Folks off of the Kosciusko Avenue stop on the J train now have a sit-down pizzeria! Longtime friends and owners Pietro Hebel, Giovanni Gelfini, and Clement Chabernaud present Santa Panza, a warmly lit wood-fired pizzeria on the Bushwick-Bed-stuy Border.
Located at 1079 Broadway Avenue, between Dodworth and Lawton streets, the pizzeria occupies the space that briefly used to be Jubilee Cafe.
Hebel explains that Santa Panza’s location is intentionally far from other dine-in pizzerias in Bushwick: that he wanted Santa Panza to be situated in a part of the neighborhood without a pizza spot every couple of blocks. “We found this location, which is 20 minutes away from Saraghina, 25 from Union Pizza Works … so we kind of found the perfect center in here,” elaborates Hebel.
Owners Gelfini and Hebel have ten years of experience working in the restaurant industry, and each play an integral role in the daily operations of Santa Panza.
the background and ambience
French-born Hebel and Italian-born Gelfini met each other six years ago shortly after they’d arrived in Brooklyn. Until this last year, they worked together, at both Bushwick’s Union Pizza Works and Bed-Stuy’s Saraghina Bakery and Restaurant.
Santa Panza is a project totaling two years in the making, and Gelfini tells Bushwick Daily that after a decade working as employees, it was time to have something to call their own. “We love working in this industry, but we would love to do it according to our own rules, and using the values which are ours.”
The interior of Santa Panza features an open design. Patron’s eyes are drawn past the connected bar and kitchen and into a seating area that also houses the wood-fired pizza oven; when Bushwick Daily stopped by, pizzaiola Andrew was the chef working in front of the blaze.
“We wanted this perspective that would lead to the flame of the pizza oven,” elaborates Hebel.
Because the pizza oven weighs 7,000 pounds, bringing it in required tearing up and subsequently replacing some of the spot’s flooring.
The pizzeria’s open design that positions the chef near with the bartender and the patrons, so that when, in the near future, Santa Panza also includes a tapas bar, “I can show my customer my little things of today,” smiles Gelfini.
Geographical maps cover the walls of the dining area, most of which were part of Hebel’s personal collection from Parisian flea markets. “For a long time, those were sitting above my bed in my bedroom, but when I opened up the restaurant, I wanted them to be here and thought it would be better to share them,” explains Hebel.
A long wooden table at the center of the main dining area in the back was a gift from a friend upstate, and the other, smaller wooden tables and chairs came to the eatery from Bushwick’s short-lived, recently closed European-style cafe Italo’s.
The open design of Santa Panza elevates the establishment’s customer service by making the place feel very familial; that affability, combined with the space’s high ceilings and warm lighting, is relaxing enough that diners will find themselves casting around for reasons to stay through dessert.
—By the way, definitely order dessert. Gelfini serves an incredible chocolate that looks like salami.
Gelfini, who takes pride in his Italian culinary sensibilities, explains that in order to make great pizza, it’s all about going simple:
“In Italy, the important thing is the material … from there, don’t work too much on it,” says Gelfini.
Much of the produce is local: Gelfini sources ingredients from the market in Union Square, Whole Foods, and an upstate farm.
“The burrata ($12) is from upstate New York, because otherwise it’s from Italy and it’s frozen,” he says; he keeps his menu seasonally appropriate.
Pies come in both six and 12-inch sizes: the smaller pies are great for families, Gelfini explains.
“A big pizza seems too big of an investment for them [kids], so we give them a small pizza and the parents are very happy,” smiles Gelfini.
One outstanding dish on the current menu is the white pizza with mozzarella and ricotta, which is topped with butternut squash, wood fired endives, and red radicchio ($9 for a small, $16 for a large).
I have to admit, I’d never considered butternut squash a pizza topping before, but Gelfini’s masterful pairing of the squash and ricotta make this pie serve double duty as an elegant dish and a comfort food.
The night’s special salad ($9) combined poached pears, gorgonzola cheese, spinach, raddicchio, and walnuts and was a serious delight. The salty gorgonzola combined with the natural sweetness of the poached pear make the dish intensely flavorful.
Hebel has been shaking an assortment of house cocktails. For the time being, the drinks are a variation on the negroni, made with classic gin, mezcal, and rye whiskey ($11) and a classic spritz ($10).
I tried his signature mezcal negroni, and will say that if you enjoy a smokey scotch such as Laguvulin like I do, you will surely see yourself to the bottom of your glass.
Though Santa Panza is a great place to wine and dine, there is beer, too, including drafts of Stella Artois ($6) and Firestone IPA ($7), as well as a few bottles and cans.
Wines starts at $6 a glass. The Di Majo Ramitello Norante ($11), which hails from a winery in Molise, Italy, a dry red, compliments a night’s meal quite nicely.
For now, Santa Panza is open Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 p.m.-11:30, but in the future, management will extend the hours to incldue to lunch and brunch service— and yes, in the coming weeks, they will start delivering. Come Spring, they’ll be offering patio seating.
Definitely set aside a night soon to dine at Santa Panza, Bushwick!
A wood-fired pizzeria with a brick oven.
1079 Broadway Avenue between Lawton and Dodworth streets, (off of the Kosciusko Street stop on the J train), Brooklyn, NY, 11221
Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 p.m.-11:30