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Jan 24, 2008 05:21 PM

Lucali: Good, not Great Pizza

So I schlepped over to Carroll Gardens to have pizza with a friend at Lucali. This is a place that has gotten a lot of hype for having incredible pizza. Its main chef apparently studied Di Fara fastidiously before trying to imitate him in the artisan style -- Mark makes each pizza himself. And his devotion shows: he personally asked us whether we had enjoyed our pizza at the end of the night.

And it was good pizza. This is a thin-crust pizza, with the crust charred and crunchy. I personally enjoyed the crust quite a bit. The sauce, though, I found to be a little dim in flavor: not that it didn't have flavor, but it was a touch too sour for me. The cheese was decent but didn't have the addictive quality that the cheese, at, say, Grimaldi's has.

The restaurant itself is warmed by beautiful incadescent lamps and candles, and the service is friendly, though the wait was long -- 45 minutes. This was good pizza, but not as tasty to my palate as many others in New York (e.g. Di Fara's, Grimaldi's, or Patsy's).

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  1. NEWSFLASH: Grimaldi's uses extremely average commercial grade cheese (and consistently undercooks it). It is low level tourist food. How you can make the comparisan is beyond me.

    16 Replies
    1. re: NYJewboy

      We quite liked Lucali's pizza and the place is very nice - especially the crust which has a balance which reminded us of the pizza crust in Naples, but despite the high quality of the ingredients the sauce and flavors werent quite strong and rich enough - maybe its all those raw vegetables that do not cook quite enough in the quick heat of the pizza oven - Dom's still got them beat, totally on the flavor front what with all his mellow sauce, precooking, oil and extra cheese dose..Franny's too in a lighter way. But we will be back to Lucali's Grimaldis - its persistently disappointing.

      1. re: jen kalb

        I like lucali's a lot but agree about the toppings. i think most of them are better sauteed first, as Dom does it. (tho in italy things like mushrooms are usually not sauteed first, but just thrown on raw, as Lucali's does it.)

        For me, the best pies to order at Lucali's are the plain or garlic, or a meat (peperoni, sausage) pie if they have them, which they don't always.

        Not as good as Dom's, but i'm happy to have it in the neighborhood.

        1. re: missmasala

          Dom definitely tops Lucali's in every regard, but that doesn't mean any comparison between Lucali's and Grimaldi's should be made. That's just being mean. The cheese mix at Lucali's is definitely much better than Grimaldi's which uses the same standard mix as virtually any pizzeria. I never order toppings (aside from garlic) so I can't really judge in that regard. Lucali's has a solid pie though.

          1. re: JFores

            lucalis is just not good.....people dont know pizza around here

      2. re: NYJewboy

        Sorry NYJ, but you're just plain wrong about Grimaldi's. A knee-jerk contrarian point-of-view like this one is at least as tiresome as the mindless praise of the masses.

        NEWSFLASH! Grimaldi's is better than 99% of the pizza in NYC, which means that it's better than 99.999% of the pizza in the world.

        Sure I'd rather have DiFara's or UPN -- but those aren't always convenient options (to say the least in the case of DiFara's), in which case take-out from Grimaldi's can be perfectly gratifying.

        I would never eat there -- b/c of the tourist factor and long lines, not to mention crappy beverage options and complete lack of ambience -- but it's definitely not "low level" food.

        Cheese certainly isn't anything special but the other toppings are actually pretty good, particularly olives, pepperoni, and sausage (which is what I always order).

        On the undercooking front, I've certainly seen/heard various people kvetch about this on Chowhound and elsewhere, but I've never experienced it personally. (sample size of ~10-12 takeout orders per year, last ten years.)

        1. re: Jack Barber

          Yes, Grimaldi's is better than the crap that is commonly seld as pizza, but that doesn't make it good food. Most pizza is horrible. I did love Grimaldi's when Patsy ran it, but since then many things have gone way downhill. To assuage the assumption that my comment on Grinaldi's is a knee-jerk contrarian point-of-view, I offer a series of points.
          1. Their dough is generic commercial grade stuff and has no interesting qualities (like DiFara's or Lucali's)
          2. Their sauce is almost straight out of the can tomato, which is not redeemed by the pathetic weak basil content
          3. Their basil has little taste anyway
          4. Their cheese is ditto (generic commercial grade stuff) w/o any interesting attributes
          5. They don't seem to pay much attention to the pies, thus they come out 'unloved' (undercooked or lopsided)
          Call me to task on my points, but you can't say that this is just reactionary. Too many others have reported the same things (over and over again).

          1. re: NYJewboy

            I would disagree. I would say that over several years of reading this board, it's not many others who report the same thing, i.e. a negative opinion of Grimaldi's, but a minority few who feel compelled to post their same spiel over and over at the mere mention of the word "pizza" on this board. Ok, we get it, it's gone downhill, it's no good, blah, blah, blah...

            That being said, I made it to Lucali's for the first time recently and found the pizza to be quite tasty with it's nice char to the crust. Kept toppings to a minimum, which sounds like it turned out to be a good strategy from other posts. I also thought the calzone (w/ pepperoni) was the real winner. Thing was massive. We had a group of 10 (we got there when it opened), consumed plenty of BYOB wine, and combined with the great service, charming surroundings, and miniscule bill, it certainly made for a great meal.

          2. re: Jack Barber

            If you've been eating there for the past ten years than you must know about the plummeting quality.

            1. re: JFores

              I think it's a little overblown on this board, frankly. (The plummeting quality at Grimaldi's that is.) I don't have any particular argument with NYJ's specific criticisms, and I think it's fine that you and he don't like Grimaldi's pizza.

              Everyone's entitled to their opinions, and I think we can all agree that Grimaldi's isn't a particlarly interesting subject for discussion at this point. I wouldn't have said a word if NYJ was more civil in expressing his point of view to the OP.

              1. re: Jack Barber

                I would be less annoyed if A. it wasn't a tourist mecca (not that I want a single more person in Di Fara....) B. They knew how to use their brick oven C. I wasn't able to compare a before and after of their pizza. If it always sucked, I would be more OK with that, rather than it magically becoming undercooked to the point that you sometimes get soupy half watery patches where the water from the mozzarella never even evaporated.

              2. re: JFores

                NYJewboy is correct. Patsy used to purchase his products from the corona heights pork store. After an argument with them at some point in the late 90's, he stopped and the pizza started slipping. It is now a shadow of what it once was and not very good.

                1. re: josh L

                  Thanks for the history lesson, josh.

                  Grimaldi's pizza is perfectly good. (The toppings in my experience aren't a problem, particularly the pork products, and I've never had the soupy water patch issue.) Not as great as DiFara's or perhaps 5 or so other places in the city but better than any other pizza around.

                  Fine if you don't like it -- don't go -- but the simple fact of the matter is that it's not as you say "not very good." It's not transcendent by any means, but it's pretty good pizza. If people want to post about it god bless them. Let it alone.

                  1. re: Jack Barber

                    The point is to attack the hype, and set it right on this public forum. It is one of the things I love about Chowhound.

                    Also, I have had pies from Grimaldi's that wouldn't even qualify as 'good'. Why settle when 'great' is so close?

                    1. re: NYJewboy

                      Once again, there are some normal American slice places (1-2) that beat Grimaldi's by a long shot and which I would always choose (and always take guests to) then Grimaldi's.

                    2. re: Jack Barber

                      anytime jack. sounds like you are not familiar with the chps. what they did best was the fresh mozzarella, it was new york's best and did wonders for patsy's pizza. the lackluster cheese they use today does not even come close.

                      1. re: Jack Barber

                        This is not good food. Whether or not its better than most corner pizza is a different question. If you live in Dumbo or northern Brooklyn Heights eating there isn't a bad idea, but traveling any distance at all for this food is really silly. The people who run the restaurant are not Italian and the crass commercial aspect of the restaurant is pretty obvious.

              3. I'm from Long Island, went to visit friends in Brooklyn last night and we went here for dinner. I thought the pizza was amazing. We had a half veggie and half pepporini, and we had a large calzone. The calzone was good, but i though the pizza was spectacular. The crust was perfect, crispy, but still bendable and just a little chewy. The cheese was great, the sauce i thought was a nice complement to the rest of the pie. The toppings were very good, but i tried to get my taste buds to concentrate on the crust,cheese and sauce.

                I've never been to Grimaldi's in Brooklyn, but we do have one in Long island for about 3-4 years now nad its just ok tasting. We also have a Patsy's now, which is just plain awful. and a place called Massa's which is somehow another decendent of that family and its even worse.
                I grew up in Queens,and have had Pizza all over from Manhattan to Long Island, and i thought this place was absolutly top notch. By the way, what/where is this Dom's place that is mentioned throughout this forum.

                4 Replies
                  1. re: JFores

                    I am sure JFores simply neglected to tell you that "Dom's place" is actually called "DiFara's". Dom is the pizziaolo.

                    I am certain JFores didn't intentionally leave this information out because he doesn't "want a single more person in Di Fara." :-)

                    1. re: JFores

                      If I can't have DiFara's I always go for Lucali's. If only Mark would make a square pie like he's been promising.

                      1. re: pastoralia

                        Did he say that? I bet his square would be stellar!

                1. I went to Lucali's two nights ago, and tried a plain pie and a pepperoni pie. It was really, really good. I think it's without a doubt in the conversation when talking about the top 3 pizzas in NYC. Putting in your top 3 is a matter of personal taste, but it's good enough to be considered.

                  Just for reference, mine are Di Fara, Lucali, Totonno's, in that order. Grimaldi's ranks somewhere near DiGiorno's for me, it's been so bad the last couple times I've gone.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: ngdinerboy

                    I think mine might be Di Fara's, Grimaldi's, and Sullivan St. Bakery, and/or perhaps Lazzarra's or Maffei for square slices. These are all pizzas that make me very happy.

                    1. re: shivohum

                      Di Fara.... Jeez the next two are hard. Toss up between 2 in Queens, 1 in SI, Totonno's (which makes me sad because it used to be a whole lot better), San Marco's in Williamsburg (as far as an American pie out of the oven goes, it's hard to beat. It's still a 100% normal American pie though. They just do it well, it's cheap and the interior is cool. A friend of mine has been going there since she was in diapers and showed me it.) Oh wow so many...

                      Di Fara, Totonno's and San Marco maybe? Actually no, Di Fara, Lucali and San Marco if we're doing Brooklyn only. If it's a top 5 then L&B and Totonno's are the next two.

                      1. re: JFores

                        Hey -- we can agree on San Marco's!

                        A fine slice, particularly if there's a Grandma pizza fresh out of the oven. And while their "espresso" tastes terrible, it's fun to choke a shot down while hanging out with the old neighborhood guys.

                        Also in the neighborhood -- Driggs and Nina's (charmingly located under the BQE @ Metropolitan) offer credible slices. Not worth a trip of any length but perfectly satisfying if you happen to be walking by hungry. I think Nina's crust is particularly good. (I go there for dough when making homemade pizza and too lazy to make my own dough.)

                        My daughters (3 and 1 yrs of age) are partial to Sal's -- where the regular slice has saltine crust but the grandma is ok -- mainly b/c Sal gives them little cups of Italian ice in the summer. (Sal's does make an excellent chk cutlet sandwich though, cooked to order.)

                        1. re: Jack Barber

                          Believe it or not, Sal's makes an amazing penne arabiatta too!

                            1. re: NAtiveNewYorker

                              Yes. If the same mexican guy is cooking there from about a year or so ago, get the penne with spicy tomato sauce.

                          1. re: Jack Barber

                            Nice pic of the Williamsburg pizza scene. I usually get a grandma pie or a regular pie when I go there.

                          2. re: JFores

                            JFores.....which two pizzas places in Queens do you rank that highly?
                            Personally, I love Amore pizza in Whitestone Shopping center. Tastes just like the pizzas I grew up with.

                            1. re: mshpook

                              I'm not speaking for JFores but while I to love Amore, and grab a slice at least once a week, Nick's in Forest Hills is one of New Yorks great pizzarias.

                          1. re: pastoralia

                            "Di Fara, Lucali, Totonno's"

                            i agree whole heartedly. and even in correct order!

                        2. Yes once again, Lucali's has proven itself to be #2 in NYC. I went there tonite and had a basil/garlic pie with my wife and we both agreed: tart/sweet wonderful sauce, great cheese blend, a chewy yet crispy (not brittle) crust. Lightly charred to perfection. It was magic. Anyone who berates this place has to be on another pizza planet. It really reminds me of Naples.

                          16 Replies
                          1. re: NYJewboy

                            I concur NYJ. I went on Saturday and am still thinking about it. The pepperoni will haunt me until I satisfied my craving. Is twice in one week too much?

                            1. re: wanderluster

                              The real question wanderlust is: is 2 pies in 1 sitting too much. I am not joking either (much to my wife's disappointment).

                              1. re: NYJewboy

                                i'm doing a "lucali's vs franny's" experiment on wednesday.

                                news at 11.

                                1. re: TBird

                                  I put my money on Lucali's. Post results.

                                  1. re: NYJewboy

                                    me too, but then again i was pretty sure the giants couldn't pull off the superbowl too.

                                  2. re: TBird

                                    Here, here!

                                    Personally, I don't see it as a fair comparison. They're two very different things. Both wonderful mind you, but different.

                                    1. re: TBird

                                      Make sure you bring your own pizza wheel when you go to Franny's. They don't cut the pies.

                                      1. re: Bob Martinez

                                        So pretentious - good pizza or not.

                                        1. re: Roxy9

                                          they are individual pies - since when are those pre-cut? certainly not in italy where pizza is eaten with knife and fork, as at Frannys

                                          1. re: jen kalb

                                            .........where in Italy is pizza eaten with a knife and fork?

                                            Half of Naples tears at uncut pies with their hands and the other half eats slices. Rome uses their hands 100%. Genova uses their hands 100% but eats mainly foccaccia. Sicilians use their hands. Who uses a fork and knife? I've lived in all of the above besides Sicily.

                                            I was refering to Nick's and Franny's. Did you grow up on Flushing pizza too? My mother raves about the stuff, but it's looong before my time.

                                            1. re: JFores

                                              Jfores, with all respect, I beg to differ. Many times individual pies are not cut.
                                              And I have lived in rome and spent much time in naples (no genova though) and often ate my pizza with a knife and fork, as did many of the italians eating around me. And, usually, the pies were not cut.
                                              You eat slices of pizza rustica with your hands, but the round pizzas ordered and eaten at wood oven pizzerias I would say for the most part are eaten with utensils, or cut into slices by the eater and then eaten with the hands.

                                            2. re: jen kalb

                                              "they are individual pies - since when are those pre-cut?"

                                              Are you saying that it's acceptable to slice a large pie but optional to slice a personal pie? I don't get it. Even a personal pie is too large to be wolfed down whole. Either the kitchen needs to slice it or the diner is stuck doing it.

                                              Individual pies aren't something Franny's invented. You can get them at lots of places and when you do, they come pre-sliced. There's no reason not to slice them except for pure affectation.

                                              1. re: Bob Martinez

                                                I've never been served any sized pie that was not sliced, except one time when an individually sized pie was served unsliced but served with a pizza wheel for me to divide up as I saw fit. When I asked about it, the Server told me that many customers preferred to share them as appetizers with the others at the table. I thought that was pretty cool.

                                                1. re: Bob Martinez

                                                  while i have issues with a certain someone at franny's, the pizza is pretty darn good, sliced or not sliced.

                                                2. re: jen kalb

                                                  When I ate at Baffetto a couple of months ago I was dumbfounded to be served an uncut pie alongside a knife and fork. I took the knife and used it like a wheel to cut the pie into traditonal slices. It was a pain as the tray it was served on was not flat but with a high lip. Pizza was good but nothing mind blowing.

                                                3. re: Roxy9

                                                  It's pretentious to think that there's only one way to do anything... Using a knife and fork on pizza is normal for a lot of people.

                                      2. I had tried a few weeks ago to go to Lucali's and I will never go again. I arrived at 7:30 with my very pregnant wife only to be told that there was a 2 hour wait, despite the 3 unoccupied tables. Presumably, they were for people that had come early to put their name on a list. I'm sorry, but if you have a 2 hour wait for pizza then you should be taking reservations. Personally, I was insulted. I don't care how good your pizza is, I am not going to wait 2 hours for it. Ironically, we ended up walking back to the subway and stopped by Po – an equally popular restaurant that takes reservations – and got a table for 2 without a wait.

                                        9 Replies
                                        1. re: scatalogics

                                          Um, had you called to ask for a reservation andthey tld you they didn't take them couldn't you have asked how long the wait typically is at that time of night?

                                          7:30 at night is absolute prime-time in a family neighborhood like that. That you had to wait is not unreasonable.

                                          Also, by saying that the empty tables were "presumably" for people who had put their name on the list you seem to be implying that they were lying to you for some reason. Far from it. One of the nice things they do is take your name and number and call you when your table is about to be ready. That way you can go home instead of standing around on the sidewalk for hours.

                                          I'm sorry you didn't get to try Mark's amazing pizza. I suggest you try again a little earlier -- say, 5:30 or 6.

                                          1. re: pastoralia

                                            Believe me, we tried to get there at 6, but got lost.

                                            The problem was all the empty tables. If somebody had put their name on a list, then where the heck were they? It's one thing if one or two tables had called and were on their way, but this was nearly half the restaurant empty. If these people were truly seconds away the hostess could have taken the 10 seconds to explain that, but she seemed totally uninterested in being helpful or gracious. Service is a big part of enjoying a restaurant, and this place was beyond pretentious for what should be a neighborhood pizza joint. Besides, I was there with a 7 month pregnant woman who was in no mood to wait 2 hours for a pizza.

                                            I have eaten there before, and enjoyed it, but I'm not a sucker who returns to places where I'm treated like crap just because I like the food.

                                            1. re: scatalogics

                                              Scatalogics (great name by the way) did you say something to Mark?

                                              1. re: NYJewboy

                                                No, I don't know the guy. I don't normally try talking to the chef when I can't get a table.

                                                1. re: scatalogics

                                                  You should indeed talk to Mark. He built the place with his own two hands, he's cooked there every single night the front door's been open, and he's always, always, always trying to make the place better.

                                                  And for the record, when I got there tonight (A hot Sunday at 6:15) they told me 30 minutes for a table. And then it turned out to be only 15 'cause someone finished quicker then they thought. Not bad.

                                              2. re: scatalogics

                                                Having eaten there over a dozen times, I could never conceive of using the word "pretentious" to describe Lucali's. Lucali's is about as opposite of pretentious as they come.

                                                1. re: scatalogics

                                                  You undermine how seriously we are supposed to take your outrage with your hyperbole. In your first post, 3 tables were empty. In your next post, nearly half the restaurant was empty. There are more than 6 tables in the restaurant. I find it hard to find sympathy for you or take this complaint very seriously.

                                                  1. re: scatalogics

                                                    My big Lucali's complaint is that despite the year or so they've been open, they still have no clue, it seems, what the real wait time will be.

                                                    I went many months back, before they took your number, and were told it would be an hour. the 3 of us went back an hour later, only to wait another hour outside until the table was really ready.

                                                    Thursday, the same 3 of us went to Eton's for some great dumplings before we planned to have a pizza at Lucali's. We went to Lucali's first and put our names on the list. Waited for our dumplings, went to a bar to eat them, hour later still no call so we wandered back. Got there and were told it would be at LEAST another 30 - 45 mins.

                                                    THAT is annoying. I can cope with a wait and love that they take your number but they seem utterly clueless when it comes to giving you a real sense of how long the wait will be.

                                                    1. re: Nehna

                                                      ya that one time we went there, they told us to come back in 45 minutes so we walked 2 or 3 blocks back to the apt. and we received a call that actually, our table is ready. this was 5 minutes after they told us to come back in 45.