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Thursday, May 9, 2002

American pie

Posted on Thu, May 9, 2002 at 4:00 AM

As Carmelo Gagliano tells it, when his uncle opened his first pizza restaurant at the Brooklyn Shipyards 40 years ago "only Italian people knew what pizza was." The open-air ristorante was authentic to the traditions of Sicily, traditions that are just as important to Gagliano today as he runs his two local locations of Brooklyn Pizza.

"Authentic Brooklyn-style pizza," he calls it, "just like they made it in the '50s." As a New York boy, I can tell you that Brooklyn Pizza has it nailed. Everything here is handmade, from the ravioli to the simmered sauces – yes, plural: The sauce they use on their pizza is different from the lasagna or meat sauces. What a welcome change.

I'm enthusiastic about Brooklyn Pizza. Some purists insist that the only "real" pizza is the original style invented by the Neapolitans, with a crust more like well-done puff pastry. But the never-ending quest of ex-patriot New Yorkers like me is to find the crunchy, yeasty bread circles we were weaned on. Brooklyn Pizza's pie is just that, a thin, crisp base of dough laden with garlic and fresh cheeses – a tomatoey Siren calling us home.

While the Pershing Avenue location has been around since 1985, the new place on West Fairbanks Avenue (the former Captain Mary's Bar and Grill) in Winter Park only opened late last year. And it's tiny: six tables, two ancient video-game machines and lots of black-and-white pictures of Brooklyn. In fact, the whole place – floors, walls, curtains – is black and white. The kitchen is very visible and busy – and certainly more so than the one on Pershing, which was actually designed to hold only one person.

There are enough choices to keep even a jaded pizza-eater interested, including a classic Margherita (fresh tomato, basil and mozzarella, no sauce), an Alfredo chicken pizza, and the killer "white" pie with a layer of ricotta and acres of garlic (the varieties range from $9 to $18.50). But start out with something simple, like a vegetarian pizza, that allows the naturally sweet tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella to shine through.

Other options include the cheese ravioli, stuffed with crumbly and firm ricotta and baked with a rich sauce, which is delightful ($8.25). And the eggplant sub ($6.75) is so full of tender eggplant and roasted peppers that you'll want to linger over it.

Gagliano says he'll be adding traditional dishes from Palermo to the menu, like sausage and rapini, but don't wait. Savor the tradition now.


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