Pizza

Wood Stack Pizza Kitchen: top-notch pizza and cocktails in Pine Brook, NJ

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A short ten years ago, the only thought of Neapolitan-style pizza in NJ was the memory of Una Pizza Napoletana in Point Pleasant Beach, owned and operated by the incredible pizzaiola Anthony Mangieri, which had a run of a few years, and probably caused much confusion for the locals and bennies--"What, no slices? I have to order a whole pie? Why is it so small? Why is it moist? It's burned." It closed, and Mangieri moved his place to NYC to great acclaim. Then he moved to San Francisco, for more great acclaim.

But now, in our current world of open-mindedness and tolerance to ideas that differ from our own and our ability to have our worldviews and deeply rooted biases challenged, Neapolitan-style pizza can be all over our state, and even in some other states, if you can believe that. Many of these places do a very good job. Few combine excellent Neapolitan-style pizza with a full bar. And even fewer have a full bar and actually care about the booze they're offering. Wood Stack Pizza, in Pine Brook, is, indeed, exceptional in this regard, and others.

Wood Stack Pizza Pine Brook
Here's a tip: if they offer you bread, take it. They're baking their own bread here, as good pizzaiolo do, and it's excellent stuff. Served with softened butter sprinkled with coarse sea salt (they do things right here, I'm tellin' ya that much).

Their liquor shelves are well-stocked, and even have some stuff that I've never come across. The cocktail list is expansive, and there's a separate section for margarita-type drinks (tequila, and mezcal), presumably because they knew I'd be coming.  The gin, rum, whiskey, and tequila cocktails far outnumber the vodka drinks, thankfully. Good management is in place, it's clear, because the bartenders are jiggering their cocktails. Cocktails are all about proportions, and unless you're a very exceptional bartender, not jiggering can lead to unbalanced drinks. I prefer to see jigger use at a bar. It's a sign of professionalism and an attention to detail. Even I, I, use jiggers when making cocktails at home. Of course, I can free-pour pretty well, but why bother.

Woodstack pizza pine brook
Woodstack pizza pine brook
Woodstack pizza pine brook

The tap beers are all local, and seem to rotate pretty regularly. All from NJ as far as I can remember. All sorts of great beer is being produced in NJ, and you should start drinking it and supporting your local brewers. Otherwise those kids who make the beer are going to have to do the other things they'd be doing, like making awful music. Please drink their beer so I don't have to hear their awful music. 

Wood Stack does have some mass-produced swill in bottles, for the savages among us.

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Eating in Croatia: Alviz in Hvar

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It didn't occur to me that I might be enjoying both pizza and cevapi in a single meal, but that's exactly what happened in Hvar, the gorgeous town on the island of the same name in Croatia.

The owner of the lovely Villa Nora suggested Alviz for dinner. "It has the best cevapi in Hvar...Bosnian grilled meat," she advised. Who am I to argue. Off we went.

Alviz is situated by the bus depot next to a parking lot. Not a sexy location by any means, and most people would probably prefer eating at one of the many restaurants around the harbor. Those people don't know what they're missing. What Alviz lacks in views, it makes up for in every other way.

Alviz hvar croatia

There's a large partially open-air garden terrace in the back of the restaurant, from which you'll get a view of the wood-burning grill. Start with a liter of stupidly inexpensive local red wine from the island.

We weren't expecting much from pizza in Croatia in general, but each time we had it, it was quite impressive. This version had spicy salami and hot vinegar peppers. I don't know what type of oven they are using to cook the pies, but the crust was crisp and alive. Not dry and lifeless, which is often the case. While Croatia isn't necessarily a pizza-making culture, the pizzas are excellent no doubt due to the quality of the ingredients. The breads in Croatia overall were very good.

Alviz hvar croatia-3
Alviz hvar croatia-3

The cevapi was the best we had during our entire trip. It's a simple dish of grilled beef and perhaps lamb. Served with the roasted red pepper sauce called ajvar--a sweet, smoky, fruity condiment--and raw onions. This dish is going into rotation around my house as soon as I figure out how to make it.

The french fries, also, excellent.

Hvar croatia

Hvar is a sleepy town well worth consideration. Well, it's sleepy a bit off season. I'd definitely avoid it in the hot summer months, especially when a thing called Yacht Week occurs, and the town is no doubt filled with loud, obnoxious, drunk people dancing and doing shots on rented boats. I prefer it when I'm the only loud, obnoxious drunk person around.

Alviz : Dolac 2, 21450, Hvar, Croatia  


New York Italian Style Bakery: Tomato Pie in Philadelphia, PA

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On our way out of Philadelphia, we stopped at New York Italian Style Bakery to get a few slices of tomato pie. I knew I was going to try a slice when I got in the car. I didn't think I'd be eating two in quick succession. Maybe the excitement stemmed from this being my first experience with tomato pie (a style of pizza that seems to be unique to Philadelphia and its suburbs), but this pie really made an impression on me.

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We would have never considered this stop or knew about New York Italian Style Bakery if not for a conversation with a lovely bartender at the pretty-damed-good Lolita during lunch one afternoon. We got to talking about food, as I do, and she recommended this small bakery that makes bread, and also this tomato pie. "Just get a few slices and bring them back to the hotel for later tonight," we were advised. That sounded like a fine idea, but once I saw they open at 6 am on Sunday, stopping on the way home seemed like an even better idea. Now I can't imagine visiting Philly without incorporating this stop into the itinerary.

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They are giving this stuff away. A slice (about 6 inches in length) is about $1.50. We got four, and the pleasant girl dutifully laid two slices together, sauce side to sauce side. The other two packed into the paper the same way, perfect for taking this stuff to go. Indeed, there is nowhere to sit at New York Italian Bakery. It's a strictly to-go operation. And don't expect a hot slice from the oven. It seems that this pizza is served room temp.

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I tried a slice as soon as we got into the car (well, soon after I laid the slices on the backseat and snapped a few shots). Frankly I couldn't believe how much I enjoyed that first slice. As we were making our way to the Turnpike, I couldn't get it out of my head. I finally caved and had to grab a second slice. It was, just as good as the first.

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S. Egidio: Neapolitan-style pizza in Ridgewood, NJ

S egidio ridgewood pizza

It took me a while, but I finally had a chance to grab a pie at S. Egidio, the small, Neapolitan-style pizza place on North Broad Street in Ridgewood, NJ.

While the dinner menu isn't very large to begin with, the lunch menu is even smaller. Some salads, sandwiches, meats, and pizza. Maybe even a pasta or two. Doesn't matter. I was there for the pizza.

I went right for a Margherita pie. A better baseline for comparison you will not find. And I caved and ordered soppressata as a topping.

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Black Stone Pizza Oven: serious pizza-making at home

PizzaPancetta, sauce, mozzarella, olive, thyme, peppadews. 100 second cook.

The Black Stone Pizza Oven is a somewhat inexpensive, high-heat cooking device, which many pizza-obsessives are going nuts over--especially those who want to produce Neapolitan-style pizza at home, but who don't have a wood-burning oven.

My first few cooks on the Black Stone yielded decent enough results, but it did take some time to learn how to manage its heat. What I found is that a few quick mods help me produce the style of pizza that I'm looking to make--Neapolitan.

The main mod, called the "chauflector," directs the flame more to the rim of the pizza. This helps the crust cook while ensuring that the toppings aren't burning. I think it also helps cook the pizza more quickly, which means the bottom is less likely to burn. I find the results with the chauflector are more to my liking than without, although many people aren't using one and producing fine looking pies. Cutting the sheet metal to make this thing, I should note, was not pleasurable.

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Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza: Fair Lawn, NJ

Anthonys coal fired pizza

Curiosity got the best of me. I sorta knew that Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza wasn't producing the type of pizza that I'm interested in, but something about a sunny 68 degree day and hearing about a bar that opens to the outside motivated me to give it a shot.

You will likely be greeted by a full restaurant. Filled with families, anti-social loners like me, and groups of young professionals from the surrounding offices. To say it was doing a brisk business at 12:15 on a Thursday would be an understatement. The place was really jumpin'.

For good reason. I got the sense the place is run well and managed well. A very welcoming restaurant.

I was greeted at the door, both on the way in and out. There are several TVs all around the dining room, which has a view into the pizza-making kitchen. The restaurant is cheerful and comfortable. Music was on the sound system, at just the right volume. The classic rock selections seemingly from a page out of a WNEW playlist from the early 80s. A large communal table in the bar area separates the dining room from the rowdies, and some outside tables--along with half the bar seating actually being outside--make for some interesting seating options. Certainly this is a family-friendly restaurant, but with just enough sophistication and stimulation to maintain a crowd of couples and groups of friends.

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New pizza place on N. Broad St: Ridgewood, NJ

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UPDATE (5/29/14): S. Egidio is opening tonight, Thursday, per the Booziest of all the Burbs.

The folks working on the new pizza place on N. Broad Street in Ridgewood have been somewhat secretive. What with their window coverings and all.

Yesterday I noticed that one of the coverings was off, but just as quickly saw someone putting it back up. Later in the day I saw that the door was exposing the interior, so I walked over to take a look at the progress.

Seems that they are coming along.

The space is a lot larger than I thought, but with a huge oven taking up so much room, it's certainly not going to be a big restaurant.

Curiously, the name on the oven is Sant'Egidio, which is a reference to Rome. Curious, because I'm assuming they're going to be make Neapolitan-style pizza, not Roman-style. I'd take either quite frankly.

I would have liked to have seen how they got that oven in there.

#italymeetsridgewood is their hashtag on Instagram. Not sure I know how to use that info, though.

17 North Broad Street : Ridgewood, NJ


Blackstone Pizza Oven video: taleggio, fior di latte, sharp provolone, thyme, scallion

Scallion in this case, not chives. Regardless of what the video says.

Chives, preferably, if you have them.

Chinese chives are even more betterer.

Scallions when neither are available.

The Blackstone oven can cook a pizza in under 2 minutes. A relatively inexpensive and simple alternative to a wood-burning oven, for those who are looking for quick cook times.

Nerdy stuff:

  • Caputo 00 flour
  • 62% hydration
  • 3% sourdough starter
  • 3% salt
  • 1 day room temp bulk rise and then 1 day in fridge because it was too excited
  • 4 hours bulk at room temp and balled for 6 hours
  • "Spazz" by the Elastik Band

 


The Monk Room: Newark, NJ [CLOSED]

Pizza1 monk room

Update: The Monk room closed at the end of September, 2015.


A visit to Porta in early 2013 yielded some information that just about floored me: the Porta people were looking to expand, big time, and some locations in the works were Newark and Jersey City. Hey that's near me!

Fast forward a few short months and The Monk Room opened in Newark right by the Pru Center, and the opening of a Porta in Jersey City has been announced, slated to open in probably just a few months. Look for a multi-level space, with music and a lively atmosphere.

I was really keen on getting to The Monk Room to see what was doin', so I hussled down 21 during their first week of operation for lunch. I walked away very pleased indeed.

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New Neapolitan pizza: in Ridgewood?

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UPDATE (5/29/14): S. Egidio is opening tonight, Thursday, per the Booziest of all the Burbs.

To say I'm curious about this place is certainly an understatement. #italymeetsridgewood? Sounds good to me.

There's very little info available on the internet about the restaurant. I stopped by yesterday but couldn't glean any intel other than the sign you see above. So many questions, so few answers. Is Rocco, the Glen Rock construction contractor at Action Home involved? Or is it another Rocco. How is an oven going to fit in that little place? Is the atmosphere going to be less upscale and more Brooklyn hip shabby chic (I kinda hope it's earthy and warm)? Is the meat going to be from exceptional producers and not from mediocre distributors? Are they going to be doing 70 second pies, or, 3 minute pies.

From a pizza perspective, I think they'll need to differentiate themselves from A Mano, which is right around the corner. A Mano really does focus on authentic Neapolitan-style pizza--which some people just don't understand or appreciate.  If there's a niche to be carved, it is going to be more of a Brooklyn-Neapolitan hybrid. A little less "wet," a little more crispy.

But I'm not paying the bills, so who cares what I think.

Either way, this will get interesting.

Update: A photo of the interior progress can be found here (click me).

17 North Broad Street : Ridgewood, NJ