Haters gotta hate, but the pizza just keeps on coming. Some of my friends, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, go into a slow burn when another pizzeria opens in town. They sneer as they predict its imminent demise in an overloaded market. There are too many of them, they gripe. It just doesn’t make good business sense, they judge.
I have heard no such whining about Butchertown Pizza Hall. Never is heard a discouraging word – this new spot has already vaulted into the top tier of local pie – and the pizza keeps coming all day, and far into the night.
We’ve been in to Chef Allan Rosenberg’s new venue three times already, and for this pizzaphile, those visits won’t be the last. I’ve never seen it when it isn’t jammed with happy, hungry folks – a well-leavened mix of neighbors, hipsters, visitors, and workers on lunch break from the JBS Swift plant just down the street.
Speaking of the venue, it’s located in the building that Hall’s Cafeteria occupied for some 60 years; the sturdy red-brick floor remains from the prior tenant, but pretty much everything else has been cleared away. What remains, in the main front room, is a large space with beige walls, a couple of big-screen TVs tuned to sports and news; loosely regimented rows of wood-look tables and sturdy wood-and-metal chairs. We’ve found the air conditioning is usually cranked down to levels that might have preserved the Antarctic ice shelf, so dress accordingly. A cozy and inviting bar, under a galaxy of tiny lights, offers a mix of cheap and artisanal beers and a short but interesting liquor list.
Ordering at the counter is simple and casual, but it may take a while, as substantial variety confronts you with a lot of decisions. The $6.99 lunch special features a slice plus two toppings, two tasty garlic “knots” and a fountain drink, and then you’ve got 45 toppings to choose from.
Recognizing that good pizza in the Italian tradition is not about a casserole piled on top of forgettable dough but a one-dish treat that pays proper homage to bread, excellent tomato sauce in moderation, and appetizing toppings, Butchertown Pizza Hall treats your taste buds with pizza that’s more than just a snack.
If you were a fan of Rosenberg’s Papalino’s pizza, you’ll recognize the New York style of his pies – roughly formed yeasty, flavorful crust with puffy, browned edges that resemble good Italian bread, topped but not smothered with a variety of toppings sourced from local and regional farmers and artisan producers.
Build-your-own pizza is $13 plus $3 per topping for a 14-inch medium slice, $17 plus $4 per topping for an 18-inch large slice, and $13 for a hefty calzone with 3 toppings, $2 each if you wish to stuff it with more. Ten signature pizzas with gourmet toppings come in 14- or 18-inch sizes and range in price from $22 to $30.
We’ve eaten our way through several slices, a whole pie and a calzone, and haven’t been disappointed. A sausage slice (pictured above) was generously topped with fine-chopped, tender and light, scented with that delicIous not-quite-licorice scent of fennel seed that sings out, “Kiss me, I’m Italian.” An artichoke-and-spinach slice delightfully blended these simpatico veggie flavors with just enough sauce and cheese. A beautiful calzone ($13) stuffed with tangy tomato sauce and molten mozzarella plus my choice of roasted red peppers and caramelized onions was pure bliss.
A 14-inch spinach-and-artichoke pie was so impressive with its savory mix of oven-roasted tomatoes, house-prepped artichoke hearts and a whipped blend of sweet mascarpone, creamy ricotta, fresh mozzarella and funky Romano cheeses that we didn’t immediately notice that it came out without the spinach. Management immediately offered an entire new pizza, a gracious offer that I turned down since we were already full.
Options other than pizza abound. Brick-oven-baked hoagies served on artisan 8-inch buns are $9 or $10. Jumbo chicken wings come in a half-dozen sauced-and-tossed combos in three sizes, from $7.50 for a half-dozen to $29 for 25.
An oven-baked meatball hoagie ($9) made us happy. A light-textured, tender meatball had been cut into thin slices, held together with abundant melted mozzarella, a dab of tomato sauce and a schmear of garlic aioli, loaded into a bun that was topped with cornmeal and garlic and painted with oil.
Salads are $4 for a small plate, $7.50 to $8.50 for a dinner-size salad. Extra garlic knots – savory, with roasted garlic, or sweet, with cinnamon – are $1.50 for two, $4 for six or $7 for a dozen.
Oven-baked s’mores are $4; cannoli are $3 each. A shattering-crisp, dark-golden-brown cannoli filled with rich cream studded with tiny chocolate chips took me right back to Italian bakeries in Queens.
Pricing is more than fair: A pizza dinner was $26.77 plus a $6 tip; lunch special for two was $15.88 plus $5 tip, and a hoagie and calzone lunch plus a cannoli was $25.64 and a $6 tip.
Butchertown Pizza Hall
1301 Story Ave.
Robin Garr’s rating: 90 points