As a native Chicagoan, it pains me somewhat to admit that New York really does know pizza. Although I will make a pit stop at Lou Malnati’s for a “casserole” every time I head home, I really am more of a thin crust kind of gal. I’ve declared my love for New York breakfast pizza in previous reviews (see Marta and Barraca) so I jumped at the chance to sample Tavola’s handcrafted Neapolitan pies when Bitches Who Brunch was recently invited in.
I was joined for brunch by my friend Evan, an Italian by heritage and native New Yorker, which is a lethal combination for a discerning pizza palate. On our way to Tavola, located on the southern fringes of Hell’s Kitchen, he rattled off his list of criteria for the perfect pie–crisp yet malleable with the ability to hold its shape when folded. And all pizza must be folded, which mystified my Midwestern knife and fork upbringing.
We casually rolled into the eatery on a Sunday afternoon and had our pick of the tables. Gradually the restaurant filled with what appeared to be tourists right off of the neighboring High Line. The ambiance was quaint and inviting; I appreciated the rustic details like the exposed brick, tin ceiling, and stainless steel molding.
The crown jewel of the restaurant was undoubtedly the massive 7,000-pound wood-burning double oven, which is the only one of its kind in Manhattan. Evan dropped a little more NYC knowledge, informing me that wood-burning ovens must be grandfathered down in local restaurants as they legally can’t be built anymore.
We started with a round of mimosas while surveying the extensive menu. The mimosas were heavy on the bubbly and contained fresh squeezed juice, so no complaints on my part.
I studied abroad in Florence so I was delighted to see a variety of rustic Northern-inspired dishes on the menu. We had our pick of antipasti, pasta, and entrees, but ultimately decided on the burrata and artichoke and arugula salad to start.
The burrata was imported from Puglia, which was apparent from the high quality and firm consistency of the cheese. It was served with fresh basil and tomatoes with a side of wood fired red peppers.
We both appreciated that Tavola took advantage of the wood fired oven to give a comforting, rich flavor to a variety of ingredients throughout the meal, the peppers included. My only complaint was that there wasn’t more of those wood fired peppers on the plate.
Similarly, the artichoke and arugula salad was a standout because of the wood fired veggies. This was a light, refreshing starter, but we just hoped for more artichokes.
Now onto the main event, the pizza. We ordered the Tuscan brunch pizza per our server’s recommendation and the classic Margherita.
The Tuscan pizza featured mozzarella, smoked prosciutto, fresh spinach, and farm eggs. The pie passed Evan’s “folding without bending” test despite being weighed down by an healthy abundance of fresh produce and meat. This was one of the better breakfast pizzas I’ve had recently, I only wished that the egg was runny rather than baked. The flavor could only have benefited from a bit of yolk.
The Margherita pizza also passed the consistency test and had a great balance of zesty sauce, cheese, and fresh basil. The crust was thick and chewy and truly hit the spot after a late Saturday night out.
After a few rounds of mimosas and a few pies, we really got into the Italian spirit and thought it would be a great idea to shop for a Ducati down in the SoHo showroom. No motorcycles were impulsively purchased, but when in Rome right?
The Bitches say: Four Champagne flutes. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, it’s a charming spot for some authentic slices.
Tavola serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-5 p.m.