Undoubtedly one of the most prevalent trends in food right now is the explosion of new artisinal/Neapolitan pizzerias in the New York City metropolitan area. It seems not too long ago that the nearby brick oven pizza making scene was dominated by, and limited to, well known American institutions such as Lombardi's, Totonno's or Grimaldi's. While the quality of pie furnished within these establishments may vary (ahem, Lombardi's) - their principle is similar: freshly made dough gets strategically positioned in a blistering hot oven with an open flame (in these cases, powered by coal) which produces a charred, yet chewy masterpiece.
Yet recently, the metropolitan brick oven pizzeria scene has taken on a more Italian-European (as opposed to Italian-American) identity - namely (i) the pizzas being made are of a smaller, personal size, (ii) the pizzas are being served with a fork and knife, (iii) the mozzarella blobs are a shade less melted and (iv) sometimes but not always, there is not necessarily a requirement to have your pizza evenly divided into clearly defined slices. Let me provide some pictured examples to illustrate my point:
The traditional brick oven American Pie (above) as brought to you by Grimaldi's still makes their pizza "napoletana" style - a charred chewy crust furnished in a brick oven, with some well placed blobs of cheese. Also notice the predefined slices and symmetrical look.
The traditional brick oven Naples Pie (above) as brought to you by the one and only Da Michele in Naples, has a similar blistered crust as Grimaldi's, but notice the blobs are not quite as scorched, and the presentation is a bit less organized. Also, although it may not look like it, this pie is personal sized. Notce - no pizza cutter ever touched this pie.
The Margherita Pie at Keste - a napoletana style pizzeria in the west village which takes its styling cues (aside from the pre-cut slices perhaps) moreso from Italy than America - asymmetrical shape, cheese blobs not quite as scorched, personal sized - in my opinion. Do you agree?
And even more recently, more imaginative pizzaiolos have sort of piggy-backed off this Italian style of making smaller pies, carving out a neo-Neapolitan niche of pizza production which features added ingenuity and experimentation: smaller pies = more actual pizzas being made which also seem to = more opportunities to get creative with your pizza ingredients/toppings. Roberta's in Bushwick crushes this idea out of the park.
The moral of the story? Pizza, particularly Neapolitan style Pizza, is invading the nation! And as we have documented on the blog, it is not just NYC that is showing the Napoletana pizza love. The Neapolitan pizza renaissance has spilled over into NJ as well - Dozzino in Hoboken and Ah Pizz in Montclair have fully caught the artisinal/napoletana pizza fever. But last week, I think I may have found the best NJ pizza Napoletana yet - Queen Margherita in Nutley, NJ located on 246 Washington Avenue.
I travel from work (sans sis) on a cold, rainy Thursday night, stash the Accord in a nearby quiet residential area, and walk in. It is a warm, cozy atmosphere inside - packed with Jersey Italians who seem very focused and pleased with their meal. In a corner, a violin player produces some musical accompaniment, while a man (whom I later learned to be one of the owners - Pasquale) goes from table to table greeting his customers. Considering the popularity of the place, I'm almost lucky to be seated immediately. "You're gonna luv it" - my neighbor says to me, after patting his beak with his napkin and giving me the satisfactory hand signal.
Things get off to a lovely start. I'm served some delicious, warm, and fresh-as-can-be flat bread straight from the nearby brick oven. I tell myself to leave some of the generous loaf uneaten - but it's frankly too good to put down. I devour it entirely despite my soon-to-be-arriving Neapolitan pie.
The pie arrives shortly after my order - piping hot. And it is a real winner. It is perfectly charred and chewy, with great portions of tangy, milky mozzarella. There is a noticeable, yet not overdone, olive oil presence throughout, and the sauce delivers a sweet, zesty coating of snap.
Queen Margherita's pie is touch, just a touch, on the soupy, floppy side - which is, personally, how I enjoy it. I take great pleasure in being able to double and triple fold my pizza, skewer it on my fork, and stash it in a vacant corner of my expandable inner cheeks. The middle of the pie is quite moist, and the crust overall is well done. Despite its chewy feel, the pie still achieves the artful coexistence of a blistered, yet buttery consistency, thanks in part to the skills of full time pizziaolo on the premises, Kyle (a former pizziaolo at Motorino in Brooklyn). Kyle was even nice enough to let me snap photos of the oven used at Queen Margherita, which is completely sealed - no gas heated assistance - just plain old wood logs firing up this bad boy.
After my meal, Pasquale ventures to my table and provides me with some complimentary espresso and nutella pizza, while talking to me about his hometown of Naples, and the best pizzerias to visit when I go next (aside from Da Michele). A true gentlemen. The nutella pizza (also made by Kyle) is simply amazing. The bread is moist, pillowy soft, and gives way to generous, almost bubbling pasture of nutella.
And in true John and Elana style, I snap some photos of the bathrooms - a spacious, unisex quadrant of faux-mediterranean bliss.
Like I said - this is the best Neapolitan pizza I've had in NJ, and definitely right up there with some of Brooklyn and Manhattan's pizza napoletana heavy hitters. In fact, I was enough impressed with the joint to send Marmo and the Box there on a recommendation - to which I received very high praise. Good signs all around.
Overall Experience - Top Gun