I’ve devoted a large part of my life in search of great pizza. I don’t go around joking, or lightly declaring a “new greatest” pizza. But, I recently had a private tour with Jack, the pizzaiolo at the new South Brooklyn Pizzeria on First Avenue near 7th street, and folks, there’s a new greatest pizza in town.
South Brooklyn’s owner, Jim McGown, is renowned for his unabashedly maverick approach to pizza-making. But the pizzaiolo he chose to run his Manhattan location, Jacomo “Jack” Ruli, has experience. Jack said that he had been a customer at the Brooklyn location, that he’d become friends with McGown, and that he had agreed to open the new location for Jim. Jack is the real McCoy, a 65-year old Southern Italian who emigrated to the US in 1970 and lives for making pizza.
There were flashes of, dare-I-say-it, Jack as a younger Dom DeMarco. There he was tossing garlic knots he’d just made in a big metal mixing bowl, using the edge of his spatula to lop off bottle caps from the bottles of San Pellegrino, and dicing rosemary and basil like some mad Neapolitan scientist. When he wasn’t making garlic knots he roasted garlic and prepped what he called “real” Sicilian pizza: chopped cherry tomatoes, onions, and anchovies underneath the sauce and cheese. He worked at the counter until 7pm, when the Mexican pizzaiolos took over.
Though Jack traded Bari for the States in 1970, he still speaks with a heavy Italian accent. He confirmed my long-held opinion that bufala mozzarella is not for making pizza, “Salads, pasta, yes. Pizza, no.”
While the dough for the Sicilian was rising, I scarfed down three slices alternating topping them with the roast garlic and hot cherry peppers kept in the porcelain condiment bowls on the counter.
The Margherita is perfection. The mozzarella is sliced into thin ovoids to match the shape of the pizza, which is also dotted with cubes of Fontina. The sauce is neither too sweet nor too acidic. When it comes out of the conventional gas oven, the upskirt has a slight char, and the pie is showered generously with olive oil, basil and grated Pecorino.
Clockwise from top: Sicilian Slice, Sicilian and Margherita upskirts.
There was a traditional Sicilian pie that was already spoken for. Sensing my disappointment, Jack said “I’ll make you a Sicilian like you’ve never had before.” He covered the rectangular, now-risen dough with onions, diced anchovies, and cherry tomatoes. The Sicilian was indeed unlike anything I’d ever had— otherworldly— the essence of Palermo on a plate.