Emily and Matt Hyland had an instant hit when their cozy Clinton Hill spot Pizza Loves Emily opened five years ago, the local hordes devouring their wood-fired round Neapolitan-esque pies. Two years after that the Hylands got into expansion mode, first with the superb Detroit-style pizza of Emmy Squared in Williamsburg, then a Emily/Emmy hybrid in the West Village, and another straight-up Emmy to the East.
Now they're rolling out something totally new. It's called Violet—a fun, 55-seat East Village restaurant featuring a rare-in-NYC pizza species, something they are calling a grilled "Rhode Island-style" pie. (This is up for debate.) Modeled after the pizza of Providence's famed Al Forno (where the Hylands had their first date), the pies at Violet are free-form, pleasantly oily, judiciously topped, and arrive at your table with a large pair of scissors for DIY slicing. The crust, which spends less than 30 seconds getting charred on the grill, is more akin to floppy flatbread than what you find on most pizza around these parts.
Violet showcases six different varieties of grilled pies, most of which I've tried over the past couple of days at preview events. The first-rate Classic is a basic Margherita, with four cheeses and a bright, slightly sweet tomato sauce. The Atwell, which also has cheese, is probably my early favorite, the dollops of broccoli and pistachio pesto exploding with flavor. There's a Squash pie (with, oddly, Sichuan pepper), a Garlic pie, a pie covered in tahini and hon shimeji mushrooms called the Beech Vibes, and a sweet Dune Duck, replete with clams.
Clams make several more appearances on the seafood-intensive menu: in the Stuffies (which are stuffed baked clams); and, most successfully, spun within a tangle of terrific Spaghetti, the dish thick and salty with a creamy dashi sauce and bonito butter. Pastas play a major role here—in addition to the spaghetti you can order squash and ricotta Gnudi, "Radiators" with linguiça, and Baked Fusilli. Spicy Grilled Shrimp, Bone Marrow with trout roe, and deep-fried cod and kale pakoras—"Fish and Chicks"—are among your options for starters. There are cocktails, beers on tap, and an Emily-selected wine list.
Violet is named not after a Hyland relative, but rather in honor of Rhode Island's official state flower, and the color appears here and there inside, via lighting or painted highlights. The design of the space is dominated by a dramatically-lit ceiling arch running the length of the bar, open kitchen, and main dining area. Two nooks up front complete the seating arrangement. The footprint is the same as when Nick Morgenstern's GG's was here, but the comfortable wooden banquets are all new. Whimsical pen-and-ink drawings, an abundance of plants, and several playfully-placed dinosaurs complete the decor.
Violet is located at 511 East 5th Street between Avenues A and B, and is open Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 5 until 11 p.m., and until 11:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Closed Tuesday. (646-850-5900; violeteastvillage.com)