Pie in the Sky

Written by Linnea Covington on . Posted in Eat & Drink, Posts.

I PROBABLY NEVER WOULD have made the trek to Chris Iacono’s Giuseppina’s if it wasn’t the sister pizza parlor to the popular Lucali in Carroll Gardens, which is owned by Iacono’s own flesh-and-blood, brother Mark. With a generic awning, the short, dark building didn’t look like much, but I quickly found out that what’s inside warranted every moment it took to get there.

Thanks to bad directions on my first visit, I was 20 minutes late joining my friends at the table, a simple wood job that matched the heavy interior and was decorated with your pizza parlor basics: red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and a pizza tray stand. A friendly waitress with a thick Brooklyn accent and a bright smile brought me water and a glass of the Pinot Noir ($6), which was the only red offered by the glass. (The single white is a $6 glass of a crisp Pinot Grigio.) They didn’t bother to tell us who made it, and that was fine given the limited options. It tasted first-rate and later proved a perfect match for our pie.

Giuseppina’s doesn’t have an extensive menu of food or wine. Scribbled on a dark chalkboard, the short list consists of pizza ($20) and calzones ($10 for a small, $20 for a large). No desserts, appetizers or salads are offered, and the only veggies you get are pizza toppings at $3 each.

Despite the limited choices, we still had a hard time deciding what to get because everything sounded good—and also because if you made your way toward the bathroom, you had to pass the pizza workstation. Here, Iacono mans the pizza counter surrounded by bowls of fresh buffalo mozzarella, piles of perfect-looking mushrooms, a dish of carefully placed artichoke hearts and a bright stack of red, orange and yellow peppers. Everything looked so bright and tasty; we wanted to put it all on our pie.

We finally decided on a pizza dotted with the night’s special, artichoke hearts, as well as basil and garlic. We also got a pie with pepperoni and mushrooms, and splurged for a calzone with more pepperoni, basil and hot peppers. While Iacono expertly stretched out the dough and coated it with a smoky, sweet tomato sauce, piles of dry mozzarella, discs of thick meal and thin slices of Portobello, the restaurant quickly filled up. By 8:30, every table was full with families and young, hungry folks eager for dinner.

And then our food came. It was beautiful.

The large pies had thin, supple crusts with crackly, slightly charred edges that surrounded a perfect balance of cheese, sauce and toppings. I loved the kick of the garlic and basil mixed with the sweet, bright artichoke hearts. The cheese was mellow and fresh, not too oily, but gooey enough to warrant using a fork. Our pepperoni-and-mushroom pie fared just as well, though the smoky meat was the real star, trumping the other toppings. When we got the calzone, I delighted in the oozing ricotta that seeped out and mingled brilliantly with the salty pepperoni and hot, diced peppers—a winning combination everyone agreed on. It’s probably possible to make a bad order at Giuseppina’s, but you would really have to try.

The pizza wasn’t the only part of the experience we were impressed by. The staff demonstrated a sound flow as one woman manned the tables, a teenage boy kept glasses filled with water and Iacono held court over his oven and kept a steady stream of food going.

It’s safe to say that when it comes to Giuseppina’s, I once was lost but now am definitely found. 


691 6th Ave. (at 20th St.) Brooklyn, 718-499-5052.

Pie in the Sky

Written by Shani R. Friedman on . Posted in Eat & Drink, Posts.

Toby’s Public House

686 6th Ave.

(at 21st St.), Brooklyn


Each time a pizza place opens people ask, “Do we really need more pie makers?” And each time we wonder what the new gimmick is gonna be (ultra-traditional-state-of-the-art wood-burning oven?) and, even if it’s good, will it really measure up to beloved classics like Di Fara’s, Lombardi’s or John’s? But that doesn’t seem to keep folks from trying. And now Sunset Park recently entered the competitive fray with a new brick-oven joint, Toby’s Public House.

Where The Hell Is Sunset Park?: Once you figure that out—it’s the Prospect Avenue stop on the M/R in Brooklyn—just know that unless you live in the area, you and your MetroCard will get a workout. When you get off the train, there’s a scenic walk through a desolate, industrial stretch, the only sign of life being a lush cemetery. But as you round the corner onto more residential 6th Avenue, savory salvation is ahead.

Start Your Ovens: Anyone who slavishly supported Di Fara’s last year—even during their health code violation imbroglio—will understand why I’m not easily impressed by upstarts. Since the pies at Toby’s are on the small side, my friend Joe and I thought we should share and try a couple. The first out of the oven was the Napoletana ($15), which featured anchovies, black olives and capers. The ingredients were heaven. Unfortunately, the angels were stingy with the toppings, with most concentrated around the center. Joe, a former pizza artisan, also thought the overly thin crust resulted in it being burnt around the edges. The beers, though, were a good complement to the saltiness, and we liked the sauce, which was not overly sweet.

Round Two Smackdown: Joe was still hungry, so a second pie was definitely needed. Round two was the Primavera ($14), and there was no comparison. The liberally scattered fresh toppings included black olives, artichokes, arugula, red onions and mozzarella. It looked and smelled fantastic, and it tasted even more amazing. (This is from a person who normally would sooner starve than eat artichokes.) There was a subtle but discernible balance between the featured flavors, and because the pie didn’t suffer any charring, the tanginess of the tomato sauce really popped.

Something Sweet: There are just a handful of desserts, but the contrasting creaminess of the generous bowl of chocolate gelato ($6) hit the spot.

All in the Nabe: The coziness and simplicity of the space create an immediate neighborhood feeling, with a diverse crowd that ranges from infants to the senior set. It’s small but not cramped, with a brick wall interior and windows that open onto the quiet street to bring in a balmy breeze on warm nights. The friendly staff will accommodate you if you want to sample from different beers like Toby’s Cheap ($3/pint) or the Coney Island Lager ($5) before making your pick. Forego a table and linger at the bar for happy hour from 10 p.m.-midnight to watch one of three flat-screen televisions and chat up the Iggy Pop look-alike bartender.

Pie in the Sky

Written by Armond White on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.

My Blueberry Nights

Directed by Wong Kar-wai

In My Blueberry Nights, Wong Kar-wai’s first American-set, English-

language film—and his first feature shot on video—the Hong Kong filmmaker has achieved a ravishing, triple triumph.

Following Elizabeth (Norah Jones), a New York single woman, as she travels across the continent to distract her broken heart, Wong uses the American context the same way he used Buenos Aires in Happy Together and the future in 2046: The setting reflects a state of dislocation. Strange as it is to see exoticism projected from an outsider, My Blueberry Nights actually takes place in that universal consciousness known as romanticism.

Before embarking upon uncharted territory, Elizabeth befriends an East Village café owner, Jeremy (Jude Law), and they bond sensitively. Jeremy holds apartment keys for customers who break up with their lovers (“or else those doors would be closed forever,” he sympathizes) and he consoles Elizabeth with blueberry pie—the way a Sinatra-era bartender would offer a drink. Inspired by Jeremy’s benevolence, Elizabeth humbles herself working as a waitress in the Southwest where she observes different love troubles: an alcoholic cop (David Strathairn) drowning his heartache over his still-enticing ex-wife (Rachel Weisz); then there’s a flirtatious young gambler (Natalie Portman) who can’t make up her mind about men. (She tells one competitor: “I can’t tell what’s worse, that cute smile or your shirt.”)

Each of these love stories is like a two-character playlet, but Wong blends them kaleidoscopically. He finds a symbol or image that conveys wonder, sensuality, ecstacy—whether the lava-like sludge of pie a la mode, or scenes of Edward Hopper–like ennui made iridescent. Wong’s intoxicating images have been called absurd because a vision this intense and unabashed risks offending the insecurities of some dull-witted people. But to ask for more is to misunderstand what Wong does.

Wong first won acclaim in the 1990s for highly formal exercises Chungking Express and Ashes of Time—philosophical abstracts that contained love stories (’60s Godard a la mode). But since then he has mastered his own poetry. My Blueberry Nights isn’t frivolous; it’s pure romantic sensibility. Wong was inspired to cast singer Norah Jones because her art is also serenely sensuous and authentic. Plus, she’s Texan, which fits Elizabeth’s travels; her sophisticated Southern twang seems the essence of American romance.

Jones’ placid, biracial beauty helps clarify Wong’s feeling for women. A close-up of Jones’ lips stretching into a smile as she sleeps—a dreaming smile—is one of the cinema’s great sensuous icons. This uncanny gift for erotic empathy isn’t just an example of Asian exoticism—it’s also the way Wong presents Weisz and Portman. Neither actress has been so convincing and alluring as they are here. Weisz’s Sue Lynne, tormented by her ex-husband’s neediness, recalls Marilyn Monroe’s sexual quandary in Bus Stop. Portman’s Leslie recklessly challenges fate like Jeanne Moreau’s gambler in Bay of Angels. Even Strathairn’s lovesick Arnie is a good ol’ boy version of Pierrot le Fou. It’s Strathairn’s most affecting characterization. If you don’t know anyone like his Arnie, it’s probably you.

Wong is sincere about these film-based myths; they help Elizabeth reflect on her own unsettled feelings. Cinematic archetypes give Wong the vocabulary to explore romance. In this, his one true peer is Alan Rudolph, whose masterpieces Choose Me (1984) and Equinox (1993) are the only movies comparable to My Blueberry Nights’ unique mix of pop music and lush cinema.

What possessed the Cannes Film Festival correspondents whose reports last year ridiculed My Blueberry Nights! (It’s a thousand times superior to Cannes prizewinner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.) Now we can see for ourselves that it’s a splendid movie—the essence of what makes Wong special. It’s Wong’s most tactile film—almost as if he’s found a new medium. Working in video with cinematographer Darius Khondji, Wong sharpens his usual ideas and images and emotions. Sensations result.