INDIANAPOLIS IS IN a complicated relationship with its pizza. As a constant supply of new pie shops open, we hold on to our lifelong allegiances to Pasquale’s, Arni’s Restaurant, or the House of Pizza King, preferences that divide us, right down to the Little League team we played on. If you came of drinking age anywhere near Broad Ripple, Union Jack Pub will forever hold a place in your beer-soaked, carb-craving heart. Meanwhile, some people get nostalgic when they catch a whiff of Papa John’s sweet, tomato paste perfume. For me, a Greek’s Pizzeria smells just like college, and on the occasion that I tear into a warm, salty Noble Roman’s breadstick … just like that, I’m back in high school during the John Hughes Sixteen Candles era. After every Ben Davis home game, we swarmed the West 10th Street location with our mall bangs and mullets, craving deep-dish Sicilian. We were hardwired that way. We still are.
Brozinni Pizzeria, which opened on the south side 14 years ago, has managed to claim a spot in the Indy pizza canon, even though this understated purveyor of thin-crusted, puffy-rimmed pies is too new to be old-school, and too old to be new-school.
In spite of its Jan Brady status in Indy’s big blended pizza family, Brozinni quietly became one of our favorites. It feels homey and good-hearted, like a good neighborhood joint. Plus, it’s had an interesting year. May marks the first anniversary of Brozinni’s Speedway launch, a good month to celebrate any big accomplishment in the Racing Capital of the World. Housed in a sleek two-story spot along Main Street’s corridor of new construction, it opened around the same time that Brozinni’s South Emerson Avenue flagship closed for a heavy remodel, a job originally expected to take but a few months that is now shooting for a summer 2022 reboot. James Cross, who co-owns the business with Molly Wallace, says the pandemic, slow permits, supply-chain problems, and an employee shortage threw the southside work off schedule, giving him some time to roll out a new pizzeria in the shadow of Turn One.
That’s prime real estate for visiting race fans, many of whom will wander over from the track in search of non-corndog sustenance this season. But, as part of Speedway’s reinvented downtown, Brozinni has given townies a neighborhood pizza shop of their own. Its street-level corner slot inside the Speedway Indoor Karting building, with wide dining-room windows overlooking the two tracks, is good advertising for former IndyCar driver Sarah Fisher’s high-adrenaline business venture. As the CRG Centurion karts zipping around the 14-turn, European-style road course provide a buzzy white noise in the background, Brozinni’s three conveyor ovens churn out monstrous pies. The small one spans 16 inches, and the large measures a whopping 20 inches across. There are pieces of Ikea furniture that take up less space in your hatchback, but this is no gimmick. The pizzas are designed to deliver one-slice servings of chewy, foldable crust with a smear of sauce and a sensible pull of cheese. The menu also includes basic pastas, plate-spanning calzones, bricks of lasagna, and a weekly prime rib dinner. Bloody Mary brunch is served. The chicken wings have seven sauce options. Still, pizza is the headliner.
“We make our marinara, and we make our dough. Our motto has always been to let the food do the talking,” Cross says. Each of his pizzas takes its name from a street in his hometown of New York City. The Canal Street is a jumble of pepperoni, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, black olives, red onions, and green peppers. Slices of Italian sausage adorn the Ave of the Americas. The Kissena Boulevard is studded with housemade meatballs, mozzarella, and fresh basil. And the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway has a ranch-dressing base that is fortified with chicken, bacon, and ham.
We could get into a very heated debate (and believe me, people do) over the essential qualities of traditional New York–style pizza—the correct acidity of sauce, pliability of crust, and stretchiness of cheese—and whether Brozinni checks all of the boxes. If this kind of thing matters to you, I can assure you that these sturdy, low-profile pies sold by the slice at lunch are definitely in the style of New York–style pizza. The foundation has that faintly sour depth of flavor, crisp and wheaty around the perimeter and wafer-thin at the center. Where Brozinni loses the nitpickers is in its puffy rim. Purists say it’s too hefty, more of an extra-large moat to contain the guts of the pizza than an authentic, pinchable thin crust.
Cross doesn’t take it as a criticism. In fact, he’s proud of his dough recipe, which he got from a buddy back in New York with connections to the century-old Battaglini Bakery in Endicott. You can taste the bread’s simple, yeasty essence in one of Brozinni’s jumbo breadsticks. Roughly the size of a toddler’s forearm, the chewy, baguette-like zeppelins are at their best when served warm from the oven, every bite requiring a tug. “I was fortunate to have that recipe,” Cross says. “And then we paired it with some great sauce and good cheese.”
“Back in the day, the Italians didn’t have a lot of money when they came here from Italy,” Cross says. “They had tomatoes in the backyard, and a little bit of dough left after making bread. Pizza was one of those things that fed a lot of people and didn’t cost a lot.” Pizza doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or even pedigreed. But it does have to work some magic.