When you walk into Barboncino, you can tell it isn’t your average NYC slice joint. The room is lit by candles, and the brick walls make it feel cozy and warm. This isn’t a place to grab a bite on the run—this is the kind of place you want to bring a first date.
Chef/Owner Ron Brown opened the Franklin Avenue restaurant in October. The name, “toy poodle” in Italian, is in honor of Brown’s beloved dog.
The restaurant specializes in Neapolitan-style pies, which the name suggests, originated in Naples. (, on Flatbush Avenue, makes a similar style.) The dough is a key element: Barboncino’s recipe uses a very pure wheat, which is worked by hand and allowed to rise over three days. The pizzas are topped with such ingredients as fior di latte (a cow’s milk mozzarella), organic Italian tomatoes, and extra virgin olive oil, then baked in a wood-burning oven.
The 74-seat eatery offers individual-sized pizzas with such toppings as artichokes, fennel sausage, and cherry stone clams, ranging from $8 to $17. Salads and appetizers round out the menu, with gelato from Il Laboratorio Del Gelato in Manhattan for dessert. The backyard will open with additional seating in the spring. The kitchen is open from 5:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m. seven days, and the bar is open even later.
Brown isn’t Italian, but he has plenty of experience running food businesses. In the past he’s owned two ice cream parlors, a full restaurant, and a catering business. This time, he wanted to build the restaurant of his dreams.
“I really wanted to create a place in a community that I like, serving great food in a relaxed atmosphere where people can feel really comfortable and cozy and where they’re treated special,” Brown said.
Before Barboncino opened, Brown studied with the family that made the restaurant’s wood-burning oven, then spent six weeks in the space making and perfecting his pizza dough recipe.
“There’s so many factors that affect it that you really have to create your own recipe once you’re in your space. We keep a dough journal. Dough is a very tricky thing to get right and to be consistent with. I think we’ve nailed it,” said Brown.
But Brown isn’t just interested in food. He’s spent the last several years working as an independent filmmaker. His feature film, “A Perfect Fit”, stars Adrian Grenier of HBO’s Entourage.
To Brown, making movies and running a restaurant have a lot in common.
“This restaurant really is the best one I’ve done. I took a lot of time and put a lot of effort into all the details, and I kind of see it as a production. It’s very similar to making a film. You create the set, and you cast it, and you put on the show. It kind of uses the same skill set,” he said.
Although Brown and his wife have lived in Manhattan for many years, he knew Brooklyn was the right place for his newest project.
“It’s way cooler than Manhattan now,” said Brown. “The food culture really is here now, so that appealed to me, to be where the coolest, best, cutting edge spots are.”
The space he found on Franklin Avenue was much more interesting than the “white boxes” he was used to in Manhattan, but it also brought its own obstacles.
“Doing a building like this is a challenge because when you pull up the floor, you don’t know what you’re going to find. We had to replace a lot of the structural work that was not sound, so that made the project very long. But also, you can leave some of the amazing character. These walls are basically as we found them, and I just think they’re gorgeous,” Brown said of the brick walls in the dining room.
So far, reaction has been positive. Popular pizza blogger Adam Kuban of Slice reviewed them the week they opened, saying that Barboncino “could hold its own against some of the top-tier joints in the city.”
“It’s just been so great,” Brown said. “People don’t have to seek out the owner and give them a compliment, but every night people come over to me and they’re like, ‘Thank you for doing this,’ and they list the three top things that I really think are important, which are service, ambiance, and food. I hope we’re nailing all three of them. ... So knock on wood, it’s going great.”
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Barboncino, 781 Franklin Ave. at St. Johns Place, (718) 483-8834
Open 7 Days a Week, Kitchen 5pm-1am, Bar 4pm-late