As far back as he can remember, Matt Diaz always wanted to open a wine bar. In fact, before becoming a fixture on the Bed-Stuy hospitality scene for his popular masa and tortilla spot For All Things Good, which he runs with and Carlos Macias, Diaz spent more than a decade in the wine importation and distribution business. Before that, he went to school to study winemaking.
But while his almost-equal passion for masa won out in 2020 with the opening of For All Things Good during the first fall of the pandemic, Diaz wouldn’t let his wine bar dream die. And in September, when a space opened up right across Franklin Avenue where Nice Pizza had been for some 15 years, Diaz pounced, swooping in ahead of other potential candidates by literally staying up all night to write a business plan that would secure him the lease. And so Bar Birba — the name means “mischievous,” or like a troublemaker — was born.
Photo by Scott Lynch
“The space was just so pretty,” Diaz tells Brooklyn Magazine. “Perfect for the kind of cool, cute, cozy neighborhood wine bar I had in my mind. And it came with a giant, floor-to-ceiling pizza oven so I was like, welp, time to learn how to make pizza!”
Diaz and co-owners Bob Edinger and Guadalupe Candia immediately found the perfect furniture and fixtures for the place when the Ridgewood restaurant Porcelain held its closeout sale and they snatched up brass-rimmed bistro tables, rustic wooden chairs, and deco sconces. Here’s the rub: Diaz realized that mastering the art of pizza dough was too crazy an ambition to pull off in such a short time. So for that, the team hired Bar Birba’s secret weapon, chef Aminu Tedla.
Tedla arrived at Birba with an impressive resume — he’s worked in the kitchens at Speedy Romeo, Lucali’s, Baby Luc’s, and Pasquale Jones — and an enviable creative spirit. The pizza here, says Diaz, is “almost Roman style,” with a thinner, lighter crust than your classic Sicilian, but still boasting some heft and bite. Orders come in quarter-pan portions, or about two slices.
There are four options on the menu every night: a no-cheese marinara; a no-sauce bianca; a very good, mozzarella-loaded and sauced-up margherita, and a stellar mannaggia, topped with peppy ‘nduja, creamy ricotta, and more of that mozzarella. This was one of my favorite slices I had anywhere all year.
Eight-inch portions of margherita ($8) and mannaggia ($10) pizzas (Scott Lynch)
Tedla also fires up a daily special, which he says will usually be NYC-fold style; on opening night it looked to be a pepperoni pie.
And maybe even better than the pizza is Tedla’s panino, which is basically a massive, cheesy, bianca slice folded over a row of mortadella, everything slathered in pistachio pesto and drizzled with oil.
Panino mortadella e pistachio, $18 (Scott Lynch)
There are also snacky things like burrata, a pretty-looking tuna crudo, crocks of caponata, a radicchio salad, and some satisfying aranci studded with mushrooms and pecorino.
Arancini with mushroom and pecorino, $12 (Scott Lynch)
All of the food is great, but the driving force behind Bar Birba is the wine. Edinger oversees the lengthy list, and the bottle menu is stacked with all sorts of natural Italian wines under $70. Check the daily scrawl on the ornate mirror in the dining room for wines by the glass, most of which will cost you $13. Tell your server the sort of thing you’re in mood for, and have them bring the somm’s choice.
Bar Birba is only open at night for now, but Diaz plans on introducing a brunch service at some point, and maybe turning the place into a daytime soccer hang, projecting games on the wall and selling sandwiches and baked goods to go with the wine.
“We love this community,” Diaz says “I went to high school in Fort Greene, and I’ve lived in Bed-Stuy for longer than I’d like to admit. It feels nice to see familiar faces every day. Everyone in the neighborhood is so sweet. I feel very content.”
Bar Birba is located at 340 Franklin Avenue, between Greene and Lexington Avenues, and is currently open from Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight.