With the exception of a few well-known outliers, you can go into any pizzeria in New York City and order with your eyes closed: A thin-crust cheese slice is unavoidable, as is a Sicilian or grandmother slice, and a white pie made entirely of cheese is a distinct possibility. There will almost certainly be pepperoni, and since many owners purchase from the same suppliers, the pepperoni you receive in the Bronx this week will be very identical to the pepperoni you had in Queens last week.
The majority of pizzerias are similar to cover bands. Some rock harder than others, but they all adhere to the same set of rules and regulations. Every now and again, though, one of those bands decides to branch out and compose its own material.
The story of Di Fara Pizza in Midwood, which at first glance appeared to be a street-corner slice joint, but was so meticulous about the quality of its ingredients and proportions that it helped spark a slice-joint renaissance throughout New York City and beyond. Lucia Pizza of Avenue X, a four-month-old store in Sheepshead Bay, seems to be the subject of a new documentary.
It becomes clear that Lucia has deviated from the slice-shop pattern, though, as you approach the counter and are presented with the “spring menu.” In comparison, the “winter greeting menu” that was in force when the restaurant originally opened is almost twice as lengthy. In reality, the lengthier list is still a little bit of a pipe dream. Upon attempting to place an order for cudduruni, a kind of Sicilian flatbread, I was informed that “we are not yet ready to supply that one.”
Everything else on the menu, with the exception of this piece of vaporware, is genuine and delicious. Salsiccia, a white pie with silky white islands of whipped ricotta surrounded by swine sausage that has been roasted into crunchy brown pebbles, rather than the normal grey marbles that slide off the crust when you pick it up, is one of the most popular options at the restaurant. Fresh parsley and delicious red onions, sliced thinly enough to wilt in the oven, are strewn over the top of the dish. Also spooned over the top are chunks of oil-cured Calabrian chilies, but you may not see them until the heat of the dish causes your eyes to widen.
Sheepshead Bay isn’t exactly known as a hotbed of clam pizza, but Lucia has the ability to turn it into one. In addition to the traditional New Haven clam pie, Lucia also makes a clam pie with a twist on Fridays. In Connecticut, the clams are placed directly on the dough; however, Lucia places them on a bed of melted mozzarella before baking them in the oven. Raw garlic is also required in New Haven; at Sheepshead Bay, the garlic is cooked in olive oil until golden, then swiftly boiled with chopped fresh cherrystones, white wine, and butter until the garlic is tender. This sauce is virtually the same one that is served with linguine at a hundred different Italian restaurants across the city. Despite the fact that it is no match for the raw force of the pies at Zuppardi’s Apizza, it does make for a delightfully soothing pizza.
Lucia is a newly opened pizzeria that is still finding its way around. I’m hoping that something can be done regarding the crust in the near future. Crispness has been incorporated into the product, and it is enjoyable to bite into. To chew, the texture is less pleasing, and the taste is flat and bland, lacking the depth of flavour that the greatest pizzerias achieve in their dough.
The tomato sauce has a fresh and lively flavour; it is neither bitter or sweet. Fresh white mushrooms are cooked again and over again until they are black and meaty in flavour. That whipped ricotta is just delicious. Also included are torn basil leaves, which are sprinkled into the pies as soon as they come out of the oven, along with thin threads of grated pecorino. These are the kinds of finishing touches that elevate even the most basic meals at Lucia, such as the traditional New York slice and the margherita, which has fresh mozzarella stacked in concentric circles over the sauce.
Salvatore Carlino, the proprietor of Lucia’s, is the mastermind behind all of these pies. He grew up in an area of squat brick rowhouses and vast back lanes, which he describes as “rustic.” His parents owned and operated Papa Leone, an Italian restaurant connected to a pizza on Manhattan Beach’s main strip for more than 40 years, where he used to work as a dishwasher. The Papa Leone pie served at Lucia is cooked with vodka sauce and is based on his father’s recipe.
Mr. Carlino also has a second profession as a musician, producer, and D.J., which he goes by the moniker P.leone. He had been living and working in Berlin until the epidemic drove him to return to his hometown of Brooklyn.
He used to spend his free time creating pizza in an outside oven since he didn’t have any clubs to play in. His caramelle piccanti was born in the backyard of his house. On Avenue X, an empty restaurant space emerged out of nowhere one day. He rented it and immediately began work on a new project: a remix of an old family song.