Friday, February 15, 2008

My Friend Jamie

The last thing Berlin needs is another fast food place, right? Well, not necessarily—there may be room for the aggressively-named Fat Ass Pizza, just-opened on Prenzlauer Berg’s equivalent of Restaurant Row at Oderbergerstra√üe 23.

Combining the efforts of New York’s Jamie Lipps and Berlin’s Marcel Hellstern, this smart-looking eatery serves up ridiculously huge slices—not squares, dammit—but real, honest-to-god New York-style slices.

“I remember reading an article in the Times years ago that said the best business ideas usually come from one thing: being in a new environment, and finding that something you had every day of your life back home is missing,” says Lipps. “I love Berlin, but for me that missing thing was pizza—I’ve been coming here since the early 90’s, and it always bugged me that I couldn’t get a slice of pizza on the street. I mean, that’s real NY food! It’s fast and filling and as good as it gets! And it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg!”

Hellstern, owner of the popular coffee bar Lass Uns Freunde Bleiben, also in Prenzlauer Berg, agrees: “It’s definitely a food idea whose time has come in Berlin. I mean, we have good Italian-style pizza here, but that’s a whole other thing, you know? With the brick oven and the goat cheese and the waiting and waiting? Fat Ass is different—big, thick, delicious slices with a crust that you really have to sink your teeth into, these babies are pretty much a meal in themselves. And the prices are extremely tourist-friendly, euro to dollar exchange rate be damned! Plus if you don’t want to hang out, you can take them with you in about two minutes flat.”

Although hang out you will—the cozy interior manages to walk the line between trend and tradition, taking a 1930’s Art Deco feel and jerking it rudely into 2008. Don’t expect photos of the Empire State Building, but enjoy the subtle references to the city’s rich history—an authentic tin ceiling, a lamp from a 1940’s elementary school—comfortably mixed alongside a sleek, ultramodern bar. And de rigueur for Prenzlauer Berg, a sunny area out front with strategically-placed tables to take advangtage of every available ray. Great food, great staff, great vibe.

But what do a bunch of Berlin boys know about NY style? “Plenty!” says Lipps, the lone New Yorker in the group. “In the beginning I thought I was the expert, having easily put away about 1000 slices back home. But these guys—Marcel, Flo, Andi, and our culinary specialist, Frank Bornemann—actually traveled to Manhattan and spent weeks researching the traditional pizza joints. They hung out all day at Papa John’s and Ray’s Pizza in the Village, Carmine’s on the Upper West Side... you name it. And they basically pestered the dudes working there until they got all the secrets they could get!”

So... why the name Fat Ass?

“Ah, geez. Everybody asks me that!” laughs Lipps. “Yep, there’s a real story behind it, but it’s not for the weak of heart—I’m not sure you can even print it. But I’ll tell you this much: it involves a pizza place way the hell downtown in Soho, some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life, and one employee who always sported a pair of spectaculary tight, white pants! Want the rest? Come to Fat Ass, buy me a beer, and we’ll talk.”