14 E Main St, Freehold
Narrow, brick-fronted, casual Italian restaurant with full menu, upstairs dining room, and bar. Outdoor seating in warm weather. Cash only, but ATM inside.
The Story: In 1921, Frank and Ester Federici, Italian immigrants, bought the Wolcott Hotel on Main Street in Freehold, eventually transforming it into a popular Italian restaurant. After sons Dante and Frank “Spat” returned from service in World War II, thin-crust pizza was added to the menu. The third generation of the family still serves that pizza today, and it is still one of the thinner crusts in the state. The surface is well browned, and the tasty sauce goes right to the edges.
563 Broadway, Long Branch
Old-fashioned storefront, family-friendly Italian restaurant specializing in thin-crust pizza. BYO.
The Story: Fred Scialla, a bread baker, opened Freddie’s across the street from its present location in 1944. Today it is co-owned and operated by Mark Brockriede, a cousin.
133 Clinton Street, Hoboken
Cheerful trattoria with checked tablecloths and white chairs. Open prep area in back makes it easy to watch your pizza being prepared and slipped into the super-hot, coal-burning oven.
The Story: Prepare to be served fast food—in the best sense—at Grimaldi’s, the sole Jersey outpost of a small Brooklyn-based chain. The coal-burning oven, one of the few in New Jersey, runs at 950 degrees, about 450 degrees hotter than most modern gas-fired ovens. Pizzas cook in a couple of minutes and emerge from the oven with puffy edges fringed in black.
Grimaldi pizzas are assembled in the manner of classic Trenton tomato pies—cheese first, crushed tomatoes second. The mozzarella is fresh, sliced, and pure white—not the more familiar aged, shredded, yellow. The sauce is semi-sweet and chunky and goes on after not only the cheese but the toppings as well. The crust is deliciously soft, chewy, and nutty. Available toppings include roasted red sweet peppers, a perfect pepperoni complement.
484 Sylvan Ave, Englewood Cliffs
Elegant, upscale restaurant, a bit of San Tropez near the Hudson, accented in shades of peach and lime.
The Story: Owner Tony Del Gatto and his chef, Alberto Leandri, roast whole fish and bake foccacia in their tiled, wood-burning oven, but they also turn out light, delicious, simple pizzas. Two favorites are the classic Margherita, made with fresh, imported buffalo mozzarella, and the wild mushroom pie with mozzarella and tomato.
586 N Franklin Turnpike, Ramsey
Dark, low-ceilinged, wood-grained roadhouse, with a giant Clydesdale statue over the front door. Tables are tightly spaced, packed on weekends. Display of Lionel trains in glass case divides bar from dining room. On-site parking. Cash only (ATM in side entrance).
The Story: At Kinchley’s, everybody is too busy eating ultra-thin-crust pizza to be tight-lipped. Everybody except George Margolis, whose father, Jerry, bought the place from the extended Kinchley family in 1986. George doesn’t want to say too much, and who can blame him? Kinchley’s crust may be the thinnest in the state, if only by a millimeter or two. But you don’t take a micrometer to Kinchley’s. Just enjoy the snip of each bite.
“The secret is in the recipe of the dough,” says Margolis, 32. “We don’t divulge anything more. There are a lot of people who try to copy us. Our kitchen runs like a factory. We use mechanical rollers, but the secret is in the dough.”
Margolis says the pizza “has been the same since 1947”—the year Kinchley’s Tavern, which dates to 1937 (though the building is older) added pizza to the menu.
Aside from the crust, Kinchley’s makes its own distinctive meatballs—little round ones, which sit on the pie like marbles. It also minces its broccoli instead of scattering the pie with chunky florets.
Jerry Margolis’ collection of O gauge Lionel trains, only a fraction of which are displayed in the restaurant, have been donated to the Mahwah Museum, which began showing them early this year.
La Casa Bianca
EDITOR’S NOTE: La Casa Bianca is now closed.
144 Main St, Whitehouse Station
Attractive, home-style Italian restaurant with picture windows facing Main Street. In restaurant, pies only, but slices sold at the counter, with its separate entrance, known as Giasuppe’s. On-site parking.
The Story: Dreaming of the pizza his grandparents used to make at their pizzeria in New Haven (around the corner from the famous Pepe’s), Paul Liscio asked his aunt for the dough recipe when he was about to open La Casa Bianca in Whitehouse Station. His aunt had worked with her parents in the New Haven restaurant and promised to look for the recipe. Meanwhile, Liscio, a CIA-trained chef, began trying to recreate it by trial and error. He says he tried 50 variations, finally arriving at a blend of semolina, regular flour, and high-gluten flour. Time passed. He forgot that he had asked for the recipe. Then one day his aunt came to see him, and as they hugged she whispered the recipe in his ear.
Liscio’s eyes widened. His experiments had led him to almost the same formula. He fine-tuned his recipe, and has been making pizza with ultra-fresh toppings and heavenly crust ever since.
Of normal thickness, Liscio’s crust has the chewy interior of fresh bread and a nicely browned surface. “I use very little yeast,” he says. “It means a slower rising but a better texture.”
He makes his own fresh mozzarella, mildly sweet and creamy for an excellent pizza Margherita. But the glory of La Casa Bianca pizzas is the wild mushroom pie, one of the three best specialty pizzas we sampled in our research. Liscio first sautés fresh portobello, shiitake, porcini, and regular mushrooms in olive oil and garlic, then spreads them thickly on the dough with sprinkles of fresh rosemary. Sautéing the mushrooms first exponentially intensifies their flavors and improves their texture.Click here to leave a comment