Elana and I are always a sucker for a Neapolitan Pizzeria. These days, New York (and even New Jersey now) has no shortage of them, but Zero Otto Nove on 2357 Arthur Ave in the Bronx was one of the trend setters in this regard. Before the Keste's and Motorino's of the world set up shop, Zero Otto Nove was churning out quality pizza in true Napoletana style (or is it? more on this in a minute); the original owner is from the nearby coastal town of Salerno, Italy. (089 is the area code). Now, Zero Otto Nove has popped up more accessibly in Manhattan - in the Flatiron District on 21st street - but there's nothing like the original, right? Elana, Mom, and I head inside for a taste.
The interrior of 089 is hardly dull. There are two areas of the restaurant; the front, which includes a white marbled bar with Peroni on tap and dueling flat screen TV's showing your favorite Serie A soccer team, and the back, which is made to look like a run down, small piazza somewhere in Italy, complete with political posters, graffiti, and skylights to really intensify that "I'm sitting in an open city street" feeling. It's quite gimmicky to be honest, with an almost Vegas-ish failed attempt at making you to think you're outside, but it's also fun and forgivable. Attaching both areas is a long, narrow walkway made to look like a centuries old alleyway.
Zero Otto Nove starts us off with rolled, fresh, bakery bread, as well as some moist focaccia (seen at the top), which, despite the group's previous visit to Madonia Brothers Bakery merely moments ago, gets entirely wiped out. Carb counting, like mercy, is for the weak.
Our pizzas, which we see being made from our nearby table, arrive hot and without much of a wait. I ordered their Margherita pie, which is solid. I mentioned earlier that 089 makes pies Napoletana style, which is a tad inaccurate. Our waiter was quick to point out that they actually make Salerno style pies, which differ ever so slightly from a Neapolitan pie, the former being a touch dryer and flatter than the latter (notice the more charred, flatter crust in the below picture).
The distinction is recognizable however, as the overall consistency of the pie lacks the floppy and fluffy traits of a typical Naples Pie. This is not necessarily good, or bad. It's just my observation. Besides, any type of pizza can excel when furnished with requisite care and skill. The ingredients in this case are high quality - the sauce has a San Marzano sweetness to it, and the mozzarella - which hails from around the corner at Casa Della Mozzarella - is delicately melted, with some noticeable tang to its taste. Well done. But the pizza's dough does not do wonders for me. I found it to be a touch dry and bland, while being fully cognizant of its Salerno style intentions.
Although its Salerno influences did lend itself to a slightly stiffer pie by Neapolitan standards, Zero Otto Nove's consistency was still delightfully floppy towards the center, as evidenced by the wonderful action shot from above. (Nice work, Elana)
Elana's La Vincenzo pizza was a tasty son of a gun, perhaps owing to an (over) abundance of cheese and oil. It featured blue cheese which, while recognizable, was a bit overwhelmed by its mozz, and we could have used another grape tomato or five, but all in all, an above average pie.
Mom's Caprese Pizza (above) was a solid effort on salad-meets-pizza construction, with ample amounts of arugula on top. This pie was superior to the Vincenzo as it delivered a consistent balance between cheese, tomatoes and greens.
As is John and Elana tradition, we checked out the bathrooms as well:
Elana offered the following: "The bathroom was a roomy single-person accommodation with a vibrant aqua color theme. The turquoise tiles on the floor were supplemented by some complementary patterned tiles on the walls. I actually liked the pattern, but it was a little incongruous with the dining room decor which leaned heavily on brown and rustic red tones. The dining room was Tuscany while the bathroom was Amalfi Coast. Follow? I thought so. Regardless, no door should be that grade school blue color."
Ultimately, we were all pleased with our Zero Otto Nove experience. It makes a high quality brick oven pizza, in a festive atmosphere with an attentive wait staff. But just where does it rank on our soon-to-be-released list of the best Neapolitan pizzas in NYC? Stay tuned to find out.
Overall Experience - Top Gun