Washingtonians, maybe because we have no culinary identity of our own, are quick to embrace the signature foods from other places. Witness the almost-instant cult status of Taylor Gourmet and its Philly-style hoagies, or the blogger blabberfest over ChiDogO's and its Windy City links topped with that neon salad.
Perhaps that also explains my fascination with the new Brooklyn's Pizzeria in Bethesda. In a region obsessed with Neapolitan pies, Brooklyn's instead channels New York, as if under orders from Mayor Bloomberg's office. Small brick storefront. Sidewalk access. Floppy, foldable pizzas. By the slice, too.
The owner is Mark Kazemi, who clearly identifies with his nickname, Marco, over his Iranian surname. Brooklyn's isn't Kazemi's first stab at Italian food: He owned the small Cafe Roma chain in suburban Maryland before selling his final location in 2008.
Like Roma's, Brooklyn's menu wanders all over, skipping from healthful offerings such as wraps and salads (the garden, $4.99, was a pile of pale veggies) to belly busters such as lasagna (a short stack of layered al dente noodles lounging in a mild red sauce, $9.99) and stromboli (a deformed football of dough, $6.99, stuffed irresistibly with sausage, meatballs and other goodies).
But when you have a name like Brooklyn's Pizzeria, you'd better deliver the pie. To be honest, I'm puzzled by what defines New York pizza. Is it a flat, foldable street-ready slice smothered in processed mozzarella? Or is it the crisp, coal-smoked round from Lombardi's dotted with fresh mozz? The former is perfectly decent street food; the latter is a Class A narcotic.
Brooklyn's slices lean toward street food, bready triangles topped with Kazemi's sweet, fresh-crushed tomato sauce and smothered in shredded mozzarella. They survive the takeout box. If you're a fan of the cheese slice ($1.99), I'd advise against folding it, which has the unfortunate effect of creating a chewy cheese wad. The mildly spicy pepperoni and the flavor-packed sausage pies ($9.99 for a 14-inch cheese; $11.99 for a 16-inch cheese; toppings additional) are far more satisfying, even on the all-important morning-after reheat.
Kazemi himself hesitates calling his creation genuine New York pizza. The problem is his oven, a conveyor, which can't provide the crisp bottom that a more traditional deck oven can. But what could he do? His deck doesn't fit in the Bethesda location, though he is working to revamp the space. He is also looking at a location in Silver Spring. Even better things, in other words, might lie ahead as Kazemi builds his next Italian empire.
- Tim Carman (Good to Go, January 26, 2011)