Milan’s Brick Oven
1310 Broadway, Hewlett
SERVICE: Warm, knowledgeable, altogether outstanding
AMBIENCE: Cozy neighborhood hangout
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday to Friday 4 to 9 p.m., Saturday 4 to 10 p.m.; wheelchair accessible; parking lot in back; cash only
Delicacy, refinement, attention to detail — these are not qualities usually ascribed to the neighborhood pizzeria. But Hewlett is a very lucky neighborhood.
Milan’s Brick Oven opened about a year ago in the storefront adjoining Pantano’s Kitchen. Michael Pantano, who owns both businesses, named the pizzeria after his son, Milan, but he noted that it was an entirely separate enterprise. “We’re not just making stuff at Pantano’s and sending it over,” he said. “These are two distinct businesses, with their own kitchens and gas meters.”
Whereas Pantano’s kitchen puts out more than a hundred items (from egg sandwiches to chicken quesadillas to teriyaki wraps), Milan’s succinct menu features 14 (12-inch) pies, nine appetizers and six salads. The presiding talent here is Pantano’s partner, Jerry Miele, a chef whose most recent gig was tending the wood-burning oven at Grotta di Fuoco in Long Beach.
At Milan’s, he demonstrates that it’s the pizzaiolo’s skill and mastery of ingredients that determine the quality of the pizza, not the oven’s source of fuel. Miele uses a standard gas-fired deck oven, but his crust has a soulful savor, a bubbly crust that’s tender and crisp. Setting up the restaurant, Miele’s first task was perfecting his dough, playing with the hydration (water content) and adjusting the percentages of high-gluten and “tipo 00” (traditional Neapolitan) flours. “It took me about a month to come up with a dough recipe that looked like it came out of a wood-burning oven,” he said.
Miele makes pies for every taste, from the starkly correct Margherita (here called The Milan) to his elaborate but well-balanced signature pies, whether traditionally Italian (The Napolitano with broccoli rabe, crumbled sausage, hot cherry peppers) or New American (The Amalfi with shiitake, cremini and portobello mushrooms, rosemary, goat cheese and truffle oil).
If anything, Miele’s Clam-tastic pizza was too refined. I appreciated its lack of cheese (a blight affecting many clam pies of my acquaintance), but it didn’t taste enough of clams.
The menu lists 14 pies, but Miele will fashion one of any description, make the two halves with completely different toppings, or enfold your chosen toppings into a calzone. No matter what you order, it will come with an adorable little red plastic pizza cutter emblazoned with the name of the shop which is yours to take home.
But it’s the non-pizza items that take this pizzeria to the next level. Lamb meatballs are cloud-tender and deeply savory. Three of them, topped with sweet marinara and a whipped blend of ricotta and goat cheese, arrive at the table in a too-hot-to-touch metal pot. The chicken meatballs, veiled with golden mushroom-Marsala sauce, are almost as good. Either appetizer can be ordered over pasta.
Another must-order starter is the pizza fries, a mash-up to rival the Cronut. Miele starts with fluffy-crisp steak-cut fries, tops them with marinara and mozzarella and bakes until gooey. The name “pizza fries” isn’t going to set the world on fire, though. My suggestion: poutine alla Napoletana.
Miele’s fetching eggplant tower would be more accurately described as a succinct packet of fried slices sandwiching mozzarella, roasted red peppers and basil. I could have done without its balsamic glaze, but sweetness is something you need to embrace at Milan’s.
The most popular salad here, for example, is the Jerry, a refined slaw of Brussels sprouts, kale, radicchio, red cabbage and apples. The sesame-ginger dressing is sweetened with mandarin orange juice, but what puts it over the sweet edge are the dried cranberries. Balsamic partisans are going to love it; next time I’ll ask them to hold the berries.
Desserts include the inevitable s’more pizza (topped with Nutella and browned marshmallows, drizzled with caramel) and a rotating roster of elegant individual cheesecakes, supplied by Miele’s friend John Orphanos.
Milan’s servers evinced warmth, efficiency and a familiarity with the menu that is rare at many big-time restaurants. The décor splits the difference between old-school trattoria (red-checked tablecloths) and modern gastropub (reclaimed wood, corrugated metal). Each table is set with a bottle of perfectly drinkable red wine. You’ll be charged $5.50 for every glass you down. House white is kept in the cooler, as are domestic and imported beers.
If I lived in Hewlett, Milan’s would be my go-to weeknight Italian, but Jerry Miele’s beautifully crafted pizzas make it worth a trip.