Turn south after walking along Theater Row on W. 42nd St. and you hit what I call “Pizza Row” in the low 40s along 9th Avenue. It’s a downtrodden, seedy area but there’s one pizza storefront after another. They range from modest to tacky. Bargain hunters can get a slice for 99 cents standing at an outdoor counter. Squeezed in among them is a narrow spot called Capizzi. It’s easy to pass by, but that would be a mistake. Capizzi is not a pizza joint. It’s a pizza emporium.
This 36-seat gem is a piece of old Italy; a place of superior ingredients, simple family recipes, and house made everything from antipasti to dessert. Most of all, it’s a tribute from Joseph Calcagno to the small Sicilian town where his mother and grandmother were born. Both of them led food-focused families, searching Brooklyn neighborhoods for the best ingredients available. Now Mr. Calcagno is doing the same.
Capizzi is a cute, cozy pizzeria and wine bar with a wood-fired oven at its rear, a wall of nostalgic pictures, pizza paddles, clocks, candles, and statues. Elsewhere the walls are made of subway tiles. Wine bottles line the wall of memories. Among the housemade treats are is a huge antipasto misto or platter that covers half a table. In addition to high quality hams, salamis, and cheeses, there are marinated eggplant and peppers that have been squeezed and hung up to dry. There are black, green, and even red olives. Another appetizer is the huge hill of arugula salad: an amalgam of greens, tomatoes, cranberries, goat cheese, onions, walnuts, and apples infused with Balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
After that, it’s all pizza all the time. They range in price from $10.95 to $18.95 for a simple Margherita to a loaded version that yields pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions, provolone cheese, roasted peppers, and whole roasted garlic. They’re all personal-sized 12” pizzas with thin, delicate crusts and ingredients that sing with flavor, each with precisely the correct time in that oven. Capizzi’s blistered pizza bread -- a warm, crisp, crackly basket full of memorable slices -- comes with the starters. Wash it all down with the largest housemade glass of lemonade in New York or a round, king-sized glass of sangria ($8.50). Wine by the glass and beers by the bottle are also available. The pizza is served on circular wood planks -- another nice touch. Toppings are $2.95 each but most people will be very happy with the ten choices offered on the menu and the myriad of toppings they offer with the four Capizzi combinations, each with two or three toppings.
The three desserts, all housemade, are a feathery tiramisu, a hearty cannoli, and a panacotta to remember. Yes, Joseph Calcagno, who worked in Brooklyn pizzerias with his father and grandfather, has learned his lessons well.
547 Ninth Ave. (40th-41st Sts.), 212-695-6900; capizzinyc.com
Richard Jay Scholem was a restaurant critic for the New York Times Long Island Section for 14 years. His A La Carte Column appeared from 1990 to 2004. For more “Taste of the Town” reviews, click here.
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