Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Neopolitan pizza: Is less more?

A Mano (by hand) opened in Ridgewood about two years ago, but I didn't get to the restaurant until last night's free demonstration by a pizza maker from Italy. After Antonino Esposito handed out samples of his minimalist pie, I began to rethink all that I know and love about pizza, which I started eating in Brooklyn more than four decades ago.

I have eaten pizza in Italy, but never in Naples, where the standards for authentic pizza were set in the late 1800s. Last night, Esposito made the dough by hand -- using Caputo flour from Italy and adding only tap water, a little yeast and salt -- crushed the whole peeled southern Italian tomatoes by hand and topped that with house-made mozzarella made by one of the oven tenders. There are lots of toppings available, including arugula and prosciutto, but pies come in only one size -- 12 inches.

The pie spends about 90 seconds in the wood-fired oven, one of two assembled by Italian craftsmen with material sent from Italy, including volcanic soil and rock. What emerges is a thin-crust pizza that is deliciously chewy but topped with a minimum of tart tomato, gooey cheese, some olive oil and fresh basil. If you hold it at the wide end, it just droops. So there's no use asking for it well-done as you do with an American pizza in hopes of getting a stiff, crunchy crust.

After free samples of the pie and house made buffalo-milk and cow-milk mozzarella, I ordered an A Mano salad with imported marinated Italian artichokes ($7.99) and a marinara pie -- just tart tomato sauce and slivers of garlic over that soft, charred, chewy dough ($9.99). Oddly satisfying in view of my love of bigger, brawnier pizzas.


  1. I am starting to be real unsatisfied with the pizza in North Jersey. I usually go to La Bella Roma in Paramus, and the pizza is fairly good. Lodi Pizza on 46 is also a favorite of mine. However, after going to Patricia's in Morris Park in the Bronx around Easter of this year, I don't think others can compare. I might have to check out Al Mano.

  2. You didn't mention whether you have tried Brooklyn's coal-oven pizza in Hackensack, which also serves antipasto, ravioli and so forth, and has a liquor license. At a Neopolitan pizza place, the pie is limited to 12 inches and the dough is softer and doesn't crisp up as much; I love all the unusual toppings, but I still lean toward Brooklyn's.

  3. I have been to Brooklyn's twice, the service really left something to be desired on both trips. The one time they didn't deliver the salad that we ordered, the other time the waiter didn't seem like he wanted to be bothered doing his job. The pizza was pretty good though, one of the better pizzas in North Jersey. The other thing I am not too fond of is the cash only policy.

  4. True. You also have to tell them not to bring the pizza until you've finished your salad, antipasto and so forth. I try to go early in the evening when it is not too busy. One time, we were sitting next to the venetian blinds and saw a woman devour an entire pie in her car. But can you find another pizza like Brooklyn's around here? For a traditional, American-style pie, I like Linwood Pizza in Rochelle Park and Angelina's in Hackensack. But there are so many pizza places and I have only tried a few.

  5. There is a place called Sonny & Tonys on Macarthur Blvd in Mahwah and it will give Brooklyns a run for its money. Plus the service is good and they take credit cards. My aunt and her husband swear by Linwood Pizza but I have yet to try it. It must of been quite a sight to see the woman polish off a whole pizza in her car.

  6. I love pizza and have to stop myself from eating it every day. Sonny & Tony's is now on my list. Credit cards? What a concept. At Brooklyn's, the New York attitude can get tiring.


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