This article was published on Hobokeni.com in 2002. Some of these pizza places may no longer exist and others have most likely opened in Hoboken since then.
Hoboken Pizza by Dina
When it comes to pizza, or “abeetz,” as we say in Italian, I’m a harsh critic. My relatives have owned pizzerias in various locations in Jersey City since the 1920s, and my parents also owned one, and try as I might, I can’t find a pizza that equals the quality of Dad’s (Joe’s Pizza on Bleecker St. in New York comes close). The crust on my Dad’s pizza was “it,” crispy but chewy, with lots of mozzarella and sauce that was not sweet and had just the right amount of herbs. So setting out on the task of finding great pizza in Hoboken was fun but challenging. At the end of sampling pizza from 20 area pizzerias and restaurants, not only was I bloated but I’m still convinced Dad’s was the best. (Hey, what kind of daughter would I be if I didn’t say this?) However, there is good pizza in Hoboken.
First, though, I should define “good” pizza. Pizza has three basic components: crust, sauce and cheese. But that wasn’t always so. Centuries ago, in Naples, Italy, pizza was basically flat bread—a peasant food. Tomato wasn’t introduced to Italy until Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and it didn’t meet bread until about 1760, according to Prof. Carlo Mangoni, who teaches nutrition at Second University of Naples and who devised the “true Neapolitan pizza”–similar to the DOC for wine. In 1830, the first pizzeria opened called Port’ Alba, using a wood-fired oven. In 1889, cheese was added to pizza by pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito, who made a pizza to resemble the colors of the Italian flag with tomato sauce for red, cheese for white and basil for green, in honor of Queen Margherita, who was traveling around the kingdom with her husband, Umberto I of Savoia. Pizza margherita is probably the most popular pizza. A very basic Italian pizza is pizza alla marinara with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and oregano. Today, there are many styles of making pizza—white pizza with just mozzarella and ricotta, Sicilian—a thick-crusted, doughy pizza with cheese and sauce, and basic pizza with various toppings—from ham and pineapple to chicken to (hideously) cooked ziti. So defining a good pizza is not the easiest thing to do; it’s very subjective. Personally, I think it would take much more experimenting than my stomach is able to handle. But for this article, I chose to focus on the basic Neapolitan style pizza and the quality of its three basic components.
To make a great crust, you really need a great oven to reach the right temperatures. Wood-fired ovens are probably the best. Wolfgang Puck says they make “crisp, delicious crust scented with a deep smoky flavor.” The first pizzeria to open in the U.S. was Lombardi’s, owned by Gennaro Lombardi, in 1905 in New York’s Little Italy, (still around today) and has a coal-fired oven, which also imparts a smoky flavor. A coal-fired brick oven makes great pies with black-bottomed crusts. One of the best (I think it’s the best) in New York City is Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn, owned by Patsy Grimaldi. Grimaldi learned the trade from his uncle, Patsy Lancieri (whose famous shop is Patsy’s in Harlem). Lancieri learned the trade from Lombardi. The three shops are the only places to get the old-style pizza in New York City, and are arguably, the best pizzerias around (that’s an article in itself). Today, laws prohibit new coal ovens from being built in Manhattan but not in Brooklyn or Hoboken. That’s why Grimaldi chose Brooklyn and Hoboken for his pizzerias. Sean McHugh built both ovens and runs the Hoboken store. Grimaldi’s, which consistently rates high in the Zagat guide, in Hoboken (133 Clinton St.) is a quaint pizza place for family or friends to dine. It’s a tad more fancy than its Brooklyn counterpart but still makes great pies. This is the only place in Hoboken to get the traditional, old-style Neapolitan pizza. The crust is crispy and it’s made with fresh mozzarella and basil. Nothing beats Grimaldi’s (though I do think the pizza in the Brooklyn location tastes better).
Hoboken’s most famous pizza is Benny Tudino’s, a small pizza place on the 600-block of Washington Street—another Zagat guide winner. Benny’s is famous for its huge slices, so big (about a foot), each slice is served on two paper plates. Because the large slice is loaded with stringy cheese and sauce, it’s difficult to pick up and eat. Most folks use a plastic knife and fork. Benny’s pizza is good and fun to eat, but I found the crust gets soggy quickly. Filippo’s isn’t far away on 406 Washington Street (another location at 267 1st Street), and I’ve found that you are either a Tudino’s fan or a Filippo’s fan. Sheree Feigelson, a five-year Hoboken resident, swears by Benny Tudino’s. She says, “Benny Tudino’s has the largest slices I’ve ever seen.” Angelo Petruzzella of Weehawken remembers the store’s large slices from years back. “Some of the best pizza I have had was at Benny Tudino’s,” he says. Keith Carpentier, owner of patisserie Ganache on 13th Street, likes Filippo’s basic pizza. “There’s a crispness to the crust when you bite into it,” he notes. Il Cantuccio’s (518 Washington Street) is a pizza restaurant that serves slices only after 11 p.m. on weekends. One customer says Cantuccio’s brick-oven pies have a “delicious crust.” A place with good crust is Delfino’s at 500 Jefferson Street, owned by Delfino and Frank Biancamano since 1987. It’s decorated with New York Giants memorabilia and photos of famous Italian American entertainers and has a basic slice with a thicker crust than most.
Besides crust, you need the right kind and amount of cheese. Fresh mozzarella, the kind used at Grimaldi’s, makes a great fresh pie. As James McNair, the pizza prince, mentions, “Factory-made mozzarella melts into a rubbery mass.” Nonetheless, pizzeria owners have to use what’s out there. I found Mario’s Classic Pizza (742 Garden Street) has a really cheesy pie without all the grease, though a bit salty. Torna’s at 254 9th Street, a small old-fashioned-looking pizzeria with minimal seating (a take-out place), is famous for Sicilian slices and heavily loads thick doughy slabs with melting cheese. I have to say I was reeled in by the scent outside Torna’s. This place smells like a “real” pizzeria, and the pies in here are also the real thing. The basic Sicilian slice here has a garlicky flavor with little tomato sauce. Rosario’s (1132 Willow Street) has a great Sicilian slice as well. It’s doughy in the middle and crusty on the edges with lots of mozzarella and sauce.
Speaking of tomato sauce, every sauce is different. Oregano is in most pizza sauces along with other herbs like basil and parsley. Some pizza makers add sugar; others don’t. Most add salt. The sauce at The Original H&S Giovanni’s at 603 Washington Street has a sweet flavor. Seven Star Pizza (a favorite of carousers after a night drinking) at 342 Garden Street has a tasty sauce and an-all round decent slice of pizza. Rosario’s Sicilian pie has a lot of flavorful, herby sauce. But Melina’s Pizzeria (534 Adams St.) on the corner of Sixth and Adams has the most distinctive sauce. It’s spicy and peppery—think Two Boots–and I found it to be a refreshing change from the other sauces I’d sampled.
Specialty pizzas? Filippo’s gets high marks. Feigelson says, “I think Filippo’s has really good specialty slices like white pizza with broccoli.” Carpentier agrees. Janel Miller, who moved to Hoboken last year, thinks Margherita’s (Washington Street) has the best specialty pies. “The Vito pizza is my favorite,” she says. (Margherita’s seems to be a town favorite for Italian food.) Rosario’s has a satisfying chicken cutlet pizza, special of the house, or “Alla Casa,” with sautéed onions and tomatoes. Feigelson also sings the praises of Imposto’s (102 Washington Street) garlic knots.
The city also has a few “never fail” pizza places, meaning if you’re looking for a decent slice of pizza—maybe even at an indecent hour—you won’t be disappointed. Mediterranean Pizza and Pasta on Hudson Place and Hoboken Pizza on Newark Street are two staples of the late-night party crowd. Imposto’s on Washington is also popular for a quick bite as is Molfetta (1122 Washington Street). All have good, large-sliced pizza. Grande Pizza on Newark Street also has large slices, but it’s better to order fresh pizzas here as the slices tend to sit around for a while.
After sampling all this pizza, I have to say my favorite slice was off Hoboken’s beaten path. Old Lorenzo’s (301 Jackson St.) is a small shop in a tiny strip mall on the corner of Third and Jackson. It’s a take-out and delivery place. Inside, there is one table, the counter and arcade games. One game is called Crazy Taxi, and I wonder if this is where Hoboken’s cabbies learned how to drive. The pizza at Lorenzo’s is just plain good. It’s cheesy; the sauce isn’t too sweet or too salty. It’s a great slice of pizza, not too big, not too small, just right. Dad has fond memories of Leo’s bar pies at Leo’s Grandevous on 2nd and Grand back when he was a young buck carousing the mile square’s streets in the days when Hoboken guys wore suits and pinky rings instead of jeans and baseball caps. But as my dad always says, “To each his own.” So whatever you crave in your pizza—be it the crust, the cheese, the sauce, the toppings, the size, the convenience, the taste–Hoboken has a place for you.