Retired Brooklyn firefighter Paul Halvorsen will tell you that when he moved to Bradenton, there was plenty of pizza to be had, but not like the pizza he grew up with back home.
Missing Brooklyn-style pizza with its crispy crust and bored with retirement, Halvorsen and his brother-in-law, retired pharmacist Alex Christianson, decided to go into business for themselves.
Thus was born Brancato’s Brick Oven Pizza, which opened on Dec. 19 at 5227 Manatee Ave. W. in the Fairway shopping center.
“I grew up working in a pizzeria in Brooklyn. From the age of 11, I was sweeping the floor, taking out the trash and watching a lot,” Halvorsen said.
He went on to a 20-year career as a firefighter, where he honed his culinary chops.
In the fire station, “You either cook or clean up,” Halvorsen said.
The restaurant is named after Christianson’s mother. The Brooklyn DNA of the pizzeria is reflected in large black-and-white framed photos on the walls, including the famous Cyclone roller coaster, street scenes and even one of Walter, the ice cream man.
Prices for specialty pizzas, such as Margherita (fresh mozzarella, imported Italian tomatoes, basil and imported parmigiana Reggiano); Bianca (fresh mozzarella, ricotta cheese, Pecorino Romano cheese and Prosciuto de Parma); and The Goodfella (fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, sweet sausage and fresh garlic) are $13.95 for four-slice pies and $18.95 for eight-slice pies.
The most time-consuming part of the pizza-making process is in the made-from-scratch preparation and assembly of the pie.
The cooking in the wood-fired oven, with gas assist, takes only a couple minutes, considering that temperatures reach between 700 and 1,000 degrees.
Guests can build their own pizzas starting at $12.95 for a small and $17.95 for a large.
Beer and wine complete the menu, but the future will bring sandwiches and traditional Italian entrees, Halvorsen said.
“This is just the beginning,” he said.
Christianson, Halvorsen and pizza maker Jon Ellsworth have been busy the past two weeks making pizza for walk-in customers and those phoning in orders.
“The Bradenton community has been so behind us,” Christianson said of the customer support. “We offer something new, something different. The business is something that we love doing. We really enjoy it.”
The partners selected the Fairway shopping center location because it had plenty of traffic on Manatee Avenue, a vacant restaurant space and an abundance of parking. Most of the businesses at Fairway close at 5 p.m.
“We know our pizza is good. But the overwhelming response, even from people from New York, is that this is even better than they remember,” Halvorsen said.
The partners might never have moved to Bradenton were it not for Christianson’s sister, Erica, who was working here in a doctor’s office. After Halvorsen married Erica, the partners became family as well.
The 36-seat restaurant is open from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and noon-6 p.m. on Sunday. Brancato’s is closed on Monday.
For more information, call 941-212-0015 or visit Brancato’s Brick Oven Pizza’s Facebook page.