I can't help but feel I'm in the establishing shot of a Woody Allen movie. We're sipping the house red as Louis Armstrong's frog- throated rendition of "La Vie en Rose" plays over the stereo. The crowd is straight from central casting: bespectacled intellectuals, groups of women in black dresses, men in tracksuits with necks like fire hydrants. I'm sitting across from two sisters, neither named Hannah, who are dissecting their recent break-ups while a third friend, also newly single, pours herself a fresh glass.
The place is Giuseppina's, cousin to Carroll Gardens' Lucali, one of the most revered (and crowded) pizza places in New York. To say owner Mark Iacono has some serious Brooklyn cred is an understatement; the longtime local was recently stabbed in an altercation with a man with mob ties, allegedly over a woman (he is currently recovering in the hospital). His newest spot sits in a neighborhood that some would call Sunset Park, others Windsor Terrace and still others South Slope. The pizza here is really, really good. In the center of the dining room sits a gas- and wood-burning brick oven, its flames licking out every few seconds as men in white T-shirts rapidly scoop out hot pies on wooden paddles.
If you've been to Lucali, you have an idea of what the pizza is like. Its crust is thin yet firm, bending gently under globs of fresh mozzarella. Here, customers pick whatever toppings they want in whatever combination they fancy. Twenty bucks gets you a large pizza, with each topping costing $3, not a bad deal considering the quality of the pies and the restaurant's great deals on alcohol. (Our bottle of wine? Only $18.)
Basil and garlic are free; take advantage of it. The green basil leaves brighten up every slice they're on, providing a crisp, fragrant foil to toppings like the imported pepperoni and hot peppers. Flecks of garlic complement soft, fleshy artichokes to perfection. The sauce, homemade from San Marzano tomatoes, is sprightly with a natural sweetness.
The theater is perfect. Mellow Frank Sinatra tracks, jazz standards and cheesy Italian sing-alongs play as cooks work in the open kitchen, consisting simply of a thick, marble counter around the hulking oven, providing an entertaining spectacle of people rolling dough and making fresh ricotta for the calzones. Hopefully you like calzones, because they're the only thing besides pizza on the tiny menu, which they post on a blackboard on the wall. The rest of the place looks just like a New York pizzeria should, all exposed brick, pressed-tin ceilings and hardwood floors.
Unfortunately, Giuseppina has imported something else from Lucali—its massive popularity. Leave your number and walk across the street for a drink. Trust me, it's worth the wait.