Best Pizza in Williamsburg embodies the spirit of a true New York slice joint; the shop’s also a perfect marriage of contemporary Brooklyn culture and quality fast food. When Frank Pinello opened four years ago, he aimed to provide the neighborhood with a grab-and-go place where people could pop in, snag a beer and slice, and be on their way in five minutes.
Pinello follows old-world pizzaiola traditions from Napoli, though he’s not afraid to experiment with new ideas for his dough, and he’s committed to using local ingredients whenever possible (or weed when Action Bronson stops by). We decided to spend a day with Pinello and take a closer look at the Best Pizza operation.
Here, the Brooklyn pie-slinger takes us through his typical day—from starting the oven fire in the morning, to fermenting the dough—and gives us some insight into the inner workings of an NYC pizzeria.
How do you start your day?
I light the fire, then I sweep the front of the shop—just to make sure there are no cigarette butts and trash. There’s usually a lot of cigarette butts before I sweep.
Let’s talk breakfast.
I usually have a coffee from Oslo. I take my coffee regular. In NYC you take your coffee ‘regular,’ which means it has a little bit of sugar and milk. And sometimes I’ll have a bran muffin. Never more than that.
Is humidity something you have to think about everyday?
Absolutely. The humidity and weather affect pizza more than anything else in terms of the day to day. We gauge what the weather is like, and what the atmosphere is like, and that’ll determine the temperature of the water we use for our dough. So if it’s cold outside, we will use a room-temp water for the dough. And if it’s warm out, we’ll use cold water.
The humidity and weather affect pizza more than anything else.
What do you do to get the ovens ready?
First thing in the morning, we light the oven logs. We push the logs back to the center of the oven, then we wait a couple hours. That is why the staff comes in so early, at 9am, even though we don’t open until noon. Once the roof of the oven is white hot, We move the logs over the side and let everything chill out and calm down. And then we are ready to start making pizzas.
How much dough do you make each day?
We make about four batches of dough a day. We have a routine where we start the fermentation process in the middle of the day. That way, we are always a day ahead. The fermentation takes at least 24 hours.
How many pies do you make on a typical day?
Probably around 200 pies a day.
Do you taste the dough each day?
Yes, it’s really important for us to taste everything every day. We taste the sauces, we taste a slice, we taste the pickles—just to make sure everything stays the same and nothing changes.
What is the history of slice places, and what’s the value in this type of pizza experience?
Well, for me, a pizzeria has always been a place you walk in and grab a slice of pizza, as opposed to somewhere where you sit down, and a waitress comes and serves you. For me, the latter was never a pizzeria. At Best Pizza, you can sit down if you want and have a whole pie, or you can come in and grab a slice in three minutes and be on your way. Then you can be on the train eating your slice.
For me, a pizzeria has always been a place you walk in and grab a slice of pizza.
That’s key in New York, but there aren’t too many places that offer great food in a grab-and-go setting.
For sure. Aside from a couple other people doing quick service in a mom-n-pop type of way, there aren’t that many high-quality fast-food options. You have Chipotle, which is larger in scale, but we’re small scale. We feel what we are doing is unique and good for the community and everyone who is involved. We use ingredients that are local and make sense, and we’re using those ingredients to put out the best product possible at a not-very-expensive price.
I know you use non-traditional flours for your dough. What inspired that?
I had an interesting conversation with Chipotle founder Steve Ells about flour. He asked me what flour we used, and I told him Caputo, and he said, “Well that sucks.” He told me Caputo is bleached, white flour which has no nutritional value. And he was completely right. All we have been doing in this country is using dead wheat. We’re using the starchy part of the wheat, so it doesn’t have much flavor and there’s no nutritional value. I started reading Dan Barber’s book, The Third Plate, which goes into wheat and why it’s not only important to use other grains, but also to develop a way to use wheat that makes more sense. Barber talks about using the whole grain instead of using the starchy part of the endosperm.
What we are offering here is what the pizza nerd wants—that 00 flour dough, cooked in a wood-fired oven, with an acidic tomato sauce and homemade mozzarella.
Have you received any blowback from purists for moving away from traditional pizza ingredients?
Not really. Because what we are offering here is what the pizza nerd wants—that 00 flour dough, cooked in a wood-fired oven, with an acidic tomato sauce and homemade mozzarella. I haven’t experienced any backlash yet, but maybe we will.
Another thing is, if we hit the nail on the head with a wheat flour or something that makes sense or is nutritional, or it’s coming from New York, I am not scared to totally flip the switch. If it’ll benefit what we are doing, and benefit the community as a whole, I’m into it.
What about the pizza shop makes it feel like home to you?
The thing is, I like to work. But ultimately, I like being home, in Brooklyn.
The shop is definitely fun, and doesn’t have a stiff feeling to it.
Yeah, that’s the idea, to have a neighborhood place that goes along with my personality, and our generation’s personality. But the idea is also not to think about it too much. We’re serving a serious type of food, but in a laid-back environment.