italy, and the open kitchen allows you to watch the chefs as they knead the dough, douse it with toppings, and thrust it into the oven’s fiery belly. The crust comes out perfectly springy and chewy with just the right amount of charring on the bottom. The sauce is fresh (I wouldn’t mind more, but honestly that’s because I love pizza sauce so much I’d be happiest with a bowl brimming with sauce and topped with a few pieces of crust, given the option) and the cheese is generous. Pro tip: drizzling some of their homemade chili-infused extra virgin olive oil on top seriously ups the game. Best of all? Not a pizza on their menu tops $20 – impressive, considering that in this town a $12 Neapolitan margherita pizza is a merciful sight indeed.
Sottocasa Williamsburg is the second location for the original Boerum Hill pizzeria, which has a more homey, family-friendly vibe. In Williamsburg, the decor tries to bridge the neighborhood’s old and new identities. The restaurant is polished and large with a standalone bar, there’s a foosball table at the front and ample space for large groups in the back – the kind of crowd-pleaser that would make both a family reunion and a bro squad feel equally at home. Every Wednesday there’s a foosball tournament starting at 7 pm and an all-night happy hour, during which beer and wine are $2 off (no hard stuff just yet, the resto’s still looking into getting a full liquor license).
Sottocasa also tries to incorporate touches of the neighborhood’s artsy background. One of the owners, Ruggero Vittorini, is a skater, and so artfully painted skateboards are posted all over the exposed brick. Plants and fresh flowers (when in season, like they are in this very strange December) poke out from many corners – the contribution of Martina Marrosu, another partner in the bizz and Vittorini’s wife. The generous wall space hosts artwork for sale by local artists (right now it’s covered with Vladimir Bormisky‘s street photographs).
“This is what Williamsburg was all about, I think. And the reason why I talk in the past, is because things are changing so much,” Marrosu said. “Honestly, I think it’s still, in part, like that, but there’s also a huge component of this new corporate world that’s part of this neighborhood now.” Truer words were never spoken – but hey, Sottocasa’s no J.Crew, and it’s that small glimmer of hope that keeps us coming back here.
Sottocasa, 232 N 12th st. Open 12 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. daily (closes midnight Friday and Saturday).