New York is a pizza town, maybe the pizza town, despite all you’ve read recently about New Haven. (This is no slight to New Haven, where I have spent a little time and eaten a fair amount of excellent apizza.) In the life of a restaurant critic, there is not always time for pizza. I will always make time to eat pizza, of course, but in the melee of openings, only in rare cases do pizza parlors draw the professional eye. Pizza is serious, but snackable; on death row, it might be my last meal, but it wouldn’t be my last review. Pizza places open with such regularity that it’s nearly impossible to keep up with them all. I’m here to try. My colleague Tammie Teclemariam recently stopped by Farina, a newfangled pizza joint under the BQE where Tony Pisaniello is playing mad scientist with flour-and-grain mixes. Having stopped by myself and agreed with her conclusions, I thought I’d go another direction: two recent arrivals to the pizza scene that tend more toward the throwback than the experimental.
A friend texted me recently about the new West Village location of L’Industrie, which has been a Williamsburg favorite for a few years. “I’m ashamed to admit how many times I’ve been in the last ten days,” she wrote. “I usually don’t eat pizza that often.” Like “guilty pleasure,” I consider “pizza shame” to be an oxymoron, or at least a hearty recommendation. So off I went. L’Industrie, with its counter stools, framed Rocky II posters, and Outkast’s ATLiens on the stereo, is about as bare-bones as my old primal-scene pizzeria, Mariella’s (1976-2016), though with more concessions to contemporary taste.
We used to go to Mariella’s after middle school. Time has changed some of the particulars, to judge from L’Industrie, where the preteen in line in front of me wore a Supreme beanie and spelled his name out (B-L-A-I-S-E), but the after-school pizza tradition, I’m happy to say, endures. At 3:30 on a recent Monday, it was a sea of backpacks. And the pizza? Pretty good! Out of professional obligation, I ordered L’Industrie’s namesake slice, which comes with a slice of prosciutto and a blob of burrata sitting in the middle. That burrata was extraneous but enjoyable — the pizza equivalent of sour cream on a nacho — though the whole thing was awkward to eat without a knife and fork, a serious disqualification. I preferred L’Industrie’s margherita slice, its thin crust mottled on the bottom with char. Its sauce is on the tangier side, its cheese application on the light. For $3.50, you could do much worse.
Bar Birba, a new pizza-and-wine spot in Bedford-Stuyvesant, is more of a sit-down affair. It, too, harks back to pizza places of the past, though with a more Italianate, less Italian American décor. (The posters here are framed vermouth and Fernet Branca ads; the music on the stereo is the ’70s Italian pop diva Mina.) A bronzy mirror serves as the by-the-glass wine list and the menu features five pizze al taglio, served in personal quarter-sheet pans: a margherita; more austere bianco and marinara; the Mannaggia, with ’nduja, red onion, and focaccia; and a rotating daily special. (There are also a few antipasti and salads, the best of them a vinegary caponata, served with salty wedges of pizza bianca.)
Birba’s is an entirely different pizza than L’Industrie’s. Square where the other is triangular, plush where the other is thin. This is not Chicago deep dish, but something almost akin to Stouffer’s, with a nostalgic chew. My personal sympathies lie more with L’Industrie’s foldable classic, but that’s mere preference. Birba, from the team that runs the excellent molinos For All Things Good in Clinton Hill and Williamsburg, is, as a pizzeria should be, a place you’d be glad to live nearby. All the more so because they take a rightly stringent stance on orders to-go: pizza only. My request for a mortadella-and-pistachio panino, on pizza bianca, was refused on grounds of poor travelability. I’ll be back.