Seated by owner Giorgio Voglino at the bar, we took off our heavy coats welcoming the heat coming from an open oven in the back corner. A new pizza place called Union Pizza Works opened on 423 Troutman Street, right next to The Rookery this past Thursday. The neighborhood wouldn’t stop talking about the delicious pizza and tiramisu, and so we stepped in sooner rather than later to see – or should I say to taste – what was going on.
The pizza oven in the back emanates pleasant warmth.
One of the owners, Giorgio told us right at the door that the place is not quite ready but they so wanted to open!
The pizza guy was sick so another owner, Leonardo, took over creating some incredible pizza right in front of our eyes…
The converted warehouse space of Union Pizza Works is simple yet warmly welcoming. A candle on each table and Italian nonchalance are pleasantly distinct, despite the place “not being ready at all,” as we learned from Giorgio. “We didn’t do any social media, PR…But we really wanted to open finally!” Giorgio smiled. We enjoyed his energy as a restauranteur and his Italian genuineness (he is from Milan). “The pizza guy got sick, so Leonardo is improvising making pizza,” he gesticulated and talked loudly. The second of the owners, Leonardo, a smiling and welcoming guy, was hyper-focused on sending his pizza babies into the corner oven.
The menu, handwritten on a chalkboard, is not final; yet it’s simple and pretty perfect already. It includes three types of pizza, focaccino, two desserts and a couple of salads and pastas. The choices aren’t numerous but each is a winner. Giorgio told us that they have been waiting for a liquor license for five months now, eventually deciding to open without it and embrace the BYOB character of the place for the time being.
And then the pizza arrived. Salame Piccante and Pizza con Cipolle made my head spin a little, and suddenly I felt like I went back in time….
Growing up in Central Europe, my family would spend summer vacations in Italy. My parents would load a truck of our old Peugeot with beach umbrellas and instant soups, and take off on what seemed to be an endless road trip. Hours into the car ride, just when the sun went down, we stopped in the middle of nowhere, greeting the Italian countryside for dinner. The humble village pizzeria didn’t have any other guests than us (it was too early to dine for Italian schedule). We were seated in the backyard at a white-clothed table, and we impatiently ordered pizza. The warm wind was blowing; the crickets were singing loudly. The pizza arrived directly from the hands of the restaurant owner. He wouldn’t stop talking as he served our meal. And then I took a bite. Delicious taste took over my body and mind. So simple yet gracious – tomato sauce, mozzarella, prosciutto – I’ve never tasted anything so perfect…
I almost forgot about that special something made of simplicity and perfection. It’s like the world in a bite. It’s like the Italian countryside honesty in a bite. It’s like childhood nostalgia in a bite. It’s a pizza with a soul. And it’s safe to claim that, indeed, Union Pizza Works makes pizza with a soul.
Despite a different kind of a concept, comparison with Roberta’s Pizza seems inevitable. I asked Giorgio about his opinion of the Bushwick signature restaurant. “Their pizza is very good. But I’m hoping that if you can’t spend two hours waiting in line, you’ll come here,” he smiled.
Next comes dessert or dolci if you want. Tiramisu is competing for our attention with chocolate mousse. Now who is going to win this sweet but cruel match?
Our food and drink editor, Frances Gill, couldn’t stop raving about the tiramisu so we had to try it! The dessert menu offers tiramisu and a chocolate mousse. Giorgio treated us to both, giving us an option to compare and maybe even pick a winner. Light whisked cream can be compared to food meditation or to being fed a sweet, gentle cloud on a spoon. For me personally, it was more than a close match but the chocolate mousse would have to be the winner.
Union workers rejoice for free pizza! Or not…
The title and symbolism of the neighborhood’s newest pizza addition may spark some curiosity. What does the name “Union Pizza Works” imply? Are the owners union worker supporters who will feed them free pizza? “No,” said Giorgio. Apparently, the title doesn’t mean anything. Both Giorgio and Leonardo visited a place in San Francisco called Union Pizza Works, liked the name and decided to adopt it. Interesting.
And then the idea of a compass came in and they decided to utilize it as well.
Guys, we apologize for incorrectly stating the history of the Union Pizza Works name… The owners sent us the following explanation:
The name was inspired by industrial plants and warehouses with titles such as Union Iron Works, Union Machine Works, and the like. Fewer exist these days, but there is a building in Oakland, California’s Jack London Square, which used to be a machine plant established in the 1880s titled “Union Machine Works”. The factory is no longer in operation, but the old brick building still stands with its original painted sign. The signage is particularly appealing with the compass and as Leonardo has a background in engineering and technical drawings, he is fond of tools of the trade. But beyond the sighting of this signage, the name ‘Union Pizza Works’ is their creation and stays true to the nature of Bushwick and the space Giorgio and Leonardo chose for their restaurant. It refers to a union of people, united for good food, and good pizza, commonly thought of as a food for the people – without pretense and accessible to all. There is a mentality in creating a restaurant for everyone, in a neighborhood that is populated by laborers, workmen and women, and the strong connection to craftsmanship and an artisanal approach to every detail, from the food to the design of the space. While the compass has a multitude of symbolic and technical references, at its core it makes circles and what is a pizza’s essential shape? It all works together and nothing was chosen out of mere imitation nor without meaning.
It’s a baby friendly restaurant but families already know that!
While we enjoyed our dinner, before the deep food coma hit, we couldn’t help but noticed several kiddies pleasurably biting on their slices as well. During our dinner we saw at least three tables happily occupied by young families with kids. I mean we love kids but it’s fairly unusual to see a restaurant in Bushwick filled with young families. “How do they know about this place?” I was wondering to myself. “Is there a Bushwick baby blog that I don’t know about? ” (Guys, seriously. If there is a Bushwick baby blog, please leave a link in the comment section.)
We didn’t have to wait for the answer for long. Giorgio is himself a father of two young kids, and some of the families in the restaurant were his friends. I assume that these friends with kids attracted other friends with kids, and the next thing they knew, they had a cool, baby-friendly restaurant! This led me to realize the obvious! How very influential the owners of bars and restaurants are for the crowd that hangs out in their establishment! Whether they’re conscious of it or not, take a look at the owners. Do you like them? If so, chances are you’ll love the restaurant as well.
What can I say…we love Giorgio and Leonardo!