Going to Lucali is a pain in the ass. The 30-seat spot in Carroll Gardens doesn’t take reservations, and hours before opening, a line already stretches from the velvet rope guarding the door to some brownstone’s stoop around the corner. That’s just to put your name on the list. After that, you might have to wait one, two, or five hours before your phone rings and you’re told to arrive in the next ten minutes. So why should you put up with all of this?
Because Lucali makes the best pizza in New York City.
The light, blistered crust on its own will make you feel the type of emotional connection your ex said you weren’t capable of. It’s thin and chewy, but holds its shape under layers of velvety tomato sauce and three types of cheese. And yet it’s the piles of fresh basil that put the pizza here over the top. The mounds of bright green leaves are so aromatic that the scent hits you even when there isn’t any on a slice. Lucali is pizza’s apex, a culinary equivalent of Federer in 2006, dinosaurs before the meteor, or interpersonal skills before social media. The only other thing on the menu is the calzone. And coming to Lucali and not ordering one to go along with your pie is like watching Parasite and not reading the subtitles.
There’s plenty of other very good pizza in New York City that doesn’t require both leaving work early and going to sleep late. But only Lucali feels like a holdover from old-school south Brooklyn - even if it opened in 2006. Dough is rolled out with wine bottles, the owner’s white, drop-top Impala is usually parked out front, and old-looking boxing gloves hang under an even older-looking tin ceiling. Once you embrace the brusque servers and their one-bottle-per-table BYOB policy, you’ll appreciate Lucali’s complete lack of interest in indulging you in any way. It wouldn’t fly if you could find pizza this good anywhere else. The thing is - you can’t.
There are only two things on the menu - a pizza and a calzone - and you absolutely need to order both. Here are the components that make them special.
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Paul, John, and George were all great solo artists, but everyone knows what happens when they join forces - they form Lucali’s pizza crust. It’s equal parts light and crispy, fluffy and chewy, and thin and flop-less - it’s the best we’ve ever seen. The dough isn’t stretched as thin for the calzones, but like adding Ringo songs to a Beatles album, it doesn’t really change anything. It’s phenomenal either way.
Even better than the rich, salty combination of three cheeses on the pizza - buffalo mozzarella, low-moisture mozzarella, and shaved Grana Padano - is the consistency, which is like cream that went to school to become burrata but dropped out halfway through. The cheese in the calzone is a dense blend of ricotta and mozzarella, but it stretches just as much. Just know that it’s very heavy, so share a small if you’re with one or two others, or a large if your group is bigger than that.
The Tomato Sauce
If Lucali put its tomato sauce in a bigger bowl and served it with a spoon, you’d find yourself crossing rivers just to eat soup. It comes with the calzone, but you should also order it with your pizza so you can dunk the crust. Or drink it from the bowl.
The massive bunches of basil on every pie is a Lucali signature, and it’s not just for show. The freshness helps cut through the cheese, and there’s so much of it that when a new pie arrives at the table, smells of charring dough and crisping pepperoni are replaced by greens you’ll want to turn into an exfoliating face mask.
There are seven available toppings for the pizzas and calzones. Garlic, mushrooms, shallots, onions, sweet peppers, hot peppers, and pepperoni. The thin slices of oily pepperoni go well with the hot peppers, but the basil and tomato sauce are so good that we usually don’t add anything besides garlic. We especially recommend keeping it simple if it’s your first time here.