Let's talk about heat for a moment. The heat of a wood burning pizza oven to be specific.
A wood burning pizza oven should range in temperature anywhere from 900-1000 degrees. Some ovens have a floor temperature of 700 and a dome temperature of 1000. In these extreme heats, pizzas cook in under two minutes. This allows the crust to char, or blacken, giving it a crispy outer crust, while the inside remains moist and chewey.
900-1000 degrees. This was roughly the outside temperature last Sunday when I traveled to Bed-Stuy to visit my friend Sarah. Coincidentally, I was also cooked in under 2 minutes.
While my outer crust was a bit sweatier than the typical Neapolitan...I was coming close to achieving that soupy quality, also characteristic of the center of a Neapolitan pie.
What's a girl to do in these conditions? As the old saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Accordingly, we went out for pizza.
Sarah mentioned there was a Neapolitan pizzeria in her neighborhood. She had never been. So we checked the website and some reviews from her apartment before we departed.
"There are complaints on this review site...they say the pizza in soupy on the inside," she read to me from her computer.
"Let's go," I said with some urgency (abandoning a mostly-drank bottle of rosé), "I just got an enthusiastic tingle!"
And so we ventured out into the figurative pizza oven and walked to Saraghina to get some pies from their literal one.
The vibe of Saraghina is one part Whistle Stop Cafe and one part Venice Beach (think Abbot Kinney Blvd.) indoor/outdoor eatery. Distressed country tables, mix-matched sinks and crawling ivy (actually, I think some of the crawlers were grapes) populated the relaxed, enclosed outdoor porch. The inside housed a coffee bar with mesh dome-encased pastry stands and long, wooden tables for diners. In spite of the heat, we chose to sit outside, under the protection of some giant umbrellas.
I was heartily encouraged by the menu's pizza offerings. I was also partial to the stamped graph paper design.
I selected the Bufala which is essentially a Margherita pie with buffalo mozzarella. In my opinion, the buffalo mozz is dairy gold. That slightly sour taste (are buffalo sour creatures by nature?) accents the sweet-tanginess of the San Marzano tomatoes perfectly.
Sarah chose the Ortolana, which offered grilled veggies like eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini.
I was even more encouraged (verging on giddy) at the arrival of my pie. Take a moment, look at it. Take it aaaalllll in. Can you smell the basil? I could. The crust was spotted with char in just the right proportion—too much seems burned, too little is indicative of a low-heat oven. It needs to be just right. But the crust remained puffy, which boded well for interior cheweyness.
Healthy blobs of mozz swirled around some slightly green olive oil. And as they approached the center of the pie, they mingles with the tomato chunks even more to create that soupy, mushy wonderfulness....turning everything, slightly....pink. Did you know pink is the color of good pizza? Just in the middle, that is.
Here's a close-up:
Look at it run! That runniness means you get to rip off pieces of your puffy crust and dip away into that goo, making everything moist, chewey, crispy and MESSY.
Eating pizza is the digestive version of creating art via finger paint. You have to get all in it. Use your hands and your fork. Whatever works. Pull things apart. Sweep them across your plate, creating pizza tracks on your dish. Go all in.
This pizza was a piece of finger painting heaven. I tore my eyes away from its beauty for a moment and looked Sarah in the eye, "This is the best pizza I've ever had...outside of Naples." She just stared at me. "I'm serious," I continued, and then launched into a diatribe of positive characteristics that she pleasantly tolerated. Then she urged me to try her Ortolana:
I admit to being skeptical of the Ortolana for a variety of reasons. I've often been dissappointed by Neapolitan pizzeria's other offerings. And by "other", I mean other than Margherita. It seems that they sometimes just don't deliver on the taste front. Also, I was so into my Bufala, that I could hardly tear myself away.
But the Ortolana was worth the diversion. The chunky cuts of veggie were perfectly cooked and flavorful, giving them the taste equivalent consistency of a perfectly toasted marshmallow. You could sink your teeth into these veggies.
After our meal, we wandered up to the espresso/dessert bar to get some items to go. We both ordered iced coffees, which they made Americano style. They were superbly strong and refreshing. I then selected a strawberry crumble cake from one of the mesh-encased domes.
I ate this on my walk back to the A train, as I couldn't wait. The moist, yellow cake cozily snuggled giant fresh strawberries, some of which were nicely toasted. I gobbled it down at an alarming pace before I even walked a block.
I never thought I would find such quality Neapolitan pie in Bed-Stuy. I never thought I would eat so many carbohydrates when it was so hot outside. And I never thought I would say the following:
This is my favorite Neapolitan pie that I have yet eaten in the grand state of New York.
435 Halsey Street, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn 11233