New Jersey Pizza Tour, Fourth Stop: Reservoir Tavern, Boonton

Reservoir Tavern was opened in Boonton, New Jersey, in 1936 by Italian immigrant Nicola Bevacqua, named so because it sits near the Boonton Reservoir.  Today, it is run by his grandson, Nicola III.

We tried a bar pizza, which was thin but less crispy than the other bar pizzas we had tried. The sauce was not overpowering either, not too salty or too sweet.

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The Margherita pie was more doughy and cheesy but also more wet because of the tomato.

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Both were tasty pies. What’s great about Reservoir Tavern is that in addition to pizza, they have a full menu with other Italian specialties you don’t often see in restaurants like zucchini flowers, broccoli rabe, escarole and beans and cavatelli. We got the broccoli rabe salad. Yum!

broccoli rabe

A visit to Reservoir Tavern is pleasant, as there is a large parking lot and dining room.

New Jersey Pizza Tour, Third Stop: DeLucia’s Brick Oven Pizza, Raritan

Italian immigrant Costantino DeLucia opened a bread bakery in Raritan, NJ, in 1917 and added pizza to the menu in 1935.  By the 1950s, he exclusively sold pizza. DeLucia’s Brick Oven Pizza is still operated by his descendants today. In fact, it’s a sight to see just for New Jersey nostalgia and history.  If you go, there is no parking right near it, but there’s plenty of parking in the residential neighborhood around it and on the street in front of nearby shops.

The building is characteristic of old New Jersey buildings. Very quaint. The dining area is no-frills. There is waitress service though. But there is no restroom because it predates restroom requirements. (Plan accordingly. There’s no restroom at the nearby ice cream shop either, which I went to in hopes there would be. I had ice cream anyway. So me.)

The highlight is the awesome old oven. (I always feel the word “awesome” is overused in America. It should truly be reserved for awesome things, and this oven is one of them.)

This baby is 100 years old and can definitely cook a pie. Look, there’s one in there now.

We ordered a plain cheese pizza. The pizza here is more of a New York-style. It has the typical thin New Jersey crust that is crunchier than New York-style. Also, the sauce has a salty taste, not sweet like the Trenton tomato pies, which is a welcome taste for those who prefer a saltier sauce to a sweet one.

New Jersey Pizza Tour, Second Stop: De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies, Robbinsville

De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies was opened in Trenton in 1947 but now resides in Robbinsville, not far down the street from Papa’s.  Pasquale and Maria De Lorenzo came to America from a town near Naples and opened De Lorenzo’s in Trenton in 1936.  In 1947, their son Alexander (Chick) opened his own pizzeria. Like Papa’s, De Lorenzo’s started out with a coal-fired oven and switched to gas in the 1950s. There are two separate De Lorenzo’s run by descendants of Pasquale and Maria, DeLorenzo’s Pizza, now in Hamilton, NJ, and De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies in Robbinsville.  The Robbinsville location is run by Sam Amico, Chick’s grandson. It’s a modern-style restaurant in a cute shopping center.

Salads are a new addition to the menu and I got the radicchio, artichoke and pecorino salad.  This salad was delicious. I’d love to recreate this at home.

We ordered a regular tomato pie. The pie was cut down the middle in irregular-shaped slices.  The sauce was sweet, and the crust was thin and crisp but a bit more pliable than Papa’s.

 

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New Jersey Pizza Tour, First Stop: Papa’s Tomato Pies in Robbinsville

Papa’s Tomato Pies, in Robbinsville, NJ, was originally opened in 1912 in Trenton, NJ.

It claims to be the oldest continuously family-run pizza restaurant in the country.

Neapolitan natives Giuseppe (Joe) and Adalene Papa founded the pizzeria

that is now run by their grandson, Nick Azzaro.

The first pizzeria in Trenton was called Joe’s Tomato Pies opened in 1910 by Joe Silvestro (closed in 1999).  Joe Papa learned to make tomato pies here before opening his own shop at age 17.

Papa’s serves “tomato pies” as opposed to “pizza,” the difference supposedly being that the cheese is put on the dough first, then the tomato sauce. But I must admit, I didn’t notice a difference. It’s all apizz’ to me.  According to Ed Levine’s Pizza:  A Slice of Heaven, the original ovens at Papa’s were coal-fired and changed to gas in the 1950s.

From the menu, I ordered a regular tomato pie. (Interestingly, they have what they call a mustard pie, that has mustard underneath the cheese and tomato. I’ve never seen this before.)

 

So I’ve written about pizza before. Pizza has three components:  crust, sauce and cheese. The hardest part to perfect is the dough. Good pizza dough is kind of like porn–I know it when I see it. Papa’s has perfected the dough. It has a great bake and flavor. It has a pretty thin crispy crust, which I’ve come to learn, is popular in New Jersey. The sauce, on the sweet side, showcases the tomato nicely.  The cheese is creamy.  With an excellent crust, albeit on the thin side for my taste, all in all, Papa’s makes a great pie.

(I ordered a house salad too to make eating pizza a bit healthier. However, the salad was lackluster to say the least. Stick to the pie and get your greens elsewhere.)

The restaurant is located behind another building off the road. There is a gravel driveway and a parking lot with plenty of parking. It is cash only so be prepared. They do have an ATM on site.

New Jersey Pizza Tour

I had been wanting to go on a New Jersey pizza tour for some time now. I finally did it. My goal was to hit the classic pizza places, especially those started by Italian immigrants for a cultural, historical pilgrimage as well. So for the next two weeks, I will showcase one pizzeria per day.

Just to recap my pizza cred, my parents owned a pizzeria and my relatives opened some in New Jersey in the first half of the 20th century. I’ve eaten pizza in Naples, New York and New Haven. Now, it’s time for New Jersey.

(The writer in me couldn’t resist the alliteration, but I’ve had pizza in other parts of the country too, including Chicago.)

In 2002, I wrote an article on pizza for Hobokeni.com where I sampled pizza from every pizzeria in the Mile Square at the time.  It was a huge task for one person, but I accomplished it with the help of friends (although I personally tried each slice too).

When critiquing pizza, I think it’s best to order a plain pie with no toppings.  The three components of pizza are crust, sauce and cheese.  I think it’s easier to taste each one when there are no other toppings.  Also, I think it’s best to order a whole pie instead of a slice because slices can be sitting around at many pizzerias.  The whole pie comes fresh out of the oven to you.  Personally, I think the crust is the true testament of whether someone can make pizza or not.  However, I’ve eaten pizza where the crust was great but the sauce or cheese was not.  So I do believe a good pie is a combination of the three.

Hope you enjoy my journey, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on your favorite pie!

–Dina Di Maio

Myers of Keswick: British Groceries in the Village

Myers of Keswick is a grocery store in the West Village that specializes in foods from the UK. This month, it was honored by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation as its Business of the Month. (For those of you not familiar with the GVSHP, it is a wonderful nonprofit organization that tirelessly works to preserve the historic buildings and character of the Village. In the past, I was a member and volunteered for the organization.)  Not too long ago, I paid my own visit to the store and found it full of tempting treasures like Jammie Dodgers and custard creams.

They serve traditional foods like steak and kidney pie, shepherd’s pie,

and Scotch egg.


I find it fun to sample the different products, especially the chocolates and cookies, of which there are many yummy varieties.

Dandelion Greens: Nutrition Not Nuisance

When the early Italian immigrants came to the United States, they were criticized for eating foraged weeds such as dandelion. It was thought that they were shorter than average Americans because they weren’t getting the right nutrition–that the meat-and-potatoes diet with plenty of milk was better than the high-vegetable diet of the immigrants. Of course, we now know that is not true, thanks in part to Ancel Keys, who enlightened the world about the Mediterranean diet in the 1950s.

Dandelion is one such weed, rich in so many nutrients.  Since ancient times, in the Middle East and Asia, it was used as medicine.  It’s good for digestion, to strengthen bones, to protect against Alzheimer’s, to protect the eyes or to detox. A great source of Vitamins K and A, it also contains Vitamin C, B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper, folate, and phosphorus.

My earliest memories of dandelion are of the puffballs that we would pick and blow to watch the little wisps fly through the air. Little did we know they were seeds and we were helping new dandelions to grow.  Not that they need help. They are everywhere, and while some view them as a pest, others view them as a treasure.

When I was growing up, my mom had a friend who would bring us dandelion greens from her garden.  We laughed because this friend was fishing for gossip whenever she brought these over, so we associated dandelion greens with gossip.

Besides eliciting gossip, dandelion has many uses.  The greens can be eaten fresh or cooked, the roots can be ground into a coffee substitute, and the flowers can be made into wine, as many of the early Italian immigrants did.

Italians eat the dandelion greens in salads or cooked with garlic and olive oil.  They can be bitter, so it is best to blanch them before cooking, especially the more mature leaves.  We then saute them in garlic and olive oil.

However, I prepared them the way Julie Ann Sageer recommends in her new Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen cookbook, blanched and sautéed with caramelized onions.

To cook dandelions, wash them first.  They are not very dirty like some greens can be.  Chop off the large stems from the bottom.  Then roughly chop them.  Blanch them.  They are kind of like spinach.  You have to squeeze them to get the water out.  You can then saute them with caramelized onions, as in the cookbook, or you can saute them with sliced garlic and olive oil, the Italian way.  Either way, they are a nutritious addition to any meal and definitely should not be overlooked in the garden!

–Dina Di Maio