Finding The Self-Proclaimed Inventor Of The ‘Roni Cup’ On Knickerbocker Avenue

Frank Badali had 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 and he did, at a corner pizzeria in Bensonhurst. Badali’s’ pie-making later took him to Staten Island and, following that, the great floating pie in the Hudson. But lately, Badali has returned to his home of Brooklyn, which has found him working out of a refashioned warehouse on the tip of Knickerbocker Avenue under the geographically spurious sobriquet “Original Square of Soho.”

Where in Soho did these squares comes from? Both the menu and Badali himself say directly from his former employers at the well-known Prince Street Pizza, which New York calls the city’s “current king of the square.” The pizzeria has something of a complicated history with Badali, however.

When Badali left Prince Street in 2018 to start a different 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, called Frank Badali a “copy cat” trying to “capitalize” on the popularity Prince Street 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 famous spicy, curly pepperoni slices that Badali has brought to Bushwick.

The threat of litigation had not daunted him. In fact, he says, despite receiving rapt coverage from outlets like the New York Post, the grandstanding had not amounted to so much of a lawsuit. The pizzeria did not return a request for comment.

When the lawyers had gotten involved, Badali says, litigating over sauce had proved more complicated than the framework of intellectual property law could afford. What makes a pizza is a temperament, spending years in front of ovens, not a piece of paper that covers some way of mixing things in a bowl. For this reason, perhaps, a food blog went so far as sending a writer to compare slices from both of them, determining that the crust on Badali’s own uptown slices were “bland” and lacked “character.” 

“Liquids, they always change,” Badali muses when I ask him why the feud never spilled into court. “You can just change a pinch of something and it becomes a different recipe.”

The solution proved easier than any the legal system could afford. “We just agreed to stay away from each other,” says Badali, betraying a smile.

Since then, the uptown slice shop with Sugarman didn’t pan out (“I left,” says Badali) and the other Prince Street Frank has had his own problems. Last year, a different food blogger posted about comments on Instagram sharing screencaps of racist Yelp! comments Morano and his son wrote in response to negative reviews on the site, and they have since stepped down from their spot as the public faces of the pizzeria they nonetheless own. 

Unlike them, Frank Badali can be found most days of the week as the public, pizza-making face of his latest venture, where he works in front of the bleak and still-industrial streets on Knickerbocker Avenue. So is life. A self-important food blog has yet to send over a reporter to make judgements about his crust. Instead, standing between late shift construction workers and tony traffic cops, debating crust quality feels passé.

The tiny, curly pepperoni slices that Badali claims to have invented taste like little red cities soaked in hot sauce. They fall off the plate and into your mouth with an ease that’s almost romantic. He tells me that idea first came to him because the small, bright red stars “catches the eye” and he’s correct; “Roni cups are dominating New York’s pizza scene,” reads a headline about this.

In what Badali says is a first for him, he now makes no fewer than two vegan pies: cheeseless slices filled with eggplant or heavy piles of fried, crunchy pepper and onion. For those in between, there a pie with pillows of soft white cheese, 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. The relative unpretentiousness is something of a relief in a neighborhood of relatively pretentious pizza. On weekends, they’re open till 3 a.m., where you will likely find Badali’s voice, warm and speaking in slice-like koans of wisdom.

“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 taken by Andrew Karpan.

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