"Barboncino," or, Can a Personal Pizza Gentrify a Neighborhood?

July 17, 2012 6:50 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
The interior of "Barboncino" in Crown Heights could be a prediction of things to come for the neighborhood. (Photo: Creative Commons)

When it comes to a socio-economic identity, I cannot think of a neighborhood (or collection of neighborhoods, really) more varied than the chunk of land east of Manhattan proper that the locals have come to call, with heaping bowls of affection tempered by a wise and knowing derision, Brooklyn. In many of my reviews of the worthy and insufferable restaurants that populate our great borough, I've touched on the all-too-obvious notion that Brooklyn is becoming hipper, trendier, and more desirable living. Neighborhoods once sought and sowed for their proximity to Manhattan are now sought and reaped as insular alternatives to Manhattan. It isn't uncommon to hear a Brooklynite lament that ze has to take a trip to the island, or brag that ze hasn't been to the "city" all week.

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There are, of course, civic detractors -- and with good reason. The area of Williamsburg situated around the Bedford Avenue stop looks more like the endearing main street of a college town than it does an area of a city synonymous with the cosmopolitan juggernaut across the river. What used to be low-cost housing for generations of locals has since been replaced with luxury condos. And those generations of locals? They're all being edged out by an exponentially higher cost of living.

The times, they-are-a-changing. And even if we don't understand that change, one thing's for certain: stuff may not be getting cooler, or better, but it is getting more expensive.

Enter "Barboncino," an otherwise delightful restaurant on Franklin Avenue, in under-gentrified Crown Heights. Barboncino's name means "poodle" in Italian, and they serve up the pizza equivalent of exactly that. It's a realtively new restaurant that peculiarly breaks formation through concerning itself less with the ambitious trappings of your run-of-the-mill Brooklyn next-wave eatery and more with the perfection of its product and the auspices under which you witness this perfection.

In this case, Barboncino's would-be perfect product, its thin-crust pizza, is meant to be savoured in a curiously posh interior. And as far as perfection goes, it's nearly there. I don't mean to say that it's anything less than excellent. A friend and I enjoyed their house special last night, a red pie perfectly flavored with garlic, olives, tomatoes, anchovies, and fresh mozzarella. The tomato sauce was nothing short of transcendent, and the chili oil the waitress recommended to "make the pie hotter" didn't fall victim to the cloying heat from which so many italian chili oils suffer. Rather, it added a hearty complexity to the pie, followed by a carefully cultivated warmth. I was so taken by the poetry of my first bite that I gasped and put my hand to my heart. That takes quite a bit with me.

The only point of major criticism here is the crust of the pie itself. If I'm to be objective, I should take off points for it. In some places, the too-thin crust fell apart. In the rest, it was just a little too soggy and all-around uninteresting, serving as little more than a banal means of barely delivering the perfection resting upon it to your mouth. I hesitate to take off points for it because I don't typically care about the state of a pizza's crust. For me, it is a glutinous and necessary evil. I am more inclined to pay more attention to the cheese and tomato portions of a pizza, and the pie at Barboncino soars as it floors in those departments. But as long as crust is technically one-third of a pizza pie, I have to deduct some serious points for it.

Necessary deductions aside, it's still a mouthwateringly delicious slice. But even more curious than the slice itself is the temple in which you eat it. The Barboncino promise of perfect pizza is served up to you in a beautifully furnished and furbished multi-level interior. There's exposed brick on the walls. There's warm lighting. There's a lower level that gives way to a lovely garden. It's the kind of place made to project an image of affluence or success, designed to make you ask yourself, "Why haven't I been here before?" the first time you walk through the door. In short, this unapologetically and expensively designed interior has nothing to do with the block surrounding it, or the Crown Heights neighborhood which it calls home.

It is, perhaps, a promise of things to come-- a deal that Barboncino and places like it make with the locals: eat here, drink here, and more places like this will show up.

Them's the breaks, for better or worse. At least the pizza's killer.

Grade: B+ (if you take off points for the crust, "A" otherwise)

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