We at the Feisty Foodie have seen and sampled a bit of the artisanal pizza happenings in the city recently. So when my Brooklynite married friends decided a night of pizza and drinking in Brooklyn was in order, who was I to turn it down? And why not hit the putative birthplace of the craze?
Motorino, in Williamsburg, has a devoted following both in blogs and real life, though we still braved it, hoping for a short wait. Saturday at 6:30 is apparently only a reasonably crowded time, so a drink at the bar for the early birds was in order. I opted not to get a drink prior to getting a table, but we were seated in the cramped quarters just a few minutes after my arrival anyway, and menus were delivered quickly.
Like a lot of the pizzerias opening up, Motorino employs a wood-fired pizza oven, and if it’s anything like the other such ovens in town, this one will reach temperatures of around 900-1000 degrees — perfect for charring the underside of the crust and finishing a pizza in just a few minutes. They’re so busy, with staff milling about constantly, that I was fortunate to get one clear shot of the oven from my vantage point near the counter; that beautiful fire is usually completely obscured by staff delivering orders to the cooks and waiting to take pizzas and appetizers to their tables.
While I busied myself with the by-the-glass Montepulciano, others at the table were drinking the Thunderball — Michter’s Rye, Fentiman’s ginger beer, and ginger syrup. I declined a taste — rye whiskey is lost on me — but the wine was serviceable, and about as good as a $7 glass of wine can be expected to be. The wine list by-the-bottle is well worth perusing, as it’s kept tight and inexpensive, and the drinks list rivals any of the trendy cocktail bars that have sprouted up the past few years. Even the beer list was high-quality, but as we were heading to bars after this, I decided to try to savor a low-end Italian wine.
To start, we decided a couple plates of meatballs would do the trick, and the waitress instantly offered us a loaf of pizza bread for $3. Sure, why not?
Yeah, that was a good idea. This was essentially a whole pie, sans toppings of any sort, allowed to puff up in the oven.
When the meatballs arrived, we realized what a good choice we’d made. In addition to the three tangerine-sized meatballs per plate, all that sauce was going to need help being cleaned off that plate.
The meatballs were excellent — a blend of beef, pork and veal, the waitress told me — savory, not too dense, and complemented with a rich, sharp, slightly acidic red sauce. The tomatoes burst from this sauce; it’s just so… I dunno, vibrant? Alive? At any rate, the pillowy flatbread did it justice, and we eagerly wiped the plates clean. I think maybe, just for a moment, perhaps we wondered if we should have ordered a second red pizza just for the sauce.
We had ordered three pies for the six of us: a Margherita DOC for “control” — a baseline from which to judge a pizzeria, right? — along with both seasonals, the Cremini and the Brussels Sprouts, having heard such good things about each.
First up, the Cremini — besides the eponymous mushrooms, spicy sausage, garlic and thyme accompanied the fior di latte (mozzarella) and pecorino cheese. I’m not a fan of mushrooms, but the moans of pleasure at the table weren’t from anything but this pizza. The sausage was tasty, I will grant you, but I left this pie to the mushroom lovers.
I’d picked the Margherita DOC — “DOC” apparently designates this version as a step up from the regular Margherita, using bufala mozzarella in place of the regular mozzarella. While the cheese was irregularly placed, this was fairly good, but not Earth-shaking. The crust held up all right, but sagged way too much. As I intimated earlier, the sauce was the easy star here, and really, for the amount of basil (put on prior to going in the oven) and cheese, this would have been perfectly acceptable to me without either. Okay, I honestly would have been happy with a quart of the sauce and a loaf of Italian bread.
Obligatory upskirt. The crust was quite tasty most of the way through, with a good char and the right amount of give from the rim to halfway down the slice.
Anticipation rewarded! The fabled Brussels Sprouts pie, including chunks of smoked pancetta, garlic and the mozzarella-pecorino cheese combo.
Upskirt reveals a lighter touch from the oven, but the crust was firmer the whole slice through, probably due to the lack of red sauce.
Motorino easily saved the best for last on our evening. The sprout leaves crisped up beautifully in the oven, and the faintly smoky, rather salty pancetta worked beautifully with the pie. The pizza was topped as generously as the Cremini, which made every bite such a complex set of flavors I wanted the whole thing to myself.
In all, even with the drinking at the table, a generous tip set our evening at a total of $130 for six people. It’s trendy and tough to get into for a reason: these are seriously good pies! A lot of care goes into sourcing and preparing these, evidenced by just how good these taste. For the Brooklyn-phobes, well… it’s a block from the third L stop in Brooklyn (Graham Ave). It’s not scary. It’s not confusing. If anything, it’s just possibly going to be a bit of a wait to get a table. By the time we left, closer to 8:30pm on a Saturday, several parties were patiently waiting their turns, so be prepared, relax, have a beverage, and get ready to experience a great pizza in Williamsburg.