Interview with Chef Nick Anderer of Marta NYC

Pizza dough

You love pizza, we love pizza and pretty much everyone, everywhere loves pizza. So when Marta – a new restaurant inspired by Roman pizzerie – opened in New York’s Martha Washington hotel at the end of last year, we couldn’t wait to chomp into that thin, crackly crust. Helmed by Chef Nick Anderer of Maialino – who was just nominated for the 2015 Best Chef: NYC James Beard Award for Marta – the stunning space is designed with vaulted ceilings, an open kitchen and beautiful bar that turns out delicious cocktails and one of the best beer programs in the city.

Chef Nick Anderer_(Alice Gao)We stopped into Marta for brunch a few weeks ago (yes, pizza for brunch is a thing and it will change your life) and had one of the most delicious meals. Along with avocado bruschetta and a beautiful piece of fish, we had the Testa pizza – topped with pig face, fontina, celery, radish, pickled mustard seeds and cracklings – which was absolutely out of this world. Corey Gargiulo, who runs Marta’s beer program, stopped by to explain their extensive selection and set up a pairing with each course so we could try multiple brews. We even had a beer ice cream float for dessert.

After the meal, we caught up with Nick and Corey to learn a little bit more about the inspiration behind Marta’s menu and how to choose the best beers to pair with their pizza. Check out the interview below.

You developed a passion for Italian cuisine when studying abroad in Rome and later cooking in kitchens both there and in Milan. Is there any particular dish or restaurant that really sparked this love and interest?

Nick Anderer: There are so many places, people, restaurants and dishes in Rome that have sparked my interest in the city’s cuisine.  My favorites were always the simplest: Spaghetti alle Vongole (clams) at Pierluigi, Coda alla Vaccinara (oxtail) at Checchino and Puntarella Salad anywhere.

Your pizzas have deliciously thin, crackly crusts. What is the secret to getting the taste and texture just right? Do you use Neapolitan ovens?

NA: The ovens are actually not Neapolitan. The roof of a Neapolitan pizza oven is much lower and the temperatures are way hotter, roughly 900-1000 degrees F. We cook our pizzas in ovens with slightly higher roofs and keep the temp at roughly 700 degrees, which allows for longer contact with the oven floor. The result is a much crispier crust.

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We had to try the Testa pizza with pigs face, fontina, celery, radish, pickled mustard seeds and cracklings for brunch. It’s made with such a unique mix of ingredients that complement each other so well. What inspired you to create this particular pie?

NA: We have a very talented sous chef team that is always challenging each other to come up with new, exciting toppings – reimagining what pizza can actually carry.  We tried pig terrines with similar seasonings as a stand-alone dish, but everything tastes better on pizza, no?  Our sous chef Michael Keltai has a very playful approach and decided to give this pig face pizza a shot. I think it’s a winner.

What ingredients can we expect to see on the Marta menu this spring? Anything coming into season you can’t wait to try?
NA: Spring is going to be so much fun. Ramps? Asparagus? Peas? Favas? Morels? Those all sound like good pizza toppings to me. Let’s see what the team comes up with.

Related: Feasting: Chef Angie Mar of The Beatrice Inn

Marta has an extensive beer selection with some of the best craft, Italian and local brews in the city. When navigating the list, what are some tips for choosing the best beers to complement the flavors of Marta’s pies?

Corey Gargiulo: The most important part of choosing a beer to pair with any food, but Marta’s pies in particular, is to approach the list with a certain willingness to explore. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when presented with a number of beer options, some of which may be unfamiliar, but it’s essential in pairing to ultimately find a beer that suits your tastes best. Pairing beer with our pizzas is really fun and exciting. And although some pairings may be perceived as better or worse than others, the best pairings come from the combined experience of a beer you enjoy drinking and a pizza you enjoy eating. There is no right or wrong.

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In general, there are a few rules for pairing beer with our pizzas I like to consider. First, try to compliment the intensity of flavors. Stronger, more intensely flavored beers work well with more intensely flavored pies. Conversely, lighter, more delicate pizzas pair well with lighter, subtler beers. A wide variety of malt profiles in different beer styles, from lightly bready (Pilsner or Light Lager) to deeply roasted (Porter or Brown Ale), match crispy crusts. Carbonation plays a huge role in beer pairing as well because it cleanses the palate, preparing you for the next slice while hop bitterness leaves you craving more, making beer and pizza a natural match. Draft beer programs afford the guest opportunities to taste a variety of beers, and at Marta, we like to focus on rotating local NYC breweries as often as possible. Discovering a style or brewery on draft is a great way to experiment with a number of different combinations and allows you to mix and match, finding what works best for you.

Once you discover a beer style you thoroughly enjoy, trying an Italian bottle of the same becomes less of a commitment and opens the door to fun exploration into the world of beer. If you happen to enjoy Other Half IPA – an India Pale Ale brewed in Brooklyn, NY with a mild caramel malt backbone and piney, citrus hop notes – then trying an Italian play on the style is worthwhile. In this instance, I’d recommend a bottle of Brewfist Spaceman IPA, their take on an American style IPA, brewed in Lombardia. Spaceman has similar characteristics to Other Half’s version with lychee and mango hop aromas.

Most importantly, choosing the best beer for a delicious pizza is more about an open exploration into new things for something purely enjoyable, which is, in fact, the perfect pairing.

To learn more about Marta and to check out the menu, visit martamanhattan.com Photos courtesy of Union Square Hospitality Group, Alice Gao.