First flight of Annie’s Jersey Pizza Tour. This might have been even too great of pizza for one day, they’re all Jersey Kings. Here we go:
400 High Street
Orange, NJ 07050-1921
The parts of our Jersey tour from Orange to Elizabeth seemed like suburbs ungentrified. Lots of old signs, local bars, and great foods undeterred by rising rent prices. It’s beautiful.
Star Tavern has the ultimate bar pie. With the cheese and sauce congealing together, it reminds me of the slice at Margherita Pizza in Jamaica, Queens, but with a crispy and rich, thin crust. They have a big reputation, for years I’ve been told it’s the greatest be-all, end-all pizza pie of the century. A great pie, it’s certain, and it was a favorite for a few members of the pizza crew.
At every location of the day, we went beyond the regular pie limits. This first foray was the white clam. It was more clam sauce than a bunch of bivalves. Once you get past that expectation, the flavor was all up in it. From talking to the staff, there didn’t seem to be one specialty pie above all others, and while the clam was good, it was no better than the regular pie – that’s high bar, after all.
The kitchen is right in the open, without a door to smash into. Seems smart and nice.
Star Tavern, the pilgrimage of Jersey pizza, is justified.
7 North Willow St
Montclair, NJ 07042-3590
While Star Tavern is a classic all-time favorite, Ah’Pizz was our underdog outshining expectations. The shop is relatively new, opening a little over a year ago. They are serious about pizza, probably as much integrity as Di Fara’s or Sal of Soho, with not a possibility of offering less than what they believe is true pizza. Many ingredients are imported from Naples, and their preparation is of the VPN designation. Robert, the co-owner and head pizzaiolo, is someone special; he trained under Naples pizza pro Enzo Coccia and worked at a few pizzerias in Italy. One of the things most people don’t talk about is the quality and amount of cheeses on staff. It adds up to about 20 of them, delivered frequently for freshness and ordered with pride. But who gives a cornicione if it doesn’t taste any good?
We got a margherita, an Ah’Pizz pie, and their pizza-calzone hybrid named the mezzaluna. The Ah’Pizz is basically the amped up version of a margherita, with the creamiest buffalo cheese, and cherry tomatoes added to the already fruity crushed tomatoes.
As far as what’s above the crust, I’d say the sauce and cheese were as good, if not better, than anything I’ve had in NYC. The crust was great too, but who can beat the char of Company, Motorino or Salvatore? We’re only at the first leg of the tour, but you can put this on your best-of NJ list.
714 3rd Ave
Elizabeth, NJ 07202
I fell in love walking through the kitchen to the back dining room, where I saw the mature cook simmering his meatballs. So old school. Most locals just come in through the side entrance. I guess they knew we were visitors.
When a pie is birthed at a bar, it usually has to be somewhat resilient or strong in character. Normal slices won’t do because folding a floppy one is difficult for the inebriated, and Neopolitans are clearly for the dainties. Here, the slices have a hard Cccrunch. Theres no fold to the pie, only erection and collapse. It’s definitely unique, with character, and a worthwhile experience. Nice oven charring on the end crust, rich cheese and dark tomato sauce, with a flaunt of oregano. Toppings are made in-house, we got the sausage which was tight and tepidly spiced to the crowd’s satisfaction.
Fans are even more loyal to their ravioli. Of course we got them. They were soft things, a man of a different dictionary would call them delectable, I’d say the insides were made of silk. Even more infamous is their policy of No butter, No credit, No coffee. If you have a problem with that, there are three solutions: Parmesan, Cash, Beer.
Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza
639 S Broad St
Elizabeth, NJ 07202
The character is all Al Santillo. The family has run the business for 2 previous generations. Now Mr. Santillo holds the oven, after working in various matters here since he was 5. Talking with the man is an experience on par with his pizza. Not only is he filled with passion and pride for his own ways of a pie, but his accent is so Jerz. He sounds just like Ray Liotta in Goodfella’s. It’s contagious, I was talking like Henry Hill the whole way home. Pizza is everything to Al Santillo. I challenge you to find someone with more devotion to a trade.
To get a pie, you’ll walk down an alley towards the oven in the back. If you want to eat it, you have to figure that our yourself, it’s take-out only. There are no tables, only a counter a few feet from the door. And forget eating where you order, the space is about 4 feet wide and busy with regulars. We opted to eat at nearby Warinanco Park at his suggestion.
A fun part of his menu is ordering your pizza by year. The menu splits up variations of amounts of cheese, sauce, olive oil and thickness of crust into styles that were popular at different times in history. There are 9 pies served in this fashion, in addition to his regular and Sicilian varieties and others (even a Roman style). As he told us, ‘ehh, you just tell me how you want it and I’ll do it.’ He didn’t seem to be overly passionate about any specific style, only that it is done by his hands, in his oven. And the oven is as legendary as the family name. Famous for being old and huge. 280 square feet of oven in there, heated by gas after 2 generations of coal. It’ll be 100 soon.
We got a few pies: a half-meatball Sicilian, a 1964 version (olive oil, parmesan over mozzarella), and a 1948 (tomato pie w/ grated cheese, no mozzarella) with half eggplant. They had lots of character, all containing the same great ingredients but in different manners. Favorites were mixed (mine being the Sicilian w/ meatball, and even better was the pepperoni bread he gave us samples of – magnificent crust!), but across the board it was Al Santillo as the highlight of the tour. This is definitely one to revisit.