In October, Carroll Gardens pizzaiolo Mark Iacono abruptly closed his exceptional Henry Street restaurant Lucali. It's a humble joint, but the wait time for a table can sometimes stretch for hours (no reservations are taken) and Iacono counts among his regulars Jay-Z and Beyonce. Yet despite Lucali's popularity, Iacono, ever the perfectionist, wasn't satisfied. So he closed down before the hurricane hit to make some changes, telling South Brooklyn Post, "Maybe for a month, two months, three months, however long it takes to get the work done." Last night we stopped by the newly reopened Lucali, and while none of the changes were noticeable to our eyes, we were delighted to find the pizza and calzones as magnificent as ever.
If you're not in the mood for pizza or calzones, fuggedaboutit. The kitchen, if you can call it that, is a space set aside in the back of the dimly-lit room, where Iacono presides over every detail of the operation—spinning the dough himself and administering each meticulously-sourced ingredient. The result is, arguably, the best pizza in New York City—soft but not soupy, slightly charred on the edges but not overwhelmed by the taste of ash. To paraphrase Apocalypse Now, the cozy restaurant smells like heaven has fallen to the earth in the form of calzones.
What's remarkable is how obstinately unaware Iacano remains of his product's consistent perfection. "Was that calzone any good?" he asked last night, wincing with a typically self-lacerating look on his face. "It was transcendent," we insisted, but you could tell he didn't believe it. "You've been closed a while, but everything seems as great as ever," we added, in attempt to reassure him. "I was only closed six weeks!" Iacono corrected, and explained that half of the interior walls were completely new, most of the tables and furnishings were new, and the inside of the oven had been rebuilt. To be honest, we're probably too distracted by the amazing pizza to notice such minor details. But we did spot a new addition: Christmas stockings with Jay-Z and Beyonce's names hanging from one wall.
"But now I'm closing again, on Sunday," Iacono added, glancing nervously back toward the prep area, which had been operating without his supervision for a full sixty seconds. "I'm going down to Miami to open a new restaurant." As if life in Miami wasn't enviable enough (current temperature: 71 degrees), the lucky bastards will soon be able to experience the best pizza in NYC. Iacono told us the restaurant, which will be a pizzeria on one side and an Italian restaurant on the other side, will open soon in a converted warehouse in South Beach... unless it doesn't. "We'll see; I gotta check it out," he said, his perfectionism raging unabated. "I might be down there ten days, I might come back after one day."
In the meantime, Lucali [575 Henry Street] is open Wednesdays through Sundays starting at 6 p.m. Last night at 7:30 we scored a table for two after a mere five minute wait. It's cash only, and BYOB. If you call (718) 858-4086, the hostess will tell you how long the wait is—go early and put your name on the list, and you can get a drink nearby while waiting for heaven to call.