Sunday, September 18, 2011

Review: Chipp Neapolitan Pizza, 2971 Ocean Avenue, Brooklyn NY

"Grimaldi's is crap. DiFara awful. Totonno's garbage."

Brooklyn Storefront for Chipp Pizza

Larry "The Russian" Veltman, former Apprentice contestant, did not win over the Brooklyn pizza cognoscenti with that quote when he announced the opening of his flagship pizza store that he envisions as the first in a chain that will serve VPN (Naples-certified) pizza. He was also quoted in Sheepsheadbites saying that “We wanted to create a modern lounge much like a Chipotle or Panera Bread store, not another take out pizza joint. Somewhere you’d go on a date, sit back with a beer or a glass of wine while eating the best pizza in the city.”

Listen, I don't mind a sangawitch at Panera, but I don't think of Panera or ANY chain when I'm thinking I want the best and I want authentic. So when this guy comes out with some brash insults of legendary pizzamen and then sets out to be the Panera Bread of pizzas, and wants to sell it in Brooklyn, he's given himself some substantial hurdles.

Why the name "Chipp" for his pizza chain? Apparently, it is short for cippolini onions, which are used on one of the pizzas on the menu.

Quite recently, Chipp offered a great deal on one of those Groupon-type sites (I forget which one) with an offer of any two pizzas on the menu (personal size), a big salad for two, and any two beverages (including beer or wine) for $25. That would be a decent deal even at Pizza Hut, so we jumped at the chance to try this Neapolitan pie on the cheap.

I guess it's no shock that Larry "the Russian"Veltman chose to open his first Chipp in a Russian section of Brooklyn. Big mistake, in my view. Most people, and presumably Russian immigrants, choose pizza by price. It is cheap convenience food. This block of Ocean Ave. may have been the right spot for a flagship borscht store, but not so much for authentic Neapolitan pizza which cannot be churned out cheaply like Papa John's. If you want to sell artisan pie, sell it where you have hipster foodies (Manhattan, Williamsburg) or where you have knowing pizza eaters (Staten Island, Bay Ridge, Trenton).

Arugula Salad

Tellingly, the place was nearly empty when we arrived on a Saturday evening. The young Russian girl working the counter was polite to a fault, but spoke in a heavily accented whisper that made communication difficult. She seemed to know almost nothing about the food on the menu. After a few miscommunications, we managed to place our order. We began with an arugula salad that was quite tasty. I can imagine eating it at a Cosi or Panera shop! We also chose to have wine with our meals. We got some very decent reds that came in single-serve bottles. A good start!

The "Sicilian" Pie

For our pies, we chose the Sicilian  (regularly $13.50) which features prosciutto, artichoke, kalamata olives, and basil and the Borgata  ($13.95) which had eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, olives, and basil.

A slice of the Sicilian pie

The Neapolitan crust was very authentic. Puffy, chewy, with a lovely char. Like most Neapolitan pizza, it was distressingly wet in the center, but that affected only the first bite of each slice. Here is one weird factor: on site, I found the crust to be kinda bland. Great texture (except the wet center) but lacking flavor. However, the next day when I heated a few leftover slices on my pizza stone, I found terrific flavor in the crust. I really can't explain why.

The Borgata Pie

The toppings were quite good overall. The Borgata was the better of the two pies, mostly because the kalamata olives on the Sicilian reminded me of the cheap ones you get on a Greek salad at a low-end diner. Too soft, and they did not benefit from being heated. Blasphemy, I know, but I would have preferred canned black California olives. The sauce on both was OK was not distinctive.

Nice char on the crust. Bravo!

Overall, this was very good pie. Larry has figured out how to reproduce the real thing. It's not magical Neapolitan like Forcella or Motorino or Zero Otto Nove, but it's well-rendered and it would be hands-down the best pizza in West Chester PA or anywhere on Philly's Main Line.

The menu - click to enlarge!

But if I ever thought an eatery was doomed to fail, it's Chipp. First, his arrogant quotes may have been designed to create a buzz, but I'm sure he angered a lot of pizza loyalists, bloggers, and scribes who won't give him a chance now. Second, the decor in his Panera-inspired store is pleasant, but odd. Lots of turn-of-the-last-century kitsch-y wall hangings such as early horseless carriages and big-wheel bicycles perhaps intended to evoke a "circa 1910" feel. Lastly, and most importantly, he went horribly wrong with this location. The place has to be bleeding money, so unless he has really deep pockets, it's hard to imagine a second location, or this one surviving. I can't see it lasting another six months.

I'm not going to rate the service or ambience on a numerical scale. Let's just say both were pleasant and/or earnest, but not what you expect with artisan pizza joints. The pies were very good. Short of great, but they earned a solid 8 rating. If you want to try it, I suggest you go soon.

UPDATE 5/13/12: We went there in September, 2011. One month later, as we predicted, it closed. Link to full story. From the Sheepshead Bites blog:

 "Chipp Neapolitan Pizzeria, which was co-owned by Lenny “The Russian” Veltman of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, closed in October after only seven months. We spotted the for sale announcement on Craigslist in June. At that time, co-owner Rus Gor told us that a dispute between the partners led to the sale."

CHIPP Neapolitan Pizza on Urbanspoon

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