“there is magic in the night” (NJPT-’16) Pizza Town USA

This post is part of my New Jersey Pizza Tour-2016 (NJPT-’16)
The NJPT-’16 is documented in the style of a “choose your own adventure”.

Click here to jump to the beginning of the journey.
Click here to jump back to Trenton Pie @ Papas
Click here to jump back to Urban Fire
Click here to jump to Star Tavern

Let’s end the trip with a smile.
I spent the day travelling through the great Garden State eating alot of cheesy, doughy pizza.
I still had a few hours of NYS Thruway driving ahead of me. But I knew a trip to
Pizza Town USA was in order.
2016-pizzatown-hero
You can’t help yourself but smile when you go to Pizza Town USA..
Come on…it’s an 8 foot tall illuminated Uncle Sam and a G-I-A-N-T neon red
PIZZA TOWN USA sign.

Everything about Pizza Town USA makes me smile.

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“I took a wrong turn and I just kept going” (NJPT-’16) Urban Fire

Alternate Titles:
If you’re going to do it – do it right – 100% of the time.
or
Show me your A-Game or shut your doors.

This post is part of my New Jersey Pizza Tour-2016 (NJPT-’16)
The NJPT-’16 is documented in the style of a “choose your own adventure”.

Click here to jump to the beginning of the journey.
Click here to jump back to Trenton Pie @ Papas
Click here to jump to Star Tavern
Click here to jump to Pizzatown USA.

A few hours before I arrived in Madison, NJ, I was in Trenton, NJ seeking a Trenton Tomato Pie.
I researched my way to a list of some great Trenton pies.
But at the first few stops I was met with closed doors.
At the time it frustrated me. Why weren’t they open? I was there; they should be open.
Ultimately fate brought me to the Trenton pizza I needed, but at the time it bothered me that these other shops were closed.

When I arrived in Madison, NJ – Urban Fire’s doors were OPEN.
Great; right?

Well, not really..

After reflecting on my experience in Trenton, and in light of my time in Urban Fire,
I actually commend those presumably great Trenton shops on being closed.
I like to believe they were closed because they knew, at that time of day, on that day of the week, had they opened they wouldn’t have been their best.

I also believe Urban Fire should have been CLOSED when I arrived.
I want to believe that what I got, was not their best. and that’s a problem.

There are allot of folks out there who love this place.
People whose pizza-opinion I respect, all rave about this place.
I know the owner has “mad pizza skills”, and enviable pizza experiences.
I love the owner’s “pizza story”. (part-1, part-2, part-3)
I did my research, I had high expectations.
This place is (supposed to be) great.

But I’m sorry to say guys..
I am not a fan of Urban Fire.

Yes, everybody, and every place has bad days.

But, I’ll say it again….
If you’re going to do it, do it right, 100% of the time.
Show me your A-Game or shut your doors.
I’d rather you disappoint me with a closed sign than you disappoint me with a bad experience.

Here’s what happened.

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“A Hungry Heart” (NJPT-’16) Papa’s

As you may recall, I had a few objectives for my NJPT-’16.
First objective; find a good example of “Trenton Tomato Pie”.
I’ll wait a moment while you follow the links and familiarize yourself with “Trenton Tomato Pie”.

In summary:
“Trenton pie” (AKA “Tomato Pie”, or specifically, “Trenton Tomato Pie”) can be a wonderful thing.
Like most good pizza, Trenton Pie is about a wonderful marriage.
A wonderful union of crust, tomato, and cheese (sometimes toppings).
Like most pizzas (and marriages) there’s usually something that stands out, something that defines its greatness.
With Trenton Pie it’s the tomato (hence the “TOMATO PIE” moniker); tomato plays a very prominent role in the Trenton Pie.

Trenton Pie is also built a little differently than the ubiquitous “NY pie”.
Trenton Pie is built with the cheese on the bottom (under the sauce), similar to, but not exactly like, the COB pies you may be familiar with (as in, The RedFront, Troy – review post coming soon).

That cheese on the bottom accomplishes a few important things.
Number one; it protects the crust, creating a barrier from the wet tomato, allowing for a better bake.
Number two; It helps unify the pie.
Have you ever bitten into your “Friday-night-pie” and pull away all the cheese (and tomato) in one acrobatic bite?
Well, “Cheese on Bottom” helps to keep it all together.

But what really helps set the Trenton Pie apart is not only its tomatoey-ness, or the sequence of construction, but also its great crust.
You really can’t be a great pie without a winning crust.
Trenton Pie has a GREAT crust, not too thick, more on the thin, crispy side (some say “cracker” but I don’t think it’s quite there), and it’s very tasty.

It’s also worth noting that the Trenton/Tomato Pie is not about uniformity, every bite is not the same.
Your “Friday-night-pie” will be fairly uniform, each bite like the rest, an even distribution of cheese, “sauce”, and toppings.
Trenton Pie is a marvelous experience in diversity and variety.
Some bites will be heavy cheese, while some will be wonderful mouthfuls of pure tomato.

Each Trenton Pizzaiolo has a unique “tomato” signature that he applies to each pie.
Some will dollop, while many will put their version of “the swirl” into their tomato application.
You never know what each bite will bring.

papas-001

I wanted an iconic Trenton Pie.
I researched myself into three possible spots, (to be honest I actually thought I could eat in all three).
I just couldn’t decide between:
1. DeLorenzo’s
2. Mamma Rosa’s
3. Papa’s

But fate placed her wise/knowing hand on my adventure and made my decision.
1. DeLorenzo’s wasn’t open for lunch on Saturday (WTF?) – strike one
2. Mamma Rosa’s was supposed to be open but wasn’t (WTF Trenton?) – strike two
3. Papas was meant for me. – grand slam
This was all very fortunate because I had a full day ahead; one Trenton Pie would be enough.

maybe I was just in a stupid, pizza deprived hunger but I stood there, looking at that sign, pulling on the door for 5 minutes. trying to comprehend why no one was there for lunch on a sunny Saturday.
maybe I was just in a stupid, pizza deprived hunger but I stood there, looking at that sign, pulling on the door for 5 minutes. trying to comprehend why no one was there for lunch on a sunny Saturday.

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What Exit? (NJPT-’16)

little-steven-giphy

I recently found myself in south (western) Jersey, travelling alone…..yay !
No backseat drivers, AND I could set my own itinerary.
This was a rare occasion.

After I finished my business in Camden, I had a FULL DAY to get back to the 518.
– (FTR; there are a lot of things I miss about New Jersey, CAMDEN aint one of ’em)…

…There’s 240 miles to home, we’ve got a full tank of gas, …and a hungering for some pizza.
But, how much pizza could I eat, and still appreciate it?  One way to find out..

I got an early start, (of course I skipped breakfast).
Unfortunately, not everyone is ready to eat pizza at 9:00 in the morning.

Here’s the tale of my New Jersey Pizza Tour – 2016 edition (NJPT-’16).
Eating my way home, one pie at a time..

I had a few goals, and a few must-see spots.

  1. eat some iconic Trenton Tomato Pie
  2. try Urban Fire
  3. do a “drive by” of “Pizzaland”
  4. STAR TAVERN!
  5. Pizzatown USA

I know there are so many more great spots in NJ, unfortunately I only had one day, and one belly.
So, with my pile of Springsteen, Southside Johnny, and Sinatra CD’s at my side, I started my long ride home.

njpt-16-map-final

The trip explored multiple styles of pizza, pizza ovens, pizzaiolos, and pizzerias.
I took a look at my own pizza nostalgia, and I took a brief look into some pizza history, as well as some current pizza trends.
I visited some OG icons, as well as a new trendy face in the industry.
I covered allot of ground, and ate allot of pie.

So, grab a bourbon, sit back, and follow along on my cheesy, tomatoey, pizza-journey through the Garden State.

 

I’ve documented my NJ Pizza Tour in the style of a “choose your own adventure”.

Click here to continue the journey in chronological order with Trenton Pie @ Papas
Click here to jump to Urban Fire. (coming soon)
Click here to jump to Star Tavern
Click here to jump to Pizzatown USA. (coming soon)

Apples to Apples

the-apple-tree

…A (not so) hard look at hard cider.
The holidays are approaching here already.
It’s a perfect time for apple cider, even better, for HARD cider.
We’re upstate NY…We’re all about the apples..
Every table in NYS should have some cider and/or hard cider on Thursday.

If you don’t yet share my cidery-love
Here are some cider facts:

  • Hard Cider makes a great pairing to the typical gluttonous holiday meal.
    Unless your having a beefy prime rib..then I would stick with a full wine (or heavy beer).
  • Cider has a low alcohol content so you can have a few (without getting into a fight with Uncle George over his endorsement of a certain presidential candidate.)
  • Cider is also gluten free (but don’t trust me… read the labels if gluten intake is important to you).
  • Cider was on the pilgrim’s table. – temporarily ignoring the whole genocide thing

Not too long ago it would have been difficult to find ANY locally available hard cider.
But over the past few years the state, and local, hard cider industry has exploded.
Now, any place you can buy beer, you can buy a few decent ciders (and some really bad ones too)
This sudden growth may be related to trends in taste, or good marketing..
But it might very well be related to tax code and the repeal of prohibition.
Along with the repeal of prohibition, states were given the authority to define their own laws relating to alcohol.
These state laws put alcohols into categories associated with state tax rates. Hard cider tended to fall somewhere between a wine and beer.
This ambiguity may have hindered the industry..
But over the last 5-6 years states have been rectifying that situation.
NY in particular (thanks Andy) passed laws that significantly help the industry.
In 2013 the “Farm Cidery License” was created.
This legislature makes it much easier for small farmers and start-up crafters to turn out good product, and profits.
Locally we’ve all heard the stories of Nine Pin, our local hero of the cider industry.

In just a short period of time, Nine Pin has made a positive impact.
They’ve helped raise awareness of cider, the industry, and our local resources.
But I think even more importantly, they’ve spotlighted POSSIBILITIES. They’re a powerful, inspirational example of a how passion can become reality.
AND, they make some darn good cider.

A few years ago I wanted to bring some hard cider to my NJ-family for Thanksgiving.
I wanted to show my NY pride and showcase a local treat.
This was at the very start of the cider boom so the process was fairly easy.
The beer outlet only had a few choices, they were produced fairly local, and were bottled nicely to make a good impression.
I think I got a bottle of Nine Pin and a bottle of Doc’s Draft. Worked perfectly.

But now a trip to the beer outlet, or even your supermarket you’ll see upwards of 10-15 different choices of hard cider.
How do you choose?
I would hate for you to skip it altogether, or even worse bring a bottle of a crappy cider to your party.
People could be turned off of cider forever with that first glass.
Or, even better, you could be the hero, showing up with the perfect bottle.

cider-options
There is an overwhelming selection of ciders available.
Unfortunately much of it is crap.
If nothing else… ALWAYS buy cider that has been refrigerated.

Since “Hard Cider Sommeliers” are difficult to find, I thought it would be helpful to do some homework..

I bought some cider..

cider-001
The Line-Up

I limited my purchases to readily available products, and to products I could buy as individual bottles.
PriceChopper has a pretty good selection available in their “pick-your-own six” area.
The only one one I wanted to try but couldn’t find as singles was Stella Artois-Cidre’, but lets try and stay local anyway.

If a producer had a few varieties I tended to pick the most basic or “original” blend.
This was most evident with Nine Pin.
Nine Pin has a few interesting varieties but for this experiment I stayed with the original.

I didn’t get hung up with ingredients, or label analysis.. you don’t read the label on the cranberry jelly, or your beer do you?
This is about a special holiday treat, and perhaps sharing with, or impressing, your guests.

There are a few larger (22 oz) bottles available for less than $10, and a large number of 12 oz. six packs.
I tend to lean towards the larger bottles for the holidays as they have a better presence, like showing up with a special wine, as opposed to showing up with a “six-of-bud”.
But you may want smaller bottles, you may even want to “pound-a-few”, or give the non-beer drinkers something to keep in their fist so they fit in.

I was looking for something that I felt my guests would enjoy.
Something simple, clean, and refreshing.

I’m admittedly not a tasting expert.  I know what I like and I’ve used words that I think describe what I taste.

I think of this as Kitchen-Table-Science”.

I found two winners.
One in the big bottle, “First Impression” category, and one in the six-pack category.
I also found a few you should AVOID…
Take a look.
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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.

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