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Pizza

I’m not an expert on every ethnic food, but I know pizza.

I’ve tried all the major American pizza styles – New York, Chicago, New Haven, California – and the ancestral Italian versions in Naples and Rome. New Jersey’s best stands up well against all comers.

Here’s what I look for:

That’s a nice crust.

Crust

The most important element. First, there needs to be one. The edge of the pie should have a rounded crust higher than the middle of the pie. The edge of the pie shouldn’t have sauce on it,  and – please – nothing stuffed into it.

“Fold and hold” – The crust should be crisp enough to fold and pick up a slice without the tip flopping down and dumping toppings on the table. (Folding is the proper way to eat a slice, by the way.) No pizza should require a fork and knife. (Sorry Chicago.)

The inside of the crust, especially around the edge, should be chewy. Thickness can vary but the “fold and hold” test is key. A slice shouldn’t flop and it shouldn’t break apart. Proper pizza crust isn’t a cracker and it isn’t a biscuit.

The oven is key – DeLucia’s (Raritan, NJ) is 95 years old.

The dough and the oven give the crust its flavor. I prefer crust to be on the salty side and to be cooked in a well-aged oven.

Toppings

I’m a traditionalist. Tomato sauce (not too watery) and good mozzarella. After that, nothing too crazy (except anchovies, my personal weakness). Pizza should not have chicken or pineapple. (Sorry, California.) A little oil on top is necessary, but not so much you have to mop it up with a napkin. And please, olive oil, not that weird orange grease that runs off of fake cheese.

The beauty of the “fold and hold” test is that it also applies to toppings. Too much cheese, sauce, or other stuff and that point will flop.

Squan Tavern Pie – Manasquan, NJ

Perfect pizza is a mystical balance of crust and toppings. Or maybe just the pizza you ate as a kid.

Styles

You’ll find five main styles of pizza in New Jersey:

1)  New Jersey-Style

What most Jersey pizzerias serve – a straightforward  round pie with a flavorful, chewy crust, thick at the edges, that holds its shape under traditional toppings. Fold a slice and the tip keeps its point.

2)  Neapolitan

Neapolitan pies, cooked quickly at high temperatures in wood or coal-burning ovens, usually emerge with a bubbly, randomly charred crust. They can be oblong instead of round and are usually smaller than the standard Jersey pie. Fresh San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and basil (the “Margherita”) are common toppings.

3) Brick oven

Also cooked at high temperatures in wood or coal-burning ovens, New Jersey’s brick oven pizzas are larger and thinner than a traditional Neapolitan pie. The crust has a similar char. On the chewy-crispy spectrum, brick oven pies lean toward crispy. Slices of the best ones can be folded. My all-time favorite: DeLucia’s in Raritan.

Star Tavern – Orange

4)  Thin crust

Thin crust, or “bar pies,” are exactly that. The edge of the pie is barely thicker than the bottom. The best thin crust pizzas, however, can still pass the “fold and hold” test. These are usually made in gas ovens at your local watering hole. My current favorite: Orange’s Star Tavern.

4) Tomato Pies (Trenton)

Tomato pies (not “pizzas”) are uniquely New Jersey and specific to Trenton and its environs. De Lorenzo’s and Papa’s are the originals. The cheese and toppings go on the dough first, with the tomato sauce on top.

Don’t see your favorite pizza place? Share yours. I’ll add the most popular to the list, and to the map. Looking for New Jersey’s best Italian food?

Cranbury Pizza

Links

The Star Ledger’s Peter Genovese and his “Pizza Patrol” completed a monumental state-wide tour searching out the best Jersey pizza, county by county, visiting 330 NJ pizza joints and eating 3000 slices. I’m happy to see my top three among his top six.

25 Perfect Pizzas
Best Pizza in N.J.
Do You Know These Regional Pizza Styles?
Help finding the Best Pizza at the North Jersey Shore?

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20 Responses to “Pizza”

  1. Meade says:

    Sorry for double posting Anthony. I wanted to add one more comment about the old August Moon Restaurant. I’ve had so many found memories. They used to have the nicest, most beautiful menus I’ve ever seen. The artwork and printing was extraordinary. The illustrations of each dish were truly remarkable. They had many dishes from all over China. They would profile each dish, give the history of each dish and explain where the dish came from. My favorite meal was Peking Duck. I’ve had Peking duck in Chinatown in NYC at Big Wong and Peking Duck, which are two of the best in all of Chinatown. The Peking Duck at August Moon, was the best I ever had.

  2. Meade says:

    How about a Gone but Not Forgotten Post. I’m sure everyone has found memories of their favorite old restaurant. For Chinese, mine was The August Moon in Morristown by the train station. That place was epic. I’ve had Chinese all around the country and it’s the best I’ve ever had. Always delicious. The waiters were always friendly and attentive. They had this weird contraption that they used to serve wine with. If I didn’t know better I’d swear it was prison hooch. If you sat in the special seat, they would go all out and give you a huge special desert. Ice cream float, jello, cookies, the works. I wish I knew where they got their pistachio ice cream from. It’s the best I ever had. Hall of Fame Restaurant.

  3. Meade says:

    Vesuvio next to Beaver Dam Hardware in Pt. Pleasant Boro has the best pizza I’ve ever had. In my opinion the best pizza in Ocean County. I had the sausage pizza. It was exceptional. Their Sicilian is awesome. I saw 25 reviews on Yelp. All 5 stars (highest possible rating). Most people said it was the best pizza they ever had, even people from across the country. If thin crust is your thing, try Joe Spano’s Pies, same vicinity.

  4. Anthony says:

    Ah, Italian pizza. Naples? Hard to beat. Try Ah’ Pizz in Montclair when you have a chance. (Much better than Summit’s Pizza Vita, which I’ve now tried.)

  5. Michelle says:

    Yup, I’ve been in Emma’s. In fact that’s my in-laws new favorite restaurant! I think it’s okay but I agree with you that it’s not my favorite style. They use too much cheese for my taste. Of course since I just got back from Italy it’s hard for me to find any pizza to live up to those standards.

  6. Michelle says:

    One of my favorite pizza places was Napoli’s in Hoboken. They specialized in margherita pizza. I enjoyed it even more than Grimaldi’s, which is more well-known. Now that we’ve moved to Union County I have yet to find anything comparable.

    • Anthony says:

      Michelle, have you tried Emma’s Brick Oven in Cranford? Decent thin crust, but I’m partial to the Jersey “standard” crust (DeLucia’s, Cranbury Pizza) and Neapolitan style (Ah’ Pizz, De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies). There’s a new place in Summit – Pizza Vita – that I’ve been meaning to try.

  7. Lisa says:

    Denino’s South, owned by the same family as the original
    Denino’s in Staten Island, opened a location at 869 Mantoloking
    Road in Brick. The brick oven pizza is out of this world. I am also
    a big fan of the calmari and the pasta fagioli soup. Really haven’t tasted anything there
    that I didn’t like. Love the MOR pizza. Try it – you won’t be disappointed!

  8. meade says:

    I wanted to write a review of Tommy’s Coal Fired Pizza. They have locations in Oakhurst, Brick, and Redbank. I ate at the Brick location. I ordered the Carlito’s Way. It has Sausage, San Marizano tomatoes, imported olive oil and Italian hot finger peppers. It was an excellent pizza. The crust was somewhat thin, but had a nice crisp bite. The slice passed the fold test. I also ordered the Italian salad. The olives were very good. They have several drink specials and Karaoke on Tuesdays. An interesting note. The owner is often present. He is also Mike the “Situation”s from the Jersey Shore’s accountant. Overall I think this is some of the best pizza around. I don’t drink, but it seemed like a good bar scene/good vibe.

  9. meade says:

    I don’t know what it is about pizza in Ocean or Monmouth County I am from up North; the pizza tends to be flat crust and runny/ not cooked. If you tried to sell this pizza up North, they would run you out of town. It is hard to find good pizza down here. You have to ask for it cooked throughout or nearly burnt. I have heard the argument that it’s the water but to me that’s B.S. I don’t think they take the time to sell quality, honest food. They rush the orders to make volume. Anyway that’s my two cents/opinion.

    • Anthony says:

      I do like a real crust – not a cracker – and some char on the bottom. The “fold and hold” test is crucial for me. Squan Tavern has a decent crust, but no char. There must be places in Monmouth and Ocean that qualify – plenty of places on my list to try.

  10. meade says:

    Vic’s in Bradley Beach has the best pizza I have ever had.

  11. meade says:

    In my opinion, Rondo’s on Drum Point Rd. in Brick has the best pizza in town. I like their sausage pizza.

  12. Dawn says:

    Antonio’s in Metuchen is good pizza but I would endorse (from your To try list) is that you get around to Spirito’s in Elizabeth. Thin, crisp crust, simple, clean sauce.

  13. Marcia says:

    Where does SO’s Reservoir fall on this list, I wonder. I haven’t been there in a long time — it’s kid-friendly but not baby-friendly and that’s how long ago — but I think not going back was convenience rather than choice. They seem to stay under the radar, tho business looks brisk. Maybe it’s the Chicken Murphy that draws the crowd.

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