Heading out for the evening in Jersey with enough time for a pizza stop, I took counsel from the 2010 article in New Jersey Monthly on the state’s “25 Perfect Pizzas.” Unfamiliar to me, I picked Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza in Elizabeth—they’d been in business since 1918.
I easily found the joint next to a church in the middle of a residential area on South Broad Street. Parking in their side lot, a sign on their boarded-up front door directed me to the working entrance on the other side. There, I surprisingly learned that they were take-out only. The pie-making owner did tell me I could eat mine at the nearby Parkside Tavern if I’d like. Leaving that decision for later, I ordered a medium 14-inch cheese pie for $13.00 and waited in the small area in front of the counter. With full view of the kitchen operations, I watched both square Sicilian and regular round pies come to life.
It was a frantic Friday just before dinner time, and pies of all shapes and sizes were going out for delivery. Locals were coming in to pick up their phone orders as well. One such customer was a young lady who told me that Santillo’s was so good that she won’t order from anywhere else. My excitement built during the 20 minutes I waited for mine to come out of the busy oven.
Pizza box in hand, I was eager to get down to business and not really interested in sitting at a strange bar. Therefore, I opted to set up shop in my Dad’s new Honda Accord and work on replacing that new car smell with the enticing scent oozing from my pizza box. I opened it to discover that my pie was a work of beauty. On the passenger seat dining table lay a rich, deep, dark layer of tomato sauce on top of a slightly smaller than usual pie cut into eight slices. The end crust was charred all around as was most of the bottom.
It only took me a single bite to know that I was savoring something special. Each slice was tantalizingly hot with tasty sauce, oil and cheese atop a firm, crisp crust—so stiff that each slice stood at attention and was too firm to fold. Every bite resulted in a crunch. This pie was as noisy as it was delicious!
I planned to leave a few slices to take home to my parents. My in-car dining experience, however, resulted in my quickly devouring six slices on my own–to my parent’s disappointment!
Santillo’s pie is not your classic, textbook New-York style pizza. It is a variation in pie composition that still managed to create a truly, favorable culinary delightful. I have had perfect, classic slices now in Bayonne, Hoboken and Jersey City. Although this pie is different, it is equally as tasteful and satisfying as those classics. For now, let’s just label Santillo’s as “New Jersey’s Most Uniquely Delicious Pie.” I just can’t wait for the chance to go back.
PIZZA SNOB RATING ***** Sets the Standard
Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza
639 South Broad Street
Elizabeth, NJ 07202