Since its opening late last month, Artichoke Basille’s Pizza & Brewery has been the subject of heated debate and the object of lavish praise in the pizza-eating community. Pizzaiolo Francis Garcia, who opened Artichoke with his cousin Sal Basille, took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with the Underground Gourmet about food, family, and the inevitable Di Fara comparisons. —Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld
How did you get into the pizza business?
Sal and I are first cousins. My mother owns a restaurant in Staten Island called Basille’s. We all worked there growing up; it was all family. Sal’s mom and dad opened that restaurant twenty years ago, and my mother bought it maybe fourteen years ago when they moved to New Jersey. Now Sal’s mother has a restaurant in Jackson, New Jersey, called Solo Bella. Her name is Bella, and her and her husband, my uncle Vito, recently got divorced after 30 years. She was gonna call it NoVito.
Why did you name your pizzeria after a plant?
I’m a big fan of artichokes. The stuffed artichokes we sell here are something that we only had on the holidays, and I’m such a fan of those artichokes. I used to say to my mother, “How come we only have them once every Christmas? I don’t understand.” And she’d say, “Well, that’s when you make them.” And I’d say “Why, how come? Why can’t we make them every day?” And she’d say, “You’re gonna stuff artichokes every day?”
How did you come up with your signature artichoke-and-spinach pie?
I was screwing around in the kitchen. I’ve been cooking since I was a little kid, and I still experiment with all different kinds of things, and I just came up with it. I mean, I love artichokes, and I wanted to do something nice with the pizza and artichokes.
What should never go on a pizza?
Personally, I can’t stand oregano. But that’s me.
People are comparing your pizza to Di Fara’s. What do you think about that?
Well, I mean Dominick DeMarco is like the holy grail of pizza; we’re flattered beyond belief to be even compared to him. He’s it. There’s nobody better than him. People ask me what’s your favorite pizzeria, and I tell them Di Fara hands down. Di Fara. Di Fara. Di Fara.
So did you model your pizza after his?
No, we’ve been doing this for a long time, you know. Di Fara really had nothing to do with it. I mean, we literally spent our entire lives behind the counter in restaurants; that’s just how we’ve always made pizza.
What other pizzas besides Di Fara do you like?
You mean aside from my mother’s restaurant? There’s one in Staten Island called Lee’s Tavern. Excellent crust, almost like a pastry crust.
Do you live in Manhattan now or do you commute?
We’re commuting now. When we make a couple bucks back, we’re definitely going to get a place over here so we can start getting open earlier. You know the BQE — the traffic is horrible — and I’m someone’s who’s crazy: If I can’t get there to make the pizza, I don’t want somebody else doing it. It’s either got to be me or my cousin.
Tell us about your cauliflower fritters.
People love them. I can’t make them fast enough. That’s something my mother would make for me, and after she’d make them, she’d literally have to hide them from me, because I would eat them all until they were gone. When I was young I used to be heavy. I had a little bit of a weight issue. I mean, it was growing up around all the food and all the restaurants and the pizza.
What would you recommend to someone on a diet?
The broccoli-rabe sandwich. That’s one of my favorite things — very healthy for you. You could eat that every day, and not get fat. Even without the reggiano, with just Pecorino that sandwich is excellent.
But that sandwich is basically a lot of delicious broccoli rabe on a loaf of bread. That would be like eating a loaf of bread every day.
You gotta have some bread. I mean, if you eat five loaves of bread a day, you’re gonna get fat; one ain’t gonna kill you.