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Of all places to find great pizza in New Jersey, the AtlantiCare building on Route 9 in Linwood might be the least likely. But as doctors perform prenatal ultrasounds and bariatric surgeries on the upper floors, Michael Fitzick contributes to health and happiness in his own way, turning out crisp, robust squares at Bakeria 1010, his year-old take-out stand in the ground-floor food court.
The space might be nondescript, the foot traffic subpar, but for Fitzick, that means, “I got a good deal on the rent.” After years making a living as what he calls “a pizza mercenary”—doing parties and pop-ups—Fitzick has a home base. And for the Linwood native, who started his pizza career in high school as a deliveryman for Mack & Manco’s in neighboring Somers Point, the location truly feels like home.
Fitzick, who graduated from high school in 2004, found that the relative freedom of driving around delivering pizza opened the door to something less constructive. “You can also score drugs” like amphetamines and painkillers, he says, explaining they were “for my own use and once in a while people put in an order through me. So many times I came close to dying. It was really crazy.” His father’s death from brain cancer in 2012 and his mother selling the family home did not help matters.
Fitzick was in and out of rehab at least nine times, eventually getting off hard drugs and alcohol in 2013 with the help of his younger brother, a recovering alcoholic.
Pizza making, which requires precision, speed and a focus on the immediate, suited Fitzick’s temperament. “The drugs and the loss of my father,” he says, “shoehorned me into this lifestyle, there being few other professions that will really accept that type of personality. I don’t know what would have become of me otherwise. Pizza saved me.”
In 2014, Fitzick landed a job at a new restaurant in Northfield, Valentina’s, where he mastered the quick-bake Neapolitan style and began developing his own pan-based style. At Valentina’s, he met owner Rosaria Conti’s niece, Maura Prisco. They married in 2015. Conti’s dough recipe is the model on which the Bakeria pies are built, the critical difference being Fitzick’s commitment to long (56-hour) dough fermentation, which makes for bubbly, focaccia-like bodies. Steel pans create shatteringly crisp bottoms and sides.
Fitzick, who goes by the puckish Instagram handle @pizza_jew, still does parties. He makes traditional round pies as well as the crispy-edged squares. Most of the pizzas feature a five-cheese blend of pecorino, Parmesan, and three different mozzarellas. Fitzick is modest about his pies, but does allow himself this boast: “After you eat my pizza, you don’t want to think about any other pizza the rest of the day.”Click here to leave a comment