Andrew Feinberg and Francine Stephens met while both were working at Savoy restaurant in Soho—she as a bartender, he as a chef. After eloping to Italy a few months later, the couple settled down in Brooklyn and opened Franny’s in Prospect Heights a pizzeria serving rustic Italian food based on seasonal ingredients. Next came their store, Bklyn Larder, a cookbook, and the soon-to-open Marco’s. Franny's: Simple, Seasonal, Italian is their first cookbook.
Why Italian food?
Andrew Feinberg: That’s pretty easy to answer. That’s what I fell in love with. We’re both Jewish New Yorkers raised in Long Island—not that that’s so far from Italian! It’s a love of the simple combinations of flavors and how the most importance is on the ingredients themselves. The ingredients are treated with respect, and not too much is done to the food, the combinations are not complicated. Going down the line, I fell in love with the cheeses, the olive oils, the breads, and pasta is my favorite thing to eat. I’m not a fan of super creative and fancy food, and Italian food—traditional Italian food—is far from that.
AF: That’s an interesting question because we were always going to have an Italian restaurant but the pizza came about because of our brother-in-law. Right before we opened, the concept was to be a trattoria and he threw out the idea of pizza- he said you’re in Brooklyn, there’s so much history there. My first thought was, "it’s not challenging enough" which was a really naïve. It didn’t seem chef-y enough and I thought, "I don’t want to be cooking pizzas every day, its just bread and cheese"—which is so far from where we are now and what the truth is.
Francine Stephens: Let me intervene here, because at that point we were seeing a bunch of our friends opening restaurants and they were really struggling, and we didn’t want to struggle, we wanted a financially viable restaurant, and the idea of making pizza and making money really clicked because pizza really is a perfect food. Everybody loves pizza. So it all made sense. Pizza made it possible for us to open a restaurant that was economically affordable. Andrew has always been drawn to ingredients and simplicity and pizza, while seemingly so simple, has people who dedicate their entire lives to its perfection.
How did you learn how to make your pizza? How did you perfect it?
AF: I don’t consider our pizza anything close to perfect; it’s always something that we’re working on. But before we opened 10 years ago, I had no idea how to make pizza.
FS: We had never been to Naples. We’d never even been to Italy, and here we are opening a pizza restaurant.
AF: The pizza that we have on the menu today is very different from what it was 10 years ago and its something that is always really changing. Bread’s alive and we’re always tweaking. Part of my role now in the restaurant is eating the food and I eat the pizza all the time. We just moved to a new location and we had to adjust the dough, because it wasn’t doing what we wanted it to do, what we were accustomed to it doing, so we had to change the recipe. It’s something that is constantly evolving. It wouldn’t be very good if it stayed the same.
What would you say to people who are intimidated by the idea of making pizza at home?
AF: Anything having to do with bread is intimidating, and I think the hardest thing about getting people to make pizza at home is getting them comfortable with the dough and comfortable with getting it shaped. I would say to them, you have to do it several times before you can even become even at it- it takes practice and it doesn’t have to be beautiful for it to be delicious. If you use the recipe in the book, four ingredients, and you have great tomato sauce and great cheese; it’s going to taste great. It may not look the way you want it to the first few times, but practice and become accustomed to the feel of the dough.
What was the process in writing the book?
FS:& We give a lot of credit to Melissa Clark for writing the book. The process was very time consuming, it was hours and hours of talking to Melissa, telling her our story, and hours and hours of Andrew making the food, writing down the recipes, translating those recipes to Melissa, Melissa making the food, and our tasting the food.