Imagine if all of the signs in this city were more like messages on motivational posters. MTA delay announcement tickers would say, “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.” The billboards in Times Square would read “Mistakes are the greatest teachers.” And Santa Panza would have a poster in the window with “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it” in big letters. On paper, this is just another casual neighborhood pizza place - but the experience here makes you feel like it’s your casual neighborhood pizza place.
Santa Panza is a cash-only spot in the part of Bushwick that’s almost Bed-Stuy and definitely not East Williamsburg. As soon as you walk in, you feel like you’re part of what’s happening here. The dining room is an open space that snakes around the bar, pizza oven, and kitchen, and the bartender greets every person who comes into the restaurant like they’ve been there hundreds of times. Eating here is a little like experiencing a play about Bushwick, with tourists from the hotel across the street instead of actors.
Unlike so many great pizza places in New York, it actually feels like Santa Panza wants you to be there. On the weekends, it’ll look like there’s a wait, but then the host will create seats in bar crevices that didn’t exist before. You can show up with a group of six before a night out and have two more people arrive halfway through the meal, and Santa Panza will make it work. You might as well hire a Special Ops veteran to even get near certain pies in this city, but you don’t need a strategy to get into Santa Panza. This is pizza, not Shakespeare In The Park.
The same goes for your ordering strategy: you don’t need one. Get a cheese plate and some $30 carafes of wine and turn the place into your group’s personal living room, or go for the pappardelle that tastes like how we imagine it feels to hug a koala. Or come here just for the clams with garlicky white wine broth. We would.
But in all likelihood, you’re here for the wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas. Santa Panza serves them in two sizes, 6-inch and 12-inch, with simple combinations of toppings - and they taste a lot like the pizza you’ve had at other very good neighborhood spots. But with so many places in this city trying to reinvent the pizza wheel by frying it into a ball or telling you to cut it with scissors or putting a full diner breakfast on top of it, we really appreciate this pizza’s simplicity.
Go to Santa Panza, then wait three months. You won’t remember exactly what pizzas you ordered, or how exactly they tasted. But you’ll remember who was there, how much fun you had during dinner, and the bartender giving you homemade limoncello. That’s what Santa Panza is doing right.
The dijon dressing and whole anchovies in this kale salad will ruin your breath for the foreseeable future. But, even as you stare at this salad and imagine how unapproachable your mouth is going to be later, you won’t want to stop eating it.
A guy who worked in the hotel across the street told someone staying there to come to Santa Panza and order the clams. Then that hotel employee came into the restaurant while we were at the bar and paid for the stranger’s clams. These little molluscs bring people together, and it’s imperative you order them and dip your bread in the broth.
The 12-inch version of this pizza costs 12 dollars and it tastes great. Let’s all make a pact to show it off to all the places that charge way more for the same damn thing.
Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” came on just as our waitress brought this out to our table and that’s exactly how we feel about it.
Big pieces of salami with a little bit of a kick and some nice globs of mozzarella. We like this one a lot.
If you’re going the pasta route here, this is the one you want. The sauce is thick, a little sweet, and pretty meaty.
This is our least favorite thing here. The piece of octopus is too big and we ended up chewing for so long that we started having unpleasant thoughts about aquariums. Skip it.
Not too firm, not too springy. The sweetness of the raspberry jam on top might be enough to cancel out the garlic from the kale salad. Temporarily at least.