24 Franklin Ave, Ridgewood
Bright, airy trattoria with striking deep red walls and two orange-tiled, igloo-shaped, wood-burning pizza ovens made from volcanic rock and soil imported from the Mt. Vesuvius area. Gluten-free pizza also available.
The Story: You don’t know authentic Neapolitan pizza until you’ve eaten in Naples—or at A Mano (which means “by hand,” and is how they make everything). The crust of true pizza Napoletana laughs at usual terms of praise like “thin” and “crisp.” If a slice doesn’t seriously droop, it’s a disgrace to the pizzaiuolo’s (pizzamaker’s) art. When done right, as at A Mano, using imported Caputo extra fine flour, the crust is lightly chewy, almost fluffy, with tasty charred edges and a nutty flavor.
Owners Fred Mortati and Carlo Orlando, both with backgrounds in food importing, are sticklers in every way. The A Mano staff makes its own sauce from whole, peeled San Marzano plum tomatoes, and its own pillowy mozzarella from mounds of big fresh curds. All told, it’s why A Mano is one of only three pizza restaurants in the U.S. to be certified by both the VPN (Verace Pizza Napoletana) and the APN (Associazone Pizzaiuoli Napoletani).
428 Stokes Rd, Medford
Green walls with white oak trim, khaki-colored booths, and brass rails. Takeout staff (and the owner) love to banter. Delivery Thursday through Saturday only, BYO.
The Story: Back in 1968, Denis Branco Sr.’s new pizza shop on the corner of Stokes and Jackson roads was the only game in town. Though the historic township and its pizza offerings have since grown exponentially, Branco’s shop remains a standout. “My dad owned a hot dog stand in Wildwood; he wasn’t a pizza guy,” says Branco, 65. “So when we opened in Medford, I went out and learned how to make pizzas, picking up techniques everywhere I went.”
Now the student has become the master. Branco uses five different types of high-quality tomatoes. “When you buy cheap tomatoes you have to use tons of seasoning and cook ‘em to death,” he says. “With good tomatoes the flavor is right there.”
Instead of sugar, Branco adds carrots to lend a natural sweetness to the sauce. The cheese is a blend of mozzarella, provolone, and pecorino Romano Branco prepares in the kitchen. He says he sometimes wonders if people notice the details anymore.
“Sometimes I think they don’t appreciate it, and I get mad when I see the chains with people in line out the door,” he says. “I don’t get it. Their stuff is total garbage. But I’ll put my pizza against anybody’s. I know what goes into this.”
Brooklyn’s Brick Oven
161 Hackensack Ave, Hackensack
15 Oak St. Ridgewood
443 River Rd, Edgewater
Incongruous ski chalet (Hackensack) with arched ceiling and exposed beams. Checkered tablecloths, liquor license, cash only, no slices.
The Story: From a coal-burning oven, a soft blistered crust, wet and saucy on top, made with sliced fresh mozzarella.
1007 Hamilton Ave, Trenton
Family-friendly, family-run. The dining room walls are lined with photographs of celebrities and sports figures taken by the owner’s brother. Waiting room (where you’ll likely spend a lot of time if you don’t get there early on a weekend) decorated with historic photos of the DeLorenzo clan.
The Story: Rick DeLorenzo Jr. and his three children run this restaurant, which makes a thinner crust pizza than that served by DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies.
DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies
530 Hudson St, Trenton
2350 Route 33, Robbinsville
Funky old downtown storefront (Trenton) or stylish, modern suburban restaurant (Robbinsville), making Jersey’s first style of pizza. On-site parking in Robbinsville.
The Story: Owned and operated by descendants of the founders.
78 Albany St,
One of NJM’s Top 25 restaurants, Due Mari serves sophisticated seafood and pasta in a high-ceilinged, dark-wood setting with a 360-degree oval bar power scene. Last year it added a gas-fired Italian brick pizza oven.
The Story: Due Mari’s light, delicious, 12-inch bar pizzas (available in the dining room, too) are ecumenical. The sauce is made from three kinds of tomatoes, two from California and one from Italy. Soft, milky fresh mozzarella is used in the pizza Margherita. The others use a combination of whole- and skim-milk mozzarella. The dough is made with a blend of semolina and high-gluten flours and a somewhat lower than normal water content for added crispness. “It took two to three months to tweak the dough,” says executive chef and partner Bill Dorrler. “Now that it’s colder, it’s a whole ’nother ball game. I’m not an expert yet; I probably have 20 years to go.”
The pizza sauce ages for a day after it’s made, then a handful of pecorino-Romano is tossed in just before the sauce is applied. When the pizza emerges from the oven, it’s time for the final ecumenicism—“a Chicago-style trick,” says Dorrler. “We sprinkle a mix of oregano, pecorino, and parmesan, almost like a salt. It gives it a real nice depth of flavor. And you’re good to go.”