The Legend of Frank Pinello and Best Pizza

There’s no shortage of phenomenal pizza in Brooklyn — or braggadocio from its purveyors — but Best Pizza is a slice joint that truly lives up to its name. Frank Pinello’s pizzeria became a local favorite soon after opening its doors in 2010 and, in recent years, has drawn international acclaim.

Frank Pinello at Best Pizza at 33 Havemeyer Street

Pinello cut his teeth and earned his stripes at the now defunct Pulino’s in the Bowery and at Roberta’s, a Bushwick juggernaut that has spawned multiple outposts and countless careers of influential chefs across the country. In those kitchens, Pinello shared his vision of opening a pizzeria blending Napoletano methods and New York style to create pies that were familiar, yet new.

“I told the guys my plan and, a couple of months later, they said, ‘There’s a great spot, this old bakery in Williamsburg,” Pinello recalled. “They had this oven, a bonafide 100-year-old oven, that was a blessing to cook with. I went down there to make them a pizza. I brought tomato paste, a can of tomatoes I liked, some cheese, and sesame seeds.”

The sesame seeds, a tribute to Pinello’s Sicilian heritage, were not well-received at first glance.  

“One of the guys goes, ‘What the fuck are you doing with sesame seeds?’ But, the pizzas came out really good,” said Pinello. “After, he turns to me and says, ‘Let’s do that.’ And that was the start of Best Pizza.”

Illustration by Jessica Fimbel Willis

The lore of Best Pizza quickly spread across the five boroughs. Just months after opening, Best Pizza earned a New York Times Critic’s Pick nod with praise for its white pie, pepperoni slice, grandma pizza, garlic knots, chicken parm sandwich, and just about everything else on the menu. As word spread, Vice took notice of Pinello and positioned him as a pizza luminary.  

Today, Pinello can be found sampling pizza around the world on “The Pizza Show.” He’s also busy launching pizzerias around the globe. In 2019, Pinello’s pizza will be available in New Rochelle (at Pizzeria La Rosa), Phoenix, Kuwait, and Qatar.

In between takes and transatlantic flights, Pinello continues to work the kitchen at 33 Havemeyer St. along with his staff. Sometimes, success leads people to rest on their laurels, but that’s hardly the case for Pinello & co.  

“We take a lot of care in our ingredients,” Pinello explained. “For instance, we take a lot of care in the type of flour that we use, the way that we make our dough, and the fermentation process. For the cheese, we make all of our mutz from curds, so we’re able to control its salinity, moisture, and freshness. For the sauce, we spend a lot of time tasting and blending our tomatoes, and that extends to everything, even our olive oil. We take care of our food by using techniques that I learned from great pizza makers.”

Through hard work and determination, Best Pizza broke through in one of the world’s most competitive pizza landscapes. The degree of difficulty for mom-and-pop pizzerias has increased even more over the last decade thanks to climbing rents and other challenges, but Pinello believes there are still opportunities for local shops to thrive.

“I think it all comes down to the passion of the owner and how bad they want it done,” Pinello said. “Even opening up Best Pizza felt like a really tall task back then because Brooklyn was the home of the slice places. Old school stars like DiFara, Luigi’s, L&B [Spumoni Gardens], no one thought you could really fuck with them. Now, it’s even more difficult with the increased minimum wage and the Dept. of Health grading systems and all of that, but there are still ways to get your foot in the door. Sometimes, starting small is what you’ve got to do.”

Pinello readily credits his friends, family, and business partners for their role in Best Pizza’s rise to fame. With that in mind, he sees the Slice app as a valuable ally for independent pizza.  

“I’ve been really impressed by Slice. They’re really helping to move the needle towards mom-and-pop pizzerias and it’s a great thing,” said Pinello.” There are a lot of us who are really good in the kitchen but aren’t as good when it comes to marketing and showing the community what we do. Slice is one of those companies that can really help the little guys and give them a whole new stream of revenue.”

— Interview and article by Zach Links

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