I’m still very suspicious about all of this coal oven discovery in NYC. I was under the impression that they were rare beasts but it seems like they're common as twin strollers in Brooklyn. Maybe coal ovens have been unearthed during building renovations for decades yet only in recent history has there been an insatiable market for coal oven pizza.
And pizza in general. I haven't given in to burger or cupcake mania and it seems that in my hesitation I've also missed out on the new and semi-recent spate of pizzerias: Veloce, Co, Keste, Motorino…what else…ok, I’ve never eaten at Roberta’s or not-new-at-all Franny’s either. I’m just not a pizza fanatic. I do feel kind of blessed to live three blocks from the country’s second-best pizza according to GQ, not that I can ever actually get a table at Lucali. (I really wanted to work a fuhgeddaboudit in there but refrained because I'm not 100% cornball and this isn’t the New York Post, though now writing about what I omitted then typing it anyway is a worse crime.)
So, I figured I could handle trying Anslemo's, a recent addition in Red Hook. Definitely no mob scene there; on a Saturday night over Memorial Day weekend there was only two other tables occupied, one takeout order, two EMTs who wanted to see a menu, and a couple of neighborhood kids playing hide and seek under the tables until getting shooed away. First they were asked to leave nicely, then after getting no response, the kids were questioned, "Do you speak English?" The grade schoolers in Carroll Gardens could use a little such harassing. (Actually, I’ve recently noticed when I work from home that the shrieking hormonal pre-teens who hang out in front of my ground floor windows start getting yelled at by some authority figure around 3:40pm. A woman pops out of the school's door, where a policeman is currently standing, directly across the street from my living room window and starts screaming, “It’s time to go home! Let’s move along, people!” I like her.
At this point, Anselmo’s strikes me as more of a fast food joint dressed up as a restaurant and that's fine. The lack of a liquor license (they do serve unsweetened black tea, which I greatly appreciate as a sweet drink loather) smallish pies and current absence of air conditioning (a blasting pizza oven coupled with 80+ degrees and high humidity was kind of brutal) don’t exactly encourage lingering.
They don’t do slices, which seems to have stymied locals, but the individual 10" pizzas are only $6 and that's what the single walk-ins are steered toward. I'm still not clear on the math of the 14", the larger size offered being $14. Wouldn't it be more economical to order two smaller pizzas? Toppings are $1.75 each regardless of size so if you were loading up, I supposed one pie makes more sense.
We split a 14” pepperoni and artichoke heart, which we plowed through in no time. The pizza isn't filling. The crust has a nice char and so too the rims of sliced sausage. The mozzarella was generous and the strands of basil were well distributed. While the crust is fairly thin, it is still firm with no bubbling and sags a bit under the toppings.
I would be inclined to return and try more toppings (though maybe not the brie). If it were walking distance, I would stop by regularly. And that might end up being the trouble, it's not quite a destination, nothing in Red Hook really is despite how the media portrays the area. It’s a ghost town at night. But if you’re someone who breezes through the neighborhood to shop at Fairway or Ikea, it’s worth stopping by.
Anselmo’s * 354 Van Brunt St., Brooklyn, NY