NY TIMES: Keeping the Paper Plates Spinning

MOST garlic knots let you down. After one or two salty, satisfying bites, you’re left to chew on the increasingly impenetrable thing like a masticating cow. It’s a snack food for suckers and optimists, anybody with a Charlie Brown-like faith that maybe Lucy Van Pelt won’t pull away the football, that this time it might be great.

The garlic knots ($3 for six) at Best Pizza in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, deliver on that hope. Baked in a century-old brick oven, they arrive charred on top and creamy inside, more gougère than repurposed crust. There are no tricks, just good technique: dough that rises all day; a drizzle of garlic oil after the knots come out of the oven; a dusting of shaved pecorino; chopped parsley, because that’s what you do. The knots are served on a flimsy paper plate with pickled vegetables (fennel, mostly) because Best Pizza is a slice joint, where $3 will feed you, and $15 will pay for a feast.

A team venture between Brooklyn Star and Roberta’s (it’s in the old Brooklyn Star space), the restaurant (and its wood-burning oven) have been entrusted to Frank Pinello, a 28-year-old from Bensonhurst. He is a Culinary Institute of America graduate who prefers “pizza man” to “pizzaiolo.”

Mr. Pinello has made pizza at Pulino’s Bar & Pizzeria and at a slice joint in Poughkeepsie. He brings some of both to Best Pizza.

Slices start at $3, toppings at 25 cents (at $1, the most expensive is pepperoni from Salumeria Biellese), and $3.50 gets a piece of white pie made with impeccable ingredients: mozzarella made in-house, fresh ricotta, pecorino, caramelized onions and a sprinkle of sesame seeds on the crust that Mr. Pinello said is a tribute to his Sicilian heritage.

A 20-inch white pie ($21) has a crust that can handle being boxed up and delivered. It’s not a bad option: Best Pizza can feel hectic at night when the kitchen is busy. During the day, it’s more pleasant, especially when sunlight fills the eating area and locals who remember when John Lindsay switched parties stand at the counter and make conversation.

The menu is scribbled on white paper plates tacked to the wall; sodas ($1.50) are self-serve from a deli fridge. Budweiser draft ($4 a pint, $13 a pitcher) is sold on the honor system — the tap is out in the dining area, under a piece of masking tape that says, “NO WEEEEZING THE JUICE.”

There is no sense of salesmanship. You have to scan to find the paper plates that list the chicken parm ($9) and meatball sub ($9).

These days, the meatball sub has the bigger following. A Pat LaFrieda blend of short rib and brisket mixed with garlic, bread crumbs, pecorino and ricotta, the meatballs are blasted in the oven. Served on a singed bâtard from the wood-burning oven at Roberta’s with marinara and aged provolone, it’s a fine sandwich.

But the chicken parm belongs in the same lofty category as the garlic knots. Brined thigh meat is dredged in flour and fried to order, then assembled in much the same way as the meatball sub. The difference is the cheese (the chicken parm gets house-made mozzarella) as well as the garnish (the meatballs are topped with parsley; the chicken, a single basil leaf). It’s a sloppier sandwich. Which is what elevates it: the oil from the chicken soaks into the bread with the sauce so that it becomes a gooey, crispy, meaty mess held together by the charred crust.

There’s no easy way to eat it. Not that it should stop you.

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