With more than 1,200 people per square mile, New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the entire country. In order to justice to The Garden State and all of its wonderful pizza, The Sauce will break down the best pizzas in each part of the state, region by region. First up, Union and Somerset Counties.
Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza – Elizabeth, NJ
Al Santillo is a third-generation pizza baker that doesn’t cut corners or eschew tradition. In Elizabeth, New Jersey, Santillo cooks his beloved pizzas in an oven that is more than 100 years old. His menu is also a celebration of the history of pizza and its evolution.
The menu at Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza is unique in that many of the pies are classified by different time periods. In the 1940s, Santillo says, pizzas were not piled high cheese as they are today, so he brings customers a tasty time warp by way of his “1940 Genuine Tomato Pizza,” which has no cheese and just sauce, and his “1948 Style Tomato Pie with Grated Cheese.” His pizza timeline advances from there, with an extra thin “1957 Style Pizza,” an extra virgin olive oil-blessed pie made “1964 Style,” leading all the way up to his hip “2011 San Marzano Tomatoes Over The Cheese Pizza.”
Just as fashion evolved from poodle skirts to mini skirts, pizza has also come a long way over the decades. Al Santillo won’t let you forget that as he teaches pizza history with his unforgettable pies.
Joe’s Drive In Pizzeria – Vauxhall, NJ
Speaking of throwbacks, how about a cash-only pizzeria that still has “Drive In” in its name?
Joe’s Drive In Pizzeria (simply known as “Joe’s Pizza” around these parts) has promised “Love At First Bite” since the 1950s. They’ve consistently delivered on that heartfelt vow for more than 70 years, though it’s been a while since they’ve brought their pies to customers on roller skates.
You can literally taste the history of Joe’s in every slice as the pizzas are still cooked in the same black seasoned pans used by the current owner’s grandfather. With its flavorful and super thin crust, a plain pie from Joe’s may be the perfect introduction to New Jersey pizza for the uninitiated.
Nicoletta – Bernardsville, NJ
We dare you to peruse the menu at Nicoletta and not place an order immediately. Pepperoni lovers should target their Calabrese pizza, a red pie piled high with thick-cut pepperoni, fennel sausage, red onions, and mozzarella. Or, perhaps their tartufata pizza – a truffle cream pie – calls to you instead, with its toppings of prosciutto cotto, mushrooms, and mozzarella.
Nancy’s Towne House is an institution in Rahway known for its crisp and paper-thin crust. With dough this thin, one can easily double their usual intake of slices, which is a good thing in our book.
Nancy’s nails the classics – you can’t go wrong with their usual plain pie or their margarita pizza with fresh mozzarella. But, if you want to take a walk on the wild side, they also offer Philly cheesesteak and Hawaiian pizza.
Angelo’s II Pizzeria & Restaurant – Hillsborough, NJ
A longtime favorite of Hillsborough residents, Angelo’s offers up a wide variety of toppings that are well supported by a sturdy and crunchy crust. The structural integrity of the bottommost layer is put to the test with The Works (sausage, pepperoni, green pepper, onions, and mushrooms), the Baked Ziti, the Eggplant Rollatini, and several other heavy-hitting pies, and it passes inspection every darn time.