Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Danny Meyer's new pizza joint on East 11th Street.
It's impossible not to think "Shake Shack, but with pizzas" at the new, enormously appealing Martina, the latest addition to Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group empire. Like the Shack, this fast-casual spin-off of Meyer's popular NoMad restaurant Marta offers familiar, high-quality food at reasonable prices in a friendly, counter-service setting.
Here's how it works: you give your name (a completely unnecessary but shrewdly friendly touch), and take your electronic "food-is-ready" buzzer to find a seat somewhere. This will actually alert you twice, once when your starters are done, then again when your pizzas come out of the big gas oven. If you want soft-serve for dessert (and you definitely do; see below), you pay for it when you order your meal, then skip the line and hand in your special ice cream order card whenever you're ready.
Dining capacity at Martina is a bit over 40, and the place was hopping during dinner this past weekend for the grand opening, but in four visits over three days I've always gotten a seat right away. When the staff buses your table, which they will do within seconds of your last bite, that's your cue to get up and make room for the next customer. My meals have all arrived remarkably fast, though it'll be interesting to see how the assembly-line cooking crew handles the crush if Martina ever gets Shack-like lines.
Chef Nick Anderer, who opened both Marta and USHG's fine-dining Italian restaurant Maialino, is in charge of the kitchen here as well, so right away you know that you are in good hands. I've already eaten almost every pizza on the menu (there are eight different varieties), and they're all terrific, the ten-inch pies hand-thrown and assembled to order, the crust thin and fired to an almost-crisp. Anderer's crusts at Marta often get compared to "crackers," but these are slightly softer and chewier, with a welcome lightness.
My favorite pizzas were the trio of funky white pies: one with zucchini flowers and anchovies laid over gooey mozzarella, and probably the overall best thing on the menu; another, the Ortolana, topped with crisp kale, black olives, mozzarella, and pecorino for some bite; and a third loaded with mushrooms and onions atop buttery, slightly pungent fontina. But the red pies were all good too, especially the spicy Salame and the messy, photogenic Capricciosa with artichoke, ham, olives, mushrooms, and a runny egg.
As a group, the starters were less successful—vinegar overwhelmed two of the Verdure options—but the oversized chicken meatballs (Polpettine di Pollo), warm and hearty white beans (Fagioli al Fiasco), and the bright and wonderfully salty Rughetta (arugula) salad all do their job just fine. Definitely save room for dessert though, because the thick and creamy Fior di Latte soft serve, tricked out with chocolate amaro sauce, candied hazelnuts, sea salt, and a drizzle of olive oil, is instantly one of the city's best new treats of the summer.
Martina is an excellent addition to this part of the East Village, and will certainly become my regular spot for a bite either before or after a movie across the street. Whether Meyer has another Shack on his hands remains to be seen, but as long as this one location continues to fire up such delicious pies, I'll be happy.
Martina is located at 198 East 11th Street, just east of Third Avenue, and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday through Wednesday, and until 1 a.m. on Thursday through Saturday. No tipping, NO CASH (646-747-6635; martinapizzeria.com)