New Jersey pizza, I love you but you’re bringing me down.
Don’t get it twisted. I still think New Jersey has the best pizza in the world. Better than New York, better than Connecticut, better than Italy, better than anyone. Trying new pizzerias (and revisiting my favorites) is maybe my single favorite part of this thing I call a job — ranking the 99 best pies in the state with Pete Genovese was basically a dream come true. But the more time I spend sampling Garden State za, the more I notice some troubling trends: Styles, toppings and preparations that boggle my pizza-loving mind.
I am no pizzaiolo, I’m simply a man who consumes far more pizza than any doctor would recommend. But here are the things we need to stop on the New Jersey pizza scene to maintain our very important status as having the best pizza on Earth.
1. Hot honey
No. 1 with a bullet. This is probably the hottest trend in pizza, not just in New Jersey but around the country. Honey infused with with chili to give the sweet stuff a spicy edge is all the rage throughout cuisine, and especially on pizza. Mike’s Hot Honey is the biggest name in the game, to the point where some slice shops even have neon signs with the company’s name in their windows. I’m not saying it doesn’t taste good, it compliments the savory notes of cured meats nicely. But hot honey has gotten too hot; it is everywhere. It’s overdone and becoming derivative. If you need hot honey to enjoy your pizza, you don’t like pizza — you like hot honey. A drop too much and it’s overpowering.
Not every pie needs to be classic Jersey-style, even if that style is the best. It was cool when Detroit-style pizza, the rectangular pan pie with a thick chewy crust and cheese that spills over the edges, started to hit the Jersey scene. But now it feels like every other pizzeria that opens up is opting to make pizza like we live in godforsaken midwest. Thankfully, people, we don’t. I appreciate a good Detroit-style pie. Low Fidelity in Jersey City makes a great one. But plenty of pizzerias use the thick crust and heavy helping of cheese to hide what in actuality isn’t a great pizza. Let’s just slow our Motor City roll, shall we?
Much like Detroit-style, Neapolitan pizza has become completely overdone. Countless shops are now making the smaller, fluffier pies, with mixed results. Neapolitan is a low-floor, high-ceiling style — a great one may be the best pie you’ve ever had, but few things are more disappointing than a bad one. Because not only do you have to munch on a tiny, watery mess of a pie, but you probably just paid 20 bucks for the thing. Some of New Jersey’s best pies are made in the style. Razza in Jersey City? Incredible. Bivio in Montclair? Divine. But for every good Neapolitan shop, there are five bad ones.
4. Buffalo chicken
I love buffalo wings. I love buffalo chicken salads. I love buffalo chicken sandwiches and wraps. But more often than not, a buffalo chicken pizza is an under-sauced pie topped with a dried out chicken cutlet dosed in Frank’s Red Hot. We’re better than this, people. It’s the Applebee’s of pizza toppings. That’s fine if you live in a pizza wasteland, but we don’t. We’re in the pizza promise land, let’s act like it. Speaking of buffalo chicken…
You would be surprised how many self-respecting New Jerseyans take perfectly fine New Jersey pizza and dunk it in ranch dressing. You don’t put ketchup on a steak from Peter Luger. Putting ranch on Jersey pizza may be worse. You’re completely ruining the perfect flavors of bread, sauce and cheese in the laziest way possible. If you want to dunk something in ranch, grab some carrots.
6. Overloaded pizzas
The best pizza is plain pizza. I will die on this cheesy, saucy hill (as my heart stops because I ate too much plain pizza). That doesn’t mean I don’t like toppings. But some pizzerias are very clearly attempting to use toppings to cover up an otherwise pretty mediocre pizza. If you have two different types of meats, three veggies, a drizzle of honey and two different sauces on your pie, not only are you overcompensating, but that sucker is gonna fall apart as soon as I try to pick up a slice. Do less.
7. Vodka pies
Vodka sauce is having a bit of a culinary moment. Maybe it’s because everyone learned how to make it at home during the pandemic (like I did) or maybe people just got sick of putting red sauce on everything and realized a cream sauce with a kick would be a nice change of pace. For whatever reason, chicken vodka parm sandwiches are all the rage and so are pizzas with vodka sauce. It’s nice once in a while. But you get a whole pie, halfway through your second slice you and your poor stomach are going to be wishing you had stuck with the classic.
8. “Grandma” pies
What exactly is a grandma pie? Good question. The definition shifts from pizzeria to pizzeria. Sometimes it just means its just a square pie, sometimes it’s a Sicilian pizza with cheese that goes on before the sauce. Sometimes it’s just an extra saucy regular slice. Get specific people. And if you don’t, that grandma pie better be as good as grandma used to make. Some of the very best pizzas in New Jersey are “grandma” pies — love Mr. Dino’s in Montclair’s take on the pizza! — but that doesn’t make the uptick in pies made in this style any less troubling.
9. Undercooked pies
This isn’t exactly a trend as much as something that’s enraged me since I was a kid. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had pizza ruined, even from a great pizzeria, because they simply took the pie out of the oven slightly too son. The crust flops. The cheese slides everywhere. The pie falls apart as you try to grab a slice. There’s no crispness, no texture and no structure. I usually order my pies well done for this reason, but you shouldn’t have to! Just like steaks should be cooked medium-rare, pizzas should be cooked to a perfect golden brown. Ask Al Santillo.
10. New York names
Some of New Jersey’s best pizzerias are guilty of this. Having New York in the title of their New Jersey pizza shop. We’re New Jersey, people, be proud! I don’t want a New York-style slice, I want a New Jersey-style slice! This isn’t Brooklyn, this isn’t New York, this is Jersey. Say it with your (sauce-stained) chest!
These are just my personal pizza gripes. What are yours? I want to hear about your pizza problems! If you wanna talk za, shoot me an email!
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.