Pulino's Bar and Pizzeria
282 Bowery, New York NY 10012 (at Houston; map); 917-289-9357
Service: Friendly once you're in, though the McNally social pecking order is certainly in place
Setting: A really cool Keith McNally-imagined pizzeria
Compare It To: Schiller's Liquor Bar
Must-Haves: Frutta, Salsiccia, chestnut pancake
Cost: Small pizzas start at $7, and go up from there
Pulino's chef-pizzaiolo Nate Appleman summed up his efforts at turning out breakfast from his pizza oven thusly:
We're kind of flying blind here. We can't look elsewhere for our inspiration. Nobody's ever tried to serve a pizza-centric breakfast menu before. We're kind of making it up as we go, on the fly.
Kind of refreshing, isn't it, for a chef to rely on his instincts, and his craft and his knowledge of what is delicious. It's a brave and admirable effort, and based on what we tasted, he's already begun to succeed.
We weren't even planning to review the breakfast offerings at this brand-new pizzeria from Keith McNally, the man behind Minetta and Balthazar; New York editor Carey and I were just intending a breakfast meeting. But the menu is so intriguing, we kept ordering until we had tried nine items. (The devil and the breakfast pizza made me do it.)
Appleman has embarked on a refreshingly non-derivative pizza-making path, for both his standard pizzas and his breakfast pizzas. (Dinner service at Pulino's is supposed to begin this Friday, the 26th). Pizzas here are thin-crusted, though not cracker-thin, thank God; lightly topped; and owe more to Midwestern bar pizza than anything else. (At San Francisco's A16, on the other hand, he had a definite classic Neapolitan orientation). He calls it bowling-alley pizza, and I understand what he's referring to—though I've never had a slice of pizza made in a bowling alley kitchen that's half as good as the Pulino pies. The breakfast pies come in small and large sizes, and half of a small pizza would make a fine breakfast, unless you are in need of a heartier morning meal.
Instead of just a few breakfast pizzas, though, Pulino's has a whopping ten morning pies—divided into sweet and savory categories. The savory pizzas are deliciously reimagined breakfast sandwiches in pizza form. The Salsiccia—with sunnyside-up eggs, house-cured sage-y breakfast sausage, bacon, and white cheddar—makes for a salty, tangy, hearty pile of food. And even without the meats, the Spinacci with mascarpone and grana is good enough that carnivores will want in.
But the sweet-savory pizzas are a bit more unusual. Some succeeded brilliantly, like the Frutta with roasted pears and pecorino; the Ottima, on the other hand, with wild blueberry jam and bacon, didn't fare so well. And beyond the pizzas, a baked pear and chestnut pancake was simultaneously tender and hearty, made better by a delicate scoop of mascarpone.
Nate Appleman and Keith McNally have done something brave and admirable. They have come up with a genuinely tasty way to eat pizza for breakfast—beyond the day-old leftovers heated up at home. They're not the only breakfast pizzas in town, to be sure. But with the extent of their menu and the novelty of their creations, they're clearly taking it seriously. The smaller pizzas make it possible to have a modestly sized breakfast; the super-thin crust keeps your first meal from getting too heavy. And as the days get warmer and the windows are flung open onto the Bowery, it's one mighty fine place to sip a coffee in the morning air.