As a newly minted resident of Park Slope, I’ve been asked more than a couple times how I plan to enjoy the alleged boredom of my gentrified milieu. Is there really good food in yuppie land? Can I have a good time without being among the hip, young and tasteful? Do I miss the excitement of living in Williamsburg, the epicenter of ground-breaking ceremonies in New York’s restaurant culture?
I direct much more pertinent questions to my past self: How did I manage to ever live in a neighborhood without an honest sushi bar? On how many of those nights at Lucky Dog did I really feel at ease with my beer? All meals considered, should I have actually considered myself a commuting resident of Greenpoint?
Most importantly: How did I get by for almost two years without access to a truly great neighborhood slice?
This question is the soundtrack backing my walk down 5th Ave. to Luigi’s Pizza, a pizzeria of South Slope’s old school. Serving since 1973, Luigi’s is a true New York classic and home to one of the best slices of pizza in the city – and on June 1, 2010, it became my slice of Brooklyn.
The joint itself can be described as a quintessential den of pizza. Inside, a single counter surface is warmed by faded and dated overhead lamps, which shine just enough light on the cramped, unadorned back dining room to offer customers the most subdued setting for a slice imaginable. Breaching the border of Luigi’s on a weekend day brings me face to face with a rat pack of teenage employees, the most fortunate of whom are learning the art of the New York slice under the supervision of Giovanni, the joint’s owner. Business is gruff but warm (Gio’s enthusiasm and readiness to educate his customers make him a local legend), and it seems like someone from the neighborhood is always lounging with the staff as I look over the rightfully limited choices of pie on display.
Luigi’s plain slice – which, along with every other cheese slice here, sells for less than $3 – is an edible definition of New York pizza. Luigi’s plain crust is crunchy and chewy from end to end, forming a beautifully rolling landscape of dough with a porous, fluffy topside. The tastes and texture of sauce and cheese coat this crust in perfect balance, blended into one delicate layer and crowned by a layer of grease that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Gio’s “momma” slice, a powerful rendition of the grandma, sneaks hints of fresh mozz beneath a layer of sauce, herbs and crushed garlic. The swirling mixture sits atop what seems like Luigi’s toughest crust: a thin and hefty square layer with burnt edges and a bubbly underside. It’s probably the pizzeria’s weak link, as the strength of the crust borders on difficult; still, the overall chew is a worthy experience, and flavor is nigh in every crunchy bite.
Luigi’s Sicilian improves upon the grandma by allowing that pie’s hearty edge to blossom into a full-blown bed of fluffy, chewy dough. Topped by a layer of the joint’s heartiest tomato sauce and dressed in the golden brown tones of an expertly burnt sheet of mozzarella, this slice is a construction as delicate as it is strong.
The fact that most of Luigi’s pies are as enjoyable as its star, the fresh mozzarella slice, is a testament to the quality of this pizzeria. Still, the fresh mozz comes out on top with pocket change to spare. As with the plain slice, the crust of Luigi’s number one is perfectly taut, its crunchy, uneven bottom yielding to a springy, doughy upper layer and encircled by a crisp, air-pocketed edge. Unlike many of its rivals, Luigi’s slice drapes a full blanket of tender, fresh mozzarella across a generous coating of sauce. Each thick dollop of cheese melts into the next, and all are sprinkled with a homemade basil-based pesto, lending the final product an extra note of flavor and a beautiful splash of color.
It’s a slice worth a cross-borough journey, but what makes this pizza enduring is the fact that it can be it mine for a thirty-minute walk and less cash than it takes to fill the washing machine. Peering into the windows of neighborhood spots – old and new – along the way, knowing that I don’t have to wait in a line for some of New York’s finest, is a heartening start to my tenure in west Brooklyn and a gratifying kiss goodbye to Bedford Ave.
686 5th Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11215