How far we’ve come…Humankind, that is…When it comes to cooking technology, anyway. For millennia, we cooked in fiery pits, but driven by the ‘bigger, better, faster, more’ gene, we improved – developing small ovens for baking bread; then large chimnied fireplaces in which we hung our pots; and enclosed masonry ovens to better retain heat which, when fired with wood, happily impart a rich smoky flavor. Soon we were off to the races, with gas stoves, electric stoves, convection ovens and microwaves making cooking ever faster and easier, if perhaps not quite better.
But now, like a tortoise clambering deliberately through the centuries to return to glory, the wood-fired masonry stove is back.
While wood-fired ovens have held pride of place in some of Brooklyn’s finest new-school pizzerias for a few years (think Franny’s, Lucali, Paulie Gee’s, Best Pizza, Forcella, Roberta’s, Saraghina…), they seem to be enjoying a moment, and they’re being used heat a lot more than bread and Neapolitan pies.
At the recently opened Mercado on Kent, in Williamsburg (291 Kent Ave at South 2nd St), Chef Peru Almandoz, who put in time in the kitchen of Ferran Adria at El Bulli and who has a Michelin star of his own, is wood-firing all kinds of Basque-inspired small plates, like Serrano ham, mushroom and clam croquetas and toasta de txangurro (crab toast), and not-so-small plates like fideua (wood-fired pasta with manila clams, prawns and pork sausage), chicken stew (made with organic chicken and eggplant) and chuleton (an organic grass-fed ribeye with blistered potatos).
Mercado features two wood-burning ovens in the exposed kitchen, and a third downstairs, for baking bread.
At Isa, also in Williamsburg (348 Wythe Avenue at South Second Street )and just around the corner from Mercado on Kent, former Il Buco chef Ignacio Mattos does his own unique style of wood-fired New American ‘hippie food,’ starting diners off with smoky house-made breads, then dazzling them with dishes like salt-cured sardines garnished with their own deep-fried skeletons, and a slow-cooked curl of pig tail whose sweet and smokey meat glides from the vertebral bones.
The soon-to-open Speedy Romeo in Clinton Hill (367 Classon Avenue at Greene Ave ) will be adding their own smoke to the scene. Chef Justin Bazdarich, who cooked at Perry Street, and partner Todd Feldman skyrocketed to Brooklyn Flea fame with their homemade mozzarella this past summer. At Speedy Romeo, set to open this week, they’ll be making everything from pizza to steaks and seafood in their wood-burning oven.