338 Hamilton Ave.
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11231
In a Red Hook wasteland, you’ll find Pizza Moto, a pleasantly surprising pizzeria that doesn’t look like much but is currently producing some of the best pizza dough in New York.
The story behind the opening is an interesting one, according to the NY Times. David Sclarow had built his first wood-burning oven himself for the sake of feeding guests at a wedding. Then built another after the first one collapsed and started serving pies at the Brooklyn Flea back in 2008. He then went on to build a third, which was later stolen. (Tough luck!) You’d think he might have stopped there, but no. After that, Sclarow was ready to settle down and open a pizzeria at a full-time locale.
A shuttered Papa John’s was where he opted to set up shop and as Sclarow and his partner reviewed the space they discovered a large tiled oven sealed up against the back wall, dating back to the late 1800s(!). The fact that it looked like it hadn’t been used in several years didn’t deter the pizza partners. Instead, they spent two years of plumbing, welding, restoring, and even doing the electrical work themselves before they’d open what is now Pizza Moto.
I headed there mid-week for a chance to try the Neapolitan-style pizza which in photos already looked like some of the better pies in the city (think: Roberta’s and Motorino).
My boyfriend Harrison and I got there for 7 p.m. and were met with no wait. Instead, we got a nice two-top table in the window with a view of all the wood piled up to feed the oven and an open space with hipster touches including the top of pin ball machines that served as posters. (Very Brooklyn, if you ask me.)
The menu is an interesting sampling of small plates like meatball tartare, smoked swordfish brandade, fried broccoli, warm tinned sardines and guinzaglio (wide noodles with beef shank ragu). There’s also a specials board of appetizers and pizzas with expanded offerings.
Being that we were specifically there to try the pizzas, we didn’t want to overdo it on apps so we ordered a smoked trout caesar salad (which was seriously delicious and so fresh — one of the best I’ve ever had) and the pizza with bacon fat, rosemary, salt and pepper to start. This pizza was more of a flatbread focaccia and would have been a waste of carbs if the crust hadn’t been SO good. The crust was perfectly charred and incredibly crispy. It was a good introductory plate to gain an appreciation for their crust craftmanship, though not an essential dish.
We also ordered the special Boscaiola pie ($18): four cheese, sausage, mushrooms and roasted onion. The result? Perfection. The toppings complemented each other so well and were supported by the crisp crust. In fact, it was so good we ordered a third pizza because we wanted the chance to try the red sauce which reveals a lot about a pizzeria. We opted for pepperoni this time ($16).
It was only as we bit into the pepperoni pie that we found Pizza Moto’s flaw. The sauce, while very fresh and tomato-y tasting lacked luster. Where was the seasoning? Where was the robust flavor a pepperoni pizza so often has? Where’s the basil to at least add a little more flavor? The makings of a delicious pie were there in the cheese ratio and the crust which could do NO wrong, but the sauce… the sauce! Wherefore art though flavor?
Don’t get me wrong, the pepperoni was not a deal breaker. I’m already dreaming of going back for another caesar salad and the eggs in hell pizza (with tomato, bacon, chili, soft cooked egg and fresh mozzarella) which will make my breakfast dreams come true one day, but it seems the pies with red sauce are not their strong suit.
The other feature that leaves more to be desired is the service. Our waiter was nice and initially attentive when we first arrived, but when we were interested in a third pizza and more wine I had to wave my hands for him to come over. It then took 20 minutes to get another glass of wine and by then I didn’t even want it and had to send it back. To be fair, the dining room was full by then and it could have been the result of inadequate staffing, but either way, if you’re new on the pizza scene, good service should be at the top of your priority list so you get return customers.
If you’re a fan of Neapolitan pizza though, something tells me once you visit Pizza Moto you’ll be back. The crispy, charred wood-fired crust is one of the best in the city – and the restoration of the space and the oven was no small feat. Just take a look at the architectural blueprints wallpapering the entrance walls, a reminder of how much work was put into Pizza Moto, pre-opening.