Disclaimer: Pizzette is currently a Bushwick Daily advertising partner however, Pizzette did not have any editorial control over this article
Steve Sciacca, longtime Bushwick restaurateur (Mominette, Bushwick Bakery), takes his last name from the coastal Sicilian town from whence came his ancestors. But his newest venture, Pizzette in East Williamsburg, borrows from Sciacca’s Sicilian heritage something far more profound than a mere name; an entire philosophy of food is embodied by this congenial sit-down pizza restaurant.
Sciacca’s inherited culinary modus isn’t by any means baroque. Aside from invoking the triumvirate that forms its back bone (pizza, oysters, cocktails) it can be handily summarized using everyone’s favorite punk rock-derived cliche, “DIY.” But long before that particularly worn phrase entered common usage, and before it became de rigueur for ambitious chefs to boast of making everything in-house except the cockroaches, the DIY ethos was for Sciacca’s Italian ancestors a fact of life; widespread industrialization and its accompanying mass production of goods arrived in Italy much later than in, say, England and the United States. And in the cozy interior of Sciacca’s childhood home on Long Island, everything pre-industrial, everything that prized elbow grease and tradition over the crank of a can opener, was embodied by, who else, his grandmother.
“It was a classic mother-daughter house on Long Island,” explained Sciacca, straddling a bench at a long wooden communal table in Pizzette’s spacious, high-ceilinged rear room. I lived upstairs with my grandmother, and I grew up cooking with her. She made her own pizza, as a matter of fact – a lot of vegetable pies. And she didn’t really buy pre-made food; she just bought ingredients.”
Sciacca’s years spent beneath the sheltering wing of a Sicilian elder clearly weren’t in vain. Prior to rolling the dice in 2012 and becoming a New York restauranteur – an occupation to palpitate even the calm hearts of Half Dome free climbers – he made his living as a baker, first for a large commercial firm and then as the owner of his own, much smaller bakery, Sweet Dreams in Greenpoint. That bakery is no more, but carrying its flame is Bushwick Bakery, opened by Sciacca not long after Mominette. Between the bakery and making sure the dough at Pizzette (doubled proofed, organic flour) is just right, the craft isn’t likely far from his mind at any given moment.
Neither is the production of almost everything else at Pizzette, including big, velvety gobs of creamy burrata and elastic mozzarella. Asked why he felt compelled to make his own cheeses rather than source them from here or abroad, our conversation boomeranged right back to his Italian heritage, and its exaltation of simplicity.
“Pizza is a simple thing, so each element is really important,” explained Sciacca. “As a baker, of course, I took the dough very seriously. With the sauce, we use the real DOP San Marzano tomatoes.
“And then the cheese! My grandmother made everything from scratch, and I always feel that impulse, that we should never buy anything that somebody else made for us. Most places would buy their burrata, but I wanted to put my own spin on it.”
A similar stubborn determination can be described in Sciacca’s preference in locations, which tends towards the pioneering. French restaurant Mominette, opened with his partner, France native Jean-Pierre, weathered a few anxious, uncertain years in the less cuddly Bushwick of the early ‘10s. For fans of HBO’s Deadwood, think of him as the area’s Al Swearengen.
“People told us we were crazy,” remembered Sciacca. “There was a lot of drug-dealing on Knickerbocker. It was just us out there, until [popular dive bar] Three Diamond Door opened up next door a couple of months later. We were the first of the new breed of Bushwick.”
The restauranteur’s new choice of digs isn’t quite as bold an experiment in locale selection; the wildly popular Taiwanese restaurant Win Son is just a block-and-half away. But still, it’s less trodden territory than either the heart of Williamsburg or most of Bushwick, which has been radically transformed since Mominette came into improbable existence eight years ago.
Pizzette opened last summer, and became known not only for its pitch perfect pies (for a traditional vibe go for the quattro formaggi, and the duck hash pizza with gorgonzola and caramelized onions for something wholly different) but for its Monday night $1 oyster deal, available from open to close. The slick, plump bivalves are curated from both east (for the brine) and west coast (for the sweet). It remains their busiest evening, and for good reason, but deal chasers should also consider helping themselves to Pizzette’s three preparations of the under-sung clam. They come either steamed with parsley butter, white wine and garlic, or shucked and served with little else but their own brine for a dollar each. ($1 Blue Point oysters are available every night of the week.)
Meanwhile, bar manager Brit Anderson lowers inhibitions and spikes appetites with her tight, well thought-out cocktail program, which, while it includes classics like a Manhattan, margarita and Dark n’ Stormy, more prominently features her own originals. These, come to think of it, share a key trait with the restaurant’s pizzas, being a predilection towards mixing tradition with idiosyncratic twists.
Sciacca’s aforementioned duck pizza, for instance, seems fashioned in the same spirit as Anderson’s “Casa Nova,” which combines the very un-Italian mescal with Saint Germain, lime, rose syrup and violet flower. Then there’s the “New Old Fashioned,” whose inclusion of Amaro Montenegro and peach bitters in an old bar standby has its variation-on-a-classic analog in the “Red Hot Chili Pizza,” which uses marinated jalapeño and habanero peppers to light up a prototypical pie of mozzarella and San Marzano tomato sauce.
Caulking shut the Pizzette menu’s few remaining cracks and gaps is an assortment of decadent sundries rifled from a well-stuffed Italian larder. There’s house cured salumi, certified DOP taleggio and gorgonzola, carpaccios of rib eye and salmon dressed simply with red onion, cherry tomato and mixed greens, a caprese salad, and a substantive panzanella teased with blood orange and basil.
There’s also a small rogue’s gallery of pastas and gnocchi – made, where else, in-house. With the latter’s mention, the Sicilian grandson is right back in his grandmother’s warm Long Island kitchen, tugging at her apron as she rolls out dough or stirs a bubbling pot.
“This isn’t the chewy, store-bought stuff that’s made from dried potato,” asserted Sciacca sharply. “It’s a chef’s gnocchi – very tender, melt-in-your-mouth.
“Anything I can do myself, I very much try to do it. That’s the chef in me.”
All images courtesy of Pizzette
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