298 Atlantic Ave, Boerum Hill
4 out of 5 L's
Whether or not you’re Catholic, ordering a fully loaded veggie pizza is like doing penance. Don’t fool yourself: a classic, plain pie, topped with cheese and tomatoes, is a delicious vegetarian option. But even for the meat-averse, asking for a pile of unnecessary, moisture-leaking vegetables on top of this perfect food is a form of self-flagellation. Maybe you’re atoning for the fact you haven’t eaten salad in a week, and each bite of soggy bell pepper is an act of contrition. Maybe you feel guilty because you let your gym membership expire, and those flavorless mushrooms, weeping into a gooey crust, offer a taste of repentance. Whatever you did to deserve those slimy, bitter strips of eggplant must’ve been a pretty big sin, but it’s time to stop beating yourself up and say a little prayer of gratitude for Sottocasa, home of a vegetable pizza that could make an angel sing.
At this wood-oven Neapolitan pizzeria, sunken below the Atlantic Avenue sidewalk on the garden level of a brownstone (“Sottocasa” means “under the house”), the verdura pie is a gem. Tangy tomato sauce and creamy, stringy mozzarella top a lightly charred, chewy-yet-airy crust. Vegetables are cut into quarter-inch crescents, and these firm-to-the-bite, lightly caramelized half-moons shine with individual flavor—earthy mushrooms, sweet red onions, and savory eggplant. A scattering of fresh basil leaves and radicchio are browned to a crisp around the edges. There’s only one word for this: Hallelujah. And if the boring old veggie pie is this good, you can begin to imagine the wonderful things pizzaiolo Luca Arrigoni, an alumnus of Kesté in Greenwich Village, is doing with prosciutto, soppressata and speck. The salsiccia pizza pairs a simple tomato-mozzarella-basil pie with piney and aromatic hot Italian sausage for impeccable results.
Sottocasa’s magic happens in an Acunto oven that came pre-built and weighs over two tons. It would’ve been too heavy to drag across the restaurant’s old hardwood floors, so it was lifted over the pizzeria’s three-story building with a crane and lowered into the backyard. It’s also too heavy to reside in the building, so a little room was built around the oven, jutting into the backyard. In warmer weather, you can grab a picnic table and dine beside it. Inside, white-washed brick walls enclose a slim space with a few homey pieces, like an antique sewing machine table and a vintage high chair for little pizza-lovers. Friendly old-country servers pour from an all-Italian wine list, offer an intriguing (and pricey) array of Italian beers, and pull espressos to seal the meal.