29 November, 2010

Pizza by Cer Te: Drive-By Review

Naming your restaurant Pizza by Cer Te implies that "Cer Te" is a familiar name, one that implies something of quality imparted by the mysterious Mr. Cer Te. Unfortunately for Pizza by Cer Te, "Cer Te" is most likely not a familiar name to you, given that it is a relatively anonymous midtown deli distinguished primarily by their copious, strange and modestly-priced sandwich specials which have earned the devotion of Midtown Lunch. In other words, marketing pizza as "by" Cer Te is not exactly a winning strategy. Then again, nothing about Pizza by Cer Te suggests that the restaurant will be successful in the long term, from its choice location next to the Zimbabwean UN mission to its high price point and tone-deaf marketing.

The pizza, however, is pretty good, and as this is a pizza blog this counts for more than anything else. The eggplant grandma slice had a crispy, oily crust and a sparing dusting of sharp cheese; I recommend it. The chicken "saw seetch" (chicken sausage, broccoli rabb and roasted peppers) was less successful due to the flavorless sausage and overwhelmingly bitter greens, although the crust on this one was again satisfying, with a salty, slightly burned flavor.

If the price point were more reasonable than $8 for two slices, it might be a great addition to the neighborhood given the poor pizza selection in the area. As it is, it is a decent every-once-in-a-while spot.

A final word about the marketing. Pizza by Cer Te claims to be a "green pizzeria", which as far as I can tell is tone-deaf greenwashing. An example: they claim to grow their own herbs, but I saw no evidence of said herbs anywhere in sight; they also claim to be New York's first LEED-certified pizzeria, which means nothing to me except that corporate homebuilders use the term "LEED-certified" to sell expensive apartments to clueless yuppies. Much like the employees handing out free samples on the sidewalk, it all seems a little desperate.

Pizza by Cer Te, 132 E 56th

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14 November, 2010

Franny's on Flatbush

New York has always been a pizza town, at least within living memory. Amidst the current American renaissance of pizza one could easily forget that twenty years ago you would have been hard pressed to find a great pie in Seattle or Phoenix but could have strolled into any number of pizzerias in New York and walked away with a delicious slice.

Franny's is not one of those pizzerias. More to the point, Franny's is not a New York pizzeria at all but a restaurant which serves pizza. Rather than firing pies in a gas or coal oven, Franny's uses a wood-fired oven, like they do in Italy (or now, Phoenix) and its pies are Italian in inspiration if not in DOC. As commonplace as restaurants serving Neopolitan-style pizza have become across the country, it is important to remember that when Franny's started in 2004 serving Italian-inspired pizza, made with local, organically-small-sustainably-farmed ingredients, it was a new and different idea and not a cliched trend. Franny's and the neighborhood just across the street, Park Slope, helped popularize that trend; without even tasting the food we can say that Franny's is an important restaurant.

But what about that Pizza? It is, in a word, scrumptious. As alluded to above, Franny's doesn't serve pizza which abides by the oddly fascist, almost Germanic and strict definition of pizza emanating from Napoli. In general form it is Italian - individual serving sized pizzas, spare application of toppings, thin but not cracker-thin crust - but small details, like the crust with a small and only slightly puffed rim, suggest they do it their own way. Their ham and onion pizza, an Italianate spin on Tarte Flambe with a much more Italian and classy-sounding name on the menu, was an almost perfect balance of salty, yeasty charred crust, pork, sweet onions and Parmigiano.

Their spin on the Margharita, with buffalo mozzarella, was admirable as well. The quality of the cheeses was high, countered by sauce which was sparingly applied and frankly a background note. Would basil - unseasonable! not local! - have improved the pizza? Perhaps, and maybe we will have to be back for dinner in the summertime.

The crust of both pies was quite charred as can be seen by the Adam Kuban-style "upskirt" shot below. The oven was an impressively large edifice and appeared to be handmade out of large bricks, but for its size, proximity to the dining room and open kitchen they had clearly designed a great kitchen ventilation system.

Franny's does not just signal the first wave of nouveau-Neopolitan pizzas into New York, however. By virtue of it's location it was one of the first upscale restaurants to locate in Prospect Heights, the neighborhood to the north of Park Slope which in 2004 could be called up-and-coming.
As the phalanxes of expensive strollers streamed north from Park Slope, Franny's was at the point of the spear; today, it would be difficult to call any neighborhood with a Richard Meier luxury condominium "up-and-coming". The grand brownstones of Bed-Stuy can attest to the fact that the twentieth century was not kind to New York City. Franny's is a taste of it's 21st-century renaissance.

Go while you can. In New York, change is a constant and you never know when the next, even fancier wave will sweep over Flatbush, leaving nothing but chain stores and bank branches in its wake.

Franny's, 295 Flatbush Ave.

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Note: according to Slice, the correct name for the style of pizza is "Neapolitan American"