Growing up in Park Slope in the 90’s there were three pizzerias lined up along 7th Avenue: Roma, in the north, Pino’s, across the street from PS 321, and Smiling, sitting on a lucrative corner right above the F train. My friends and I would argue about who made the best slice. The kids from the north Slope insisted that Roma had the finest, paper-thin crust. Those who lived closer to Pino’s believed it captured the true essence of Italy in every bite and the southern clan argued that Smiling was king.
The moral of the story: Pizza allegiance is often determined by what’s closest and most familiar to you. But if 28 years of pizza eating in Brooklyn has taught me anything, it’s that the hunt for the perfect slice often extends beyond your local street corner. Here’s a roundup of Brooklyn’s pizza by neighborhood.
Reason to Go: Best Local Slice Joint at Original Pizza
I resisted taking my pizza hunt this far into Brooklyn for a long time. No trains run to Mill Basin and it feels like more of an old maritime village than a neighborhood where you could get a great slice. When I finally made the trek, I was struck by Mill Basin’s traditional vibe, completely free of pretension or affect. This no-frills vibe pervades Original Pizza, one of the city’s most authentic slice joints. Original Pizza is a bastion of simple, time-tested rituals. The thin-crust slices are classic and technically perfect, shining with oil and served on an orange tray and consumed at an orange booth.
Reason to Go: Best Slice for Big Appetites at L&B Spumoni Gardens
Head to South Brooklyn between Bensonhurst and Gravesend if you like your pizza to have layers. At L&B Spumoni Gardens, layers translate to a perfectly crisped golden bottom and chewy center that blur the line between bread and cheese. Spread across these layers of cheese and bread is L&B’s flavorful, rustic red sauce. L&B has become famous for offering an entirely different sensory experience when you bite into their pizza. The storefront opened in 1939 with the intention of serving traditional squares of pizza and heaping cups of spumoni. Now this landmark is a foodie destination with a full restaurant and a never-ending crowd.
Reason to Go: A Slice That is Also a Show at Di Fara’s
Is it worth it to schlep to Avenue J in Midwood on the Q train, stand on a line for an hour, all for a $5 slice of pizza? Yes. Di Fara’s is two things: a legendary slice of pizza and also a spectacle of culinary deliberation. There is no doubt that watching Dom DeMarco carefully snip fresh leaves of basil onto each bubbling slice is an experience you won’t soon forget. Di Fara pizza is a hybrid of the conventional ingredients of a slice joint and the delicate preparation of a gourmet restaurant. This blend of form and content really does lend itself to a slice just like grandma used to make – if your grandma was a dedicated lifelong pizzaiola.
Reason to Go: For a Taste of Pizza Legend and Strife at Juliana’s or Grimaldi’s
In a simpler time, before Dumbo was a tourist destination, Grimaldi’s was THE place for brick oven pizza in Brooklyn. It got started as a neighborhood joint for families in Brooklyn Heights that touted a strict pies-only policy. (No slices!) In the late 90’s, Grimaldi’s gained intense local fame for its almost-burnt, loose-leaf-paper-thin pizza and started attracting super-long lines. Then Patsy Grimaldi sold the place, the oven and the name to Frank Ciolla who continued to operate the pizzeria in situ until 2011 when he moved down the street to a larger space. Grimaldi, however, has recently come out of retirement to open Juliana’s in the original space. Both places are incredibly successful and difficult to get into. I’ve been to both, multiple times, waiting on whichever line was shorter or catering to my out-of-towners preference. The verdict: two really great pies, equally worth a 20-minute wait, but no longer – a wood oven isn’t the rarity it used to be. For a local, Juliana’s has an edge because of its history and its classic of wall of photos featuring neighborhood families, baseball teams and of course, Sinatra.
Reason to Go: For the Farm-to-Table Offerings at Franny’s
Franny’s is a highly curated pizza restaurant sitting on the Park Slope side of Flatbush Avenue. The oven is the focal point and the walls are piled high with firewood. What sets this place apart is some truly interesting flavor combinations in their specialty pizza selection. Everyone goes for the clam pie with chilies and parsley, and rightfully so. A slice of Franny’s pizza is as good as the other brick oven options on this list but what is lacking is some of the authenticity of what makes Brooklyn a pizza town and what makes pizza a Brooklyn staple.
Reason to Go: For a Slice Surrounded by Adventure at Roberta’s
If you believe that Bushwick, defender of the weird, inconvenient and artistic, is losing some of its bohemian cred, try Roberta’s innovative, but damn good, pizza. Sure, they now mass produce frozen pies and sell them at supermarkets throughout the city, but the place is still a stronghold of strange. Roberta’s offers plenty of variety in their wide range of specialty pies and toppings. For many on a neighborhood gallery tour of Bushwick, Roberta’s has become a pit stop along the way, but it’s often more memorable than the art itself.
Reason to Go: Best Study in Contradictions Slice at Best Pizza
Sitting in the heart of Williamsburg is Best Pizza, a sort-of slice joint that sort-of sticks to the rules of a Brooklyn pizza place. Best Pizza is interesting because it embraces the tradition of Brooklyn with some smart upgrades; sort of like Williamsburg on a good day. Best Pizza is run by a culinary school graduate from Bensonhurst who mixes his love of traditional pizza with solid technique, a touch of inspiration (like the single fresh leaf of basil on every slice) and a 100-year-old oven from the bakery that used to own the space.