I’ve been to Poppi’s, the lively pizzeria and restaurant in Wildwood, more than a dozen times since it opened in 2014. Even when it’s packed (as it is all summer), service is calm, prompt and error free. Not many Shore eateries this popular can you say that about.
Poppi’s is beloved for its Neapolitan-style pies, baked in an 800-to-900-degree gas-fired brick oven for about two minutes. Crisp and nicely charred at the edges, soft in the center, they come to the table so fast they still radiate heat. Overeager, I’ve burned the roof of my mouth.
In my experience, Poppi’s serves the best pizza on the Shore from Atlantic City down to Cape May. Its Margherita is a model of its kind, with big dabs of San Marzano tomato sauce, whole basil leaves, fresh mozzarella, salty Parmesan and swirls of olive oil. Those ingredients also appear on the Montanara pie, whose crust, instead of being baked, is deep-fried for extra crispness. I’d fault Poppi’s only for a sometimes heavy hand with toppings, like a blanket of ricotta smothering sautéed shrimp in the scampi pizza.
Owner Brendan Sciarra—whose father, Mike, founded Wildwood’s Kona Surf Co. in 1969—opened Dogtooth Bar & Grill in 2007. Later this year, Sciarra, 34, will open a brewpub, 5 Mile Brewing, just up the street. It’s named for Five Mile Island, home to all the Wildwoods. (Entrepreneurship runs in the family; Sciarra’s cousin, Paul, is a cofounder of Pinterest.)
Sciarra is not a chef. He hires consultants to develop menus and train kitchen staff. Poppi’s consultant was Giulio Adriani, a New York-based pizza maestro, creator of the fried-crust Montanaro pie.
For many locals, Poppi’s is their go-to pizzeria and take-out spot, but there’s much more to the menu than a wide range of terrific pies (and design-your-owns). It features paninis; veal piccata; Adriani’s grandmother’s delicious recipe for meatballs with tomato and Parmesan; plump mussels in zesty marinara; crisp yet tender fried calamari with lemon aioli; and fried crispy rice balls revealing irresistible cores of gooey smoked mozzarella. That same cheese lends umami to light ricotta gnocchi in blush sauce (add sausage or a meatball for $3). Pristine squid, clams, mussels and shrimp convene in pasta marechiara, spaghetti in spicy marinara.
You can get dishes like these at many Wildwood restaurants, but not as good. Poppi’s pastas are always al dente. They include linguine with clams in a lemony white-wine sauce and rigatoni in marinara accompanying the best chicken parm I’ve had on the island.
Poppi’s (named for Brendan’s grandfather, David Sciarra, a Wildwood masonry contractor) prides itself on its small, crusty loaves of Italian bread, baked in its oven and brought to every table with a dish of roasted-garlic olive oil. Mozzarella is made from scratch each day. You expect that from higher-priced restaurants, but Poppi’s prices are in line with those of less accomplished joints.
Such a wide-ranging menu is bound to include misses as well as hits. The veal marsala’s brown sauce was bland and overly viscous. The grilled strip steak badly needed salt, pepper and more char to its crust. Seafood risotto was pasty and clumped. A burger ordered medium arrived well-done.
I, for one, find it easy to forgive the shortcomings when it’s time for dessert. The tiramisu is blessedly light; so are the crunchy cannoli filled with whipped, sweetened ricotta. Best are the angioletti: crisp, puffed strips of deep-fried pizza dough smothered with Nutella. Any of these beats a boardwalk funnel cake by a mile.Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:European - Italian
Dinner for two:
Lunch and dinner daily, year-round.
Ambience:Bustling, brick-walled dining room with copper lamps and black-and-white photos.
Service:Young servers with veteran composure.
Wine list:BYO, plus wines from NJ’s Hawk Haven.