Frank Badali has been making pizza for quite some time. According to the man himself, he had gotten into the line of work at the age of 14, when his father told him that he better go find a job. He did, at a corner pizzeria in Bensonhurst.
His pie-making later took him to Staten Island and, following that, the great floating pie in the Hudson (also known as Manhattan). But lately, Badali has been working out of a refashioned warehouse on the tip of Knickerbocker Avenue under the geographically spurious sobriquet “Original Square of Soho.”
Where in Soho was Badali’s square first? The fliers and – Badali himself – say right on Prince Street, at Prince Street Pizza, a pizzeria that New York calls the city’s “current king of the square.”
Adamant followers of those squares might recognize Badali’s name. When the Italian American pie impresario left Prince Street in 2018 to start another pizzeria further north in Manhattan with White Horse Tavern-owner Eytan Sugarman, accusations of theft followed. At the time, a spokesperson for Prince Street’s owner, Frank Morano, billed Frank Badali a “copy cat” trying to “capitalize” on the raves that Prince Street had accrued in the decade since it had taken the literal place of the city’s original Ray’s Pizza, itself the subject of a three-way pizza war in the late ‘80s. (The “war of the Rays,” as the Times called it.)
“That was my recipe,” Badali tells me. “After nine years, we couldn’t get along anymore.”
The threats of litigation had not daunted him. In fact, he says, despite the rapt coverage they received, the grandstanding from his similarly forenamed rival had not amounted to so much of a lawsuit. When the lawyers had gotten involved, litigating over sauce had proved more complicated than the framework of intellectual property law could afford. What makes a pizza is a temperament, the collection of years in front of ovens, not a piece of paper and a way of mixing things in a bowl.
“Liquids, they always change,” Badali muses. “You can just change a pinch of something and it becomes a different recipe.”
The solution, he says, proved easier than any the legal system could afford. With a smile, Badali says: “We just agreed to stay away from each other.”
Since then, the deal with Sugarman didn’t pan out either (“I left,” says Badali) and the other Frank has had his own set of problems. Last year, a food blogger published an exposé on Instagram of racist Yelp! comments Morano and his son issued in response to negative reviews on the site, and they stepped down from their spot as the public faces of the pizzeria they own.
Whether or not the pies Badali has been minting after leaving Prince Street are of the same quality has also been a subject of some dispute, with Eater going to the lengths of hiring a blogger to taste both of them and determine that they are not, finding in 2019 that the crust on Badali’s uptown slices were “bland” and lacked “character.”
But on chilly nights on the bleak, still-industrial streets of Knickerbocker Avenue, debating crust quality feels passé. The tiny, curly pepperoni slices that Badali purportedly invented are vivid like little red cities soaked in hot sauce. The discs fall off the plate and into your mouth with an ease that’s almost romantic. The idea first came to him, he says, because the small bright red stars “catches the eye” and he’s correct; in Manhattan, the slices gained currency as Instagram gold.
In what Badali says is a first for the pie-making lifer, there are no fewer than two vegan options: cheeseless slices filled instead with enormous cuts of eggplant or thick, heavy cuts of onion and pepper that crunch with verve. Elsewhere on the menu are slices loaded with a soft cheese that’s largely irresistible when drizzled with hot honey.
“It’s an up and coming area,” Badali says about the move to Bushwick, where he hopes to stay and is nursing plans of expanding operations to include rebooting his pizza truck and situating it outside Brooklyn Mirage. His voice is warm and sounds like pizza: confident, straightforward, and every phrase fits on a plate.
In a neighborhood dominated by brick oven-baked pies that require sitting down and looking through a menu of colorful names, the Original Square brings with it the banner of an unpretentious slice shop with an unfussiness made for late nights: on weekends, they’re open till 3 a.m.
“I will stay permanently,” he declares. “I will make sure that I will make it work.”
The Original Square of Soho is located at 2 Knickerbocker Avenue. Catch it on Instagram.
All photos: Andrew Karpan
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