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NYC brick oven pizza with an incredible sauce at Fratelli Pizza and Wine Bar

The brick oven pizza at NYC's Fratelli Pizza and Wine Bar.
The brick oven pizza at NYC's Fratelli Pizza and Wine Bar.
Photo by Katie Ett,

The most important thing I learned thanks to an invitation to dine on the house at Fratelli Pizza and Wine Bar on the Upper East Side is that "fratelli" means "brother" in Italian. So the famed Fratelli brothers in "The Goonies" were really the Brother brothers. You're welcome. Brothers Jon and Marc Bash opened Fratelli in 2007 after successfully running a cafe next door, and the family theme continues in more than just the name of the place.

Either everyone who comes to this pizzeria on 1st Avenue near 71st Street is actually related, or the neighborhood just spends so much time here that the brothers have gotten to know all of them. I got a warm welcome and a prime table by the windows up front and thought I was pretty special until I saw that everyone who came in after me got a hand shake, a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and the kind of familiar chatter you don't get in less tightly-knit areas of the city. There were babies sleeping in strollers, girlfriends having wine after work, and a long tableful of teenage girls taking selfies and celebrating a birthday. At 6:30 p.m., when other restaurants in the city are just opening, Fratelli was practically buzzing.

The restaurant will bring you their sundried tomato dipping sauce and crusty bread on the house to start, and you won't want to eat anything else. It's so rich and dense and complex, with pine nuts, capers, basil, and anchovies all ground into this chunky topping. I kept going back in for another dip, hoping to uncover more of it's mysterious flavors. The margherita with housemade mozzarella and basil had a chewy crust with just the right amount of char from the brick oven. The sauce was sweet and subtle and at times overpowered by the basil, but the two of them together made a new, balanced flavor. The pizza was delicious on its own, but you can't help eyeing the sundried tomato dipping sauce across the table and wonder why it's not smeared all over your pie. Under the cheese, over the cheese, all around the crust. The brothers behind Fratelli told me they sometimes have a daily pizza special that'll incorporate the sauce, but to me, it seemed like a missed opportunity to really set the place apart. Luckily, they'll sell you a separate jar of it to spread on whatever you want, and I want it on everything.

As someone who usually eats a low-carb diet when not stuffing my face with pizza, I had to try Fratelli's brick oven baked eggplant lasagna that uses grilled eggplant in place of starchy noodles. It was that elusive thing of simplicity that comes off as complex, extremely flavorful and cooked just right. The baked cheese was bubbled and chewy, and the eggplant was tender but still had enough texture that my mind kept telling me it was sausage. The dessert the brothers brought me wasn't one I would've ever ordered myself, and it was another example of perfection in simplicity. The white chocolate polenta cake had the flavors of a s'more, with a little crunch on the top and bottom. The grainy–but not crumbly–texture made it seem like a cake that was just a little al dente. I'd order it again on my next visit to Fratelli Pizza and Wine Bar. And there will be a next visit.

– Katie Ett,