I've been a regular at the Brooklyn location of Forcella for a little while now, so at last night's opening of the Manhattan flagship, I was friggin' thrilled. I think it's going to become something really special. Here's my story about why, and if you'd like to see some photos, I've got those, too: http://pocketfork.com/usa/forcella/
He looks like a jazz trumpeter, or maybe a saxophonist. The hair extending down from his chin is more thick stalactite than goatee. He’s lanky, with thick-rimmed, square-edged glasses, and he sports a type of hat that I can’t identify and certainly couldn’t wear.
Giulio Adriani makes pizza.
But right now he is making a face suggesting confusion, even concern. Why have I ordered so much, he asks? Why do I always order so much?
I make a feeble excuse that just as there are by-the-slice pizzerias, there are by-the-slice pizza eaters — but I am not one. And if my proclivity toward excess once had me in Naples eating whole pies (at least) twice a day, every day, for a week, then it stands to reason that I should order two or three at a time if I’ve had to trek to Brooklyn. Go hard or go home, I figure.
There’s also the more embarrassing excuse of the shopaholic blaming the inventory… You see, fried pizza used to be something one only found in Naples, or in beautiful dreams. I put on a staggering thirty pounds the first time I went to Italy and encountered such healthy snacks. And I’m poised to do the same now that Giulio has brought this one to New York at a place (well, two) by the name of Forcella.
The classic form of pizza fritta looks like a calzone cross-bred with a beignet. Both bubbly and porous, it emerges from the deep-fryer and it glistens. To bite through the crust is to recall Rice Krispies — it’s got snap, crackle, dare I say even pop. Probably the most typical variety — filled with tomato, smoked mozzarella, ricotta and salame — is what I have here. The smoky cheese adds necessary depth to a specimen that never sees the inside of the wood-burning oven. The salame is coarsely chopped and toothsome. Overall, the thing’s got heft but it doesn’t feel heavy.
At Forcella, there’s also the montanara, which occupies a category all its own — savory but almost sweet, fried but also baked, the love child of pizza margherita and funnel cake. Giulio fries a smallish round of dough first, punching down the center so the edges puff up but the center stays so thin as to be nearly translucent. While still warm, he spreads it with tomato sauce and dots it with mozzarella. It’s baked for slightly less time than a typical Neapolitan pizza — which is to say, not very long at all. Then I observe a moment of silence — sweet, gluttonous silence. During fried pizza consumption I am not to be disturbed.
At this point I could be a tease and stop my story right there. For me to assert that the montanara is the single best thing to order at Forcella (probably the single best Neapolitan pizzeria I’ve ever been to outside of Naples) could save you further reading. But to not tell you about the regular pizza would be more than negligent on my part. It would be borderline criminal.
Now, pizza napoletana happens to be my favorite food. And if eating more than my fair share of it all around the world has taught me anything, it’s that technique and ingredients count in equal measure in its preparation. All the “artisanal” ingredients in the world can’t guide inexperienced hands in crafting a proper crust, and no amount of pizzaiolo know-how can cover up rubbery mozzarella or insipid tomatoes. At Forcella, I’ve eaten most of the twenty or so pies you’ll find on the menu. I’ve yet to have found a flub.
The crust, properly salted and perfectly tasty on its own, has all the textural variation I could want. It’s crisp on the edges and pliant throughout, charred but not incinerated, with the occasional air pocket but enough density that it’s not floppy. Adriani’s mozzarella, which he makes fresh every single day, is exceptional — its salinity a conduit, not a cover-up, for the dairy flavor. The tomato sauce pokes at flavors both sweet and tart, and the token leaf or two of basil hints at a balancing bitterness. Together, they make the margherita. Together, they are all I could ever want or need in life.
But I wasn’t lying when I said I’ve tried the other stuff, too. I’ve gotten the requisite marinara, with the welcome addition of fresh cherry tomatoes and the welcome subtraction of overzealously applied oregano. Here there’s just enough. There’s also enough prosciutto crudo on the prosciutto-and-arugula pie that you’ll get some in every bite; enough prosciutto cotto on a pie called the Vomero that its sweetness is kept in check (it’s also got corn, mozzarella, cream, and ricotta, and it’s lovely). The margherita regina does no wrong, but why bother with buffalo mozzarella when Giulio’s cow milk mozzarella is so superb? I’ve had pies with mushrooms, pesto, figs, salame and zucchini flowers, not necessarily all together but all good. The pizza alla carbonara, too, is wonderful — eggy and rich and oh-so-pork-fatty just like the Roman pasta preparation.
They probably wouldn’t do that one in Naples. Nor would they, as I have been known to do, take a pizza as a refreshing palate cleanser before dessert. But the Fuorigrotta — a white pie piled with lemon, arugula, and pecorino — functions perfectly as such. There’s likely been more fried stuff before that healthy greenery, of course… a crispy disc of dough topped with lardo and chilies, maybe a potato croquette or a rice ball filled with molten mozzarella. And then it’s time for sweets, which means it’s time for Nutella — slathered around the inside of an otherwise naked crust like hummus in a pita, or drizzled over little nubs of fried pizza crust Giulio calls angioletti (“little angels”).
After this, it’s time for me to pay the same tab that the adjacent family of four has racked up. Hell, it’s time for me to get a life. I sent my friend a text message earlier this evening. It consisted of just three letters — “BAM”. I was not at the Brooklyn Art Museum. Nor was I channeling Emeril Lagasse. I was just a little excited, because tonight, the flagship location of Forcella had its grand opening party. Giulio said, “Let there be fried pizza in Manhattan,” and there was fried pizza. And Giulio saw the fried pizza. And it was good.
334 Bowery, New York, NY 10012