I hadn’t heard of Forcella, a new Neapolitan style pizzeria with two locations, one in Brooklyn and another on Bowery in Manhattan until I read this glowing report from Aaron Arizpe, aka Pocketfork. With fluid prose and moutwatering photos, Aaron made a strong case for a visit. Since I have pizza in my blood, I was compelled to try it at my earliest possible convenience and did so this past week accompanied by my sister, Elizabeth, her friend Jean and my friend, Joe. Aside from being excellent company, their presence allowed me to try a few more items than I otherwise would have been able to on my own.
Compared to the vast majority of pizzerie, the Forcella on Bowery that we went to, is a very nice sit down restaurant, nicely decorated and comfortable. Though we were there between 12:30 and 2PM on a Manhattan weekday, the place wasn’t particularly busy, indicating that it has yet to really catch on in the neighborhood or beyond. Considering that it hasn’t been open for a long time as well as the level of pizza competition in the city, that doesn’t mean a whole lot yet, other than making it that much more attractive a destination as there is essentially no wait and the service is warm and attentive.
The pizza oven is a classic Neapolitan beehive design and is loaded with a beautiful wood fire. Clearly, all the baking is done here, but there is a second kitchen in the back of the restaurant, which is where the frying gets done. This is where Forcella begins to separate itself from its competition.
While Forcella makes “La vera pizza Napolitana”, a wood-oven baked round thin crust pie with tomato sauce, mozzarella di bufala and a few leaves of basil, they are most well known for a variation that utilizes a crust that is first fried then finished with the toppings in the oven. They call this pie the “Montanara.” We figured that we might as well start at the top.When it comes to Italian (and many other genres) cooking and dining there are few people I know who are more knowledgeable and experienced than my good friend, Joe Bavuso. In this brief video he sums up his impressions of the Montanara.
The pizza is unique to my experience. I’m not sure that it is “better” or worse than a very good pizza Margherita, but it certainly is worthy of being in the same conversation, though it is more like comparing navel to blood oranges than apples to oranges. There are plenty of similarities, but also some essential differences. Foremost amongst them is that the act of frying the dough changes the whole flavor profile of the pie, even though all the ingredients are otherwise exactly the same. The crust, while crisper than one that has only seen the oven, especially towards the center, is also chewier. This is where I think people are most likely to take sides for or against this pizza compared to the one limited to the heat from the oven. As Joe, says in the video, the quality of the tomato sauce and the cheese is superb. This was also a lighter pie than we would have guessed. The frying, interestingly enough did not make the pie discernibly heavier. Like true Neapolitan pies, these are much smaller than NY style pizze and cut into four slices, though the staff is happy to cut more if asked.Next up, we went with our waiter’s recommendation for a pizza bianca, the Porta Capuana with house-made mozzarella (fior di latte), pecorino, Parma ham and arugula. The ham , arugula, pecorino and a drizzle of olive oil were placed atop the pizza only after it left the oven. This was a tasty pie, though it was difficult to divvy up the ham fairly. This pizza’s time spent in the oven was literally a flash, yet the crust had a nice char, appropriate bubbles and excellent flavor. The quality of the ingredients was excellent here as well.
I’m used to calzones having all their ingredients on the inside. The calzone at Forcella was essentially a stuffed pizza (smoked mozzarella, soppressata and ricotta inside) with tomato sauce and basil baked on top. The crust was baked beautifully with enough char to add flavor and crispness without being burnt. The smoked mozzarella hadn’t fully melted, but was still delicious along with the creamy ricotta and the piquant soppressata. This was perhaps my favorite bite of all we had.
Like an increasing number of restaurants, Forcella eschews US Coca Cola with its HFCS in favor of the Mexican product with cane sugar. As far as I’m concerned, I no longer drink either, though if I did, I would certainly prefer the old style one with cane sugar. They also serve a number of other interesting soft drinks including an Italian Aranciata, Limonata and Chinotto. As of the time we dined there, the restaurant had not yet received its liquor license, though they are actively working on its procurement.
Given that their fried pizza is known as their specialty, I didn’t want to leave without having tried a few of their fried antipasti, so I ordered an arancino, a croccheta and a stuffed fried squash blossom. The frying technique was excellent for all of them, light, crisp and greaseless. The arancino was quite tasty, though I must agree with my sister’s preference for a traditional Sicilian style arancino with the sauce elements in the center of the ball rather than mixed throughout as this was. Nevertheless, I see this as a matter of personal preference rather than the actual quality of the arancino, which was excellent. I would definitely order each of these again.By this point our initial thought of ordering a Pizza Regina to follow was derailed by each of us being too full. That and other pies will have to wait for another visit. We were, however, comped a dessert, a millefoglie with pastry cream and nutella. Simple and tasty without being too sweet this was a nice gesture that hit the spot we hadn’t realized that we still had.
Though I am not quite as enamored of Forcella as my friend Aaron, I did enjoy it very much and very much look forward to returning and trying some more of its offerings. Is it the best pizzeria in NYC? I’m not sure it is even the best Neapolitan style pizzeria in NYC, but it is good enough that it certainly belongs in the conversation. What makes Forcella particularly compelling to me, though, is the quality of their frying in addition to that of their baking. Now is a good time to go, before they get too busy and the lines start forming, which once the word spreads enough, I expect they will.