Chef Gino Sorbillo is legendary, so it’s safe to say my expectations were high when I went for pizza last Sunday night. Naples’ renowned chef was recently recognized by Unesco for the art of Neapolitan pizza making — quite the honor! And just this past November chef Sorbillo opened his new pizzeria in NYC on Bowery, boasting pies made true to the Neapolitan tradition.
One immediate shocker, as I waited for friends at the bar, was the lack of espresso! “We don’t have an espresso machine,” said the bartender despairingly. “Hot tea?” I asked. “No hot water…” Apparently the restaurant isn’t expecting to get an espresso machine anytime soon, since they want to keep people moving so they can get patrons in and out during the heavy crowds.
Heavy crowds? I wondered as I sat at the bar while only two other tables were full in the entire place. But shortly after 6 p.m., the place filled up. Even the chilliest Sunday night didn’t keep patrons away and kids crowded around the wood-burning oven to watch the pies cook. Once my fiancé Harrison and our friends Richard and Grace arrived, we took a seat in the back, anticipating the meal!
We ordered some starters which proved worthy of skipping, including a meatball which wasn’t overly flavorful and some veggie dish. As for pizzas, we ordered four to share amongst the table. Three would have been enough, but for the sake of sharing and trying some fun toppings we opted for extra!
The pizzas range in price from $15-35 — a wide spread. The cheapest being the most simple Margherita made with organic flour, San Marzano tomatoes, Terre Francescane (Translation: fancy olive oil), fresh mozzarella, and basil. The most expensive menu item was the Alba pizza with black truffle and quail eggs, too fancy for my liking.
We ordered a combination of savory, spicy, and cheesy, settling on the Nduja (a recommendation from the staff), the Margherita con Bufala (Bufala mozzarella being my biggest weakness in life), the Porto Cervo (with pecorino, ricotta cheese and honey), and lastly a Margherita con Salame Picante (a souped up pepperoni pizza).
The ingredients struck us all as incredibly fresh, but hands down, the most distinctive attribute of these pies was the dough. True to Neapolitan form, the dough was so thinly pressed (yes, pressed not rolled! This is key to Neapolitan pizza making) that any thinner and it would have ripped. Shockingly, it didn’t get soggy with the addition of the tomato sauce. It held up quite well except at the very middle of the pies, which are known to be “wet” in the Italian tradition. This is because there’s generally more sauce than cheese on the pie, and the way the dough is made it should come out of the oven stretchy and chewy with a crisp outer crust and moist interior.
Serious Eats describes it well:
The best Neapolitan pies should have a thin, thin layer of crispness to the crust, followed by an interior that is moist, poofy, and cloud-like with good, stretchy chew, and plenty of flavor. Even browning is not what you’re looking for. Rather, you want a leopard-spotted look, with many small dark spots surrounded by paler dough. True Neapolitan pies are not stiff—you can’t pick them up as a slice—a fork and knife are perfectly acceptable utensils.
And the last part of the sentence is key! A fork and knife may be necessary. Richard even noted this as he ate one of the pizzas, “What do you do about the middle?” And funny enough, maybe because we are all so used to New York-style pizza, we all attempted to pick up our slices and eat them, even if it required two hands.
In the end, I enjoyed the pies and it seemed the table did overall. The standout was actually the pie with the most simple ingredients which let the dough standout as the star that it is. The Nduja had a nice kick, but isn’t worth getting unless you are a big fan of Nduja since it has a unique taste that takes some getting used to.
The biggest question in the end if you’re debating whether Sorbillo is worth a visit is what type of pizza lover are you? If you love Neapolitan pies, then this place is worth trying, but keep your order simple and expect a wait if you go during peak dinner hours.
Even compared to some other New York Neapolitan joints like Luzzo’s, my personal favorite, this place isn’t quite up to speed just yet, but give it some time and it may improve.
As for me? I’ll always appreciate a fresh Neapolitan pizza and the thinness of the crust, but my heart remains true to NYC pizza. New Yorkers just seem to do it better. Sorry, Sorbillo.
Until next time… peace, love, and pizza dough <3!