Munchmobile Pizza Quest
This past Friday, Hoboken411 was invited on a statewide search for some good pizza along with The Star Ledger’s “Munchmobile”. Several other NJ bloggers went along for the ride as well.
The objective was simple. Try to find some damn good pizza, and determine what was the best of the day. We traveled over 100 miles, and spent 7 hours schlepping across the northern (and eastern) half of NJ in a wacky Star Ledger van with a giant hot dog on the top of it. The story was published in this past Saturday’s Star Ledger, as well as on the Munchmobile blog, and all the other sites that accompanied me for the ride.
Prior to embarking on our journey, Pete Genovese (who runs the Munchmobile) asked all of us what places we’d like to try. Donna, from gooutjersey.com had mentioned a friend had recommended Giovanni’s in our very own Hoboken, and I immediately said “not a good idea”. While it’s not bad (I like it cold), it’s certainly nothing out of the ordinary, and wanted to try something different for a change. Another blogger had mentioned Grimaldi’s, but while it’s one of the best brick over places in the area, it’d probably be best to expand our horizons!
See who the rest of the bloggers were, and find out the 5 places we sampled below!
The quest started in the Ledger’s parking lot in Newark, NJ. Also riding today was Liz, from Baristanet (in the Montclair, NJ area), John, from Redbankgreen.com, and Jason from Offthebroiler. NJ.com’s Kelly Heyboer (Jersey Blogs) also “live blogged” during the day.
1. First stop was Brother’s in Red Bank. A kind of dive-bar-ish place for Red Bank. Not sure why we went WAY down there for this bar pie. While it had decent taste (especially if you’re a regular there), I wouldn’t go out of my way for it. Dry, cracker-like and boring overall. Sauce was a bit tangy and the sausage on one pie was excellent, though.
2. Next stop was Sciortino’s in South Amboy. A quaint town with a population of about 9,000 people. I nearly had a pizza-gasm here when I saw the pies come out at this corner bar/restaurant. I proclaimed it to be an incredible pizza before even taking a bite. My kind of pizza. Juicy, well-covered crust, and perfectly proportioned, saucy. The bartender noted that people drive here from all over the state to pick up some pies to take home. I even ordered a plain pie to go before eating any! Much to my dismay, it didn’t taste exactly like it looked, but all is not lost yet.
The aspect of the pie which threw me (and everyone else) back was the sweetness of the sauce. Was a bit of a surprise. Not expecting it at all. Pizza sauce generally isn’t “supposed” to be sweet, which is a common complaint for pizza connoisseurs of the world. But wait a minute, this wasn’t Pizza Hut sweet, but it was a sweetness I’d never expect to actually like. It worked! Something about the kind of burnt-edge crust this pizza had won me over. In it’s own unique way, this was a winner to me.
Some people complained about the slices being “floppy”, but I had to remind myself that we were eating narrow slices at each place and never got to experience how a “full slice” handled. FYI, the pie I took home is already gone. It re-heated perfectly, and actually tasted better with time. I will drive down here again to buy some more.
3. We head north to Pizzatown, USA on Route 46 in Elmwood Park. This has always been one of my favorite pizza places in the world. I rant and rave about it all the time. Old-fashioned 50’s style layout, picnic style tables, and windows specifically based on what you’re ordering. What separates this pizza from the rest is the sauce. Hands down my #1. The crust is also light, slightly burnt, and the proper consistency in the right places.
Much to my disappointment, Pizzatown let me down today. The quality wasn’t what it used to be. A bit drier, and less “complete” than it usually is. Jason had attributed this to staff inconsistencies, and thinks it’s better to order them later in the day. This one-time hiccup will not stop me from coming back here occasionally to bring some pies home.
Most people were not impressed, although the fried calzones were a big hit across the board.
4. Starting to get a bit bloated and gassy from the quick stops and bumpy van ride. Our next stop is Caffe Capri in Rutherford, NJ. This restaurant gave me the creeps a bit. Pink table cloths, “funeral like” feel inside, and peculiar smell (nothing like a restaurant should smell like). Cheesy, and not in a pizza-like way either. Wasn’t dirty or dumpy, just not my style.
They had a small brick oven in the back. We ordered a bunch of small pies to sample. A margherita, prosciutto, and artichoke. Many people enjoyed this pizza. Light crust, “fresh” ingredients, and so on. I was not impressed. While the Mozz had a rather “creamy” feel, I found this to have the LEAST taste of all the pizzas eaten today. Uninspired. One of my “tests” with pizza is to see how it tastes when it cools off. This had no taste after a few minutes. The sauce also had a medicinal or metally flavor which bothered me. I’ll never go back here again. However, if you’re in Rutherford, a great pizza shop is New York Pizza on Park Ave. Give it a try if you’re in the neighborhood.
5. Last stop (and if I could ever pick a time to become bulimic) was Santillo’s in Elizabeth. This was ranked #1 by the Ledger last year, and continues to be a crowd favorite. A very unique take-out only shop with a one-of-a-kind brick oven. 14 feet deep! The entrance was in the alley on the side. Since there was no place to eat, we just sat in the alley way!
I believe it was hard for me to properly evaluate this pizza I was reaching pizza overload. Eat anything 5 times in one day, and it starts to wear thin. Everyone here was amazed and indicated it was their favorite. I have to say it was indeed an excellent pizza. The crust was perfect and the cheese was flavorful (albeit a bit too oily). The sauce was just a smidge off for me (could be the nausea I had). Jason from Offthebroiler would have knocked over a pack of grandmothers in wheelchairs to be the one to take the leftovers home. He went bonkers. The rest of us just wanted a nap.
Overall this trip was a lot of fun. Thanks to the Star Ledger for inviting me, and it was a pleasure to meet the other bloggers in New Jersey.
My ranking for the places visited on this day are as follows:
1. Sciortino’s – A new pizza taste that I now appreciate and respect. Sweet sauce no longer banned!
2. Pizzatown USA – Will not let one sub-par experience diminish my love for this reliable standby.
3. Santillo’s – Will try it again less full, and will eat a normal sized slice, not some snack-sized sliver.
No Ranking – Brother’s and Caffe Capri. Not memorable enough for a rating.
Lastly, while I think the Munchmobile concept is fun and all that, something about going to so many places in one day becomes painful after a while. I’m sure professional taste testers have to eat many bites in one day or one sitting, I feel doing this for pizza (or anything else for that matter) is a modern day torture test. If anything, do a pizza a day for 30 days to come up with the best pizza. I was essentially sick the rest of the day, and was suffering the next morning as well.
Eating mini-slivers of pizza was a bit annoying to me, and not knowing where the next stop is (that’s part of the munchmobile’s “rules”) or how many total stops there will be makes it hard to “budget” what to eat, and where. We also had to “eat and run” which caused some indigestion. My mistake was not stopping for Rolaids along the way somewhere.
But for pizza? I’d do it all over again!