A cheesy start

star-001I feel it’s appropriate that I start this endeavor with a story of my pizza beginnings.
Any self proclaimed pizza-nerd can tell you all about their favorite slices, their pizza memories, or when their oddly, obsessive love of pizza began.

"WORLD'S GREATEST PIZZA"
“WORLD FAMOUS PIZZERIA”...it must be true it says so on the side of the building.

For me, it all started with the Star Tavern in Orange, NJ.
Consistently ranked among the BEST PIZZAS.. period.
They’re not only placed in this high regard in the sub genre of “Tavern Pie” or “Bar Pie” but also consistently ranked highly among ALL PIZZA.
Ask any pizza-nerd where to stop in NJ, and Star will be on their list.

It was certainly on my list.

It was on my list not because it’s a known powerhouse, or a “must see” location.
It was on my list because I needed to find my “pizza roots”, I wanted to better understand the origins of my pizza-love.

My memories of Star Tavern pie are my earliest pizza memories.

The Star Tavern pie is ONE OF MY FOUR MOST PERSONALLY, INFLUENTIAL PIES
That’s an important statement to a pizza-nerd.

This is a story of good fortune, good beginnings, and great pizza.

This boy’s pizza story begins in the 1960s, in northern Jersey; Orange, NJ.
At that time, northern Jersey (and Orange, NJ specifically) was blessed with a significant Italian-American population.
My family included.

Years before me, my then newlywed parent’s, moved in with Grandma and Granddad as the storybook Italian-American family.
Imagine the classic, Italian-American Sundays…big family, a giant pot of bubbling GRAVY, fresh pasta, fresh bread unlike anything in upstate NY.
All this to say, it was a different time and place..

It was also a different time for pizza.

In the 1960s pizza didn’t have the ubiquitous status it does today.
There were no Domino’s, Little Caesar’s, or even the magnitude of generic pizza shops we have today.

Pizza was a very special thing, to EVERYONE.
We’d heard of some great pie in Manhattan, with stories of the”originals”.. But to most of us, those were just stories.
You had to go out of your way to eat pizza, and you had to make an even greater effort for take-out pizza.

Back then, most pizza consumed in northern Jersey was probably Grandma pies.
Not the sub-genre of pies called “Grandma Pie” but, LITERALLY MY Grandma’s pies.
These were certainly special pies, but that’s a post for a different day.

Fortunately, in the 1960s my family was blessed with many things; living a walking distance from Star Tavern was one of them.

You may be saying…wait, “pizza-nerd”.
Orange, NJ and all the towns surrounding Newark, NJ were under allot of change and turmoil in the 1960s, not necessarily a happy place.
OK, but keep in mind, this story takes place BEFORE the riots of the 1960s really changed that area.
AND, I was too young to know any better, these memories were formed in the mind of a happy five year old.

Way back then, Star tavern was just a local tavern.
Imagine an old-school neighborhood tavern, a harmless place where guys would go to have a beer and complain about their in-laws (or maybe the impending riots in Newark).
That was Star in the 1960s.
Like allot of taverns they had a kitchen and food for the locals. Fortunately they made pizza.
GOOD pizza. GREAT pizza.
Probably one of the original Tavern Pies as we know them today.

I still recall the feeling in the house when dad said he was giving mom and Grandma a break, he would get some pizza from Star Tavern for dinner.
There was a mystique and magic about the whole experience.
And, I would actually get to ride-along; the men getting dinner.
Walking into that place was truly magical.
Here I was “helping” dad get dinner..at a TAVERN. Would I be allowed in? Only if I was with dad.

Imagine a tavern of the 1960s, dark, smoky, nicotine stained wood paneling, Ballantine neon signs, the three guys hunched at the bar turn to sneer at you as you walk in, letting in dreaded daylight.
Invading their peace and privacy.
I never held dad’s hand tighter.
But we were there for PIZZA. Magical pizza.

That 1/2 mile car ride seamed to take forever, the car was filled with that amazing smell.
When we got home we were heroes. We had the magical pies.
So fast forward a half-century. I still LOVE pizza. (and still find it magical at times).
I don’t love just any one pie, or type of pie. I consider myself a pizza-liberal, excepting of all pies.

But long ago, the siren call of another love took me away from northern Jersey, and away from Star Tavern.
But I just couldn’t get the Star pie out of my mind. I needed to refresh my memory.
To be clear, I don’t judge all pies against these first memories.
Since I had an opportunity to do a NJ Pizza Tour (future post). I added Star Tavern to the list of stops.

I arrived around 4:00 on a Saturday. They were already hopping.
I no longer needed dad’s hand. This isn’t the dark scary tavern of my memories, This is a hopping pizza joint (with a bar).

New neon but probably the same wood paneling I saw with my dad 50 years ago.
New neon but probably the same wood paneling I saw with my dad 50 years ago.

Large, happy families were pushing tables together, couples huddled in booths, even a few other lone guys like myself.
Everyone there for the PIE.

Not the dark tavern of the 60s... it's a legit pizza destination now.
Not the dark tavern of the 60s… it’s a legit pizza destination now.

Short wait for a booth – no need for a menu.
One plain, one beer, (and a small salad to cut all of the cheese I’d been eating)

AHH…I’m home.

So, so good.

crispy, tasty, cheesy.

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My memories served me well.
This is still a magical place with some truly magical pie.
One thing’s for certain, I wont wait another 50 years for a return visit.

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The cheese, and tomato, and unctuous grease form this wonderful soupy, topping. Cheesy, salty, goodness. I think they my be using some provolone or maybe cheddar (an old NJ trick) Give the slice a good NYC fold to hold all that wonderfulness.
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Great “UP-DOWN” shot Allegedly they pre-bake their pies in ancient pans, giving the bottom these little fried, crispy bits.
Non descriptive gas, deck ovens. But they know how to use em..
Non descriptive gas, deck ovens.
But they know how to use em..

 

Now that you know how it started, I hope you check back often to see where it goes.

……………OCtG

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This post is part of my NJ Pizza Tour-2016
The posts are documented in the style of a “choose your own adventure”.

Click here to jump back to the intro post
Click here to jump to Trenton Tomato Pie @ Papa’s (coming soon)
Click here to jump to Urban Fire. (coming soon)
Click here to jump to Pizzatown USA. (coming soon)

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