Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tacconelli's NJ Best New Jersey Pizza

Recently, I was going to do a review of the famous Tacconelli’s Pizzeria on East Somerset Street but every time that I try to go there they are booked or something else comes up (like they close down 2 weeks for vacation). Besides, what is a best Philadelphia pizza blog without at least one review of a place that has been generally accepted as the best Philly pizza for some time now? So I thought to myself “aren’t there any other options available?” With a little research I found out that the same family owns a second location in Maple Shade, NJ with the same name. I know this location isn’t in Philly but its origins are so I decided to give it a try.

Tacconelli’s Pizzeria NJ is located at 450 South Lenola Road, Maple Shade, NJ (only about 15-20 minutes outside of Philly towards the Cherry Hill Mall). Their current hours of operation are similar to the original pizzeria: Closed Monday and Tuesday; Wednesday and Saturday open 4-9:30; Thursday and Friday open 11:30-9:30; and Sunday 3-8. There hours of operation are a bit more flexible than the original pizzeria.

Before I begin… Tacconelli’s Pizzeria is extremely popular throughout Philly and a true review would not be worthy unless some background is in order. The following is the story of Tacconelli’s Pizzeria as told by Vince and Doris Tacconelli:

"In 1918, Giovanni Tacconelli traveled from his hometown of Chieti,
Italy to Philadelphia. After a few years working as a laborer, he decided to do
what he'd done in his native land - bake bread. The best and only way to do so,
he said, was to bake it in a brick oven. So, along with a few of his friends, he
built a 20' x 20' brick oven. The bread business went well until the outbreak of
WWII, at which time his sons- all of whom had helped him run the family
business- were drafted into military service. With no one around to help him,
Giovanni had no choice but stop baking bread.

In 1946, with everyone home from the war, Giovanni had a
brainstorm; rather than simply make bread, he decided to use his massive brick
oven to make Old World "tomato pies", a skill his mother had taught him many
years before. A skill that in time he would pass on to his own son, Anthony.

In 1998, after decades of operating an award-winning restaurant,
Anthony and Sylvia's son, Vince and his wife Barbara Tacconelli decided to
retire. They entrusted their business, which by now had become a Philadelphia
institution, to their younger son, Vince, Jr. Vince and his wife Doris would
successfully operate the pizzeria for the next five years, from 1998 - 2002.
In 2003, Vince decided it was time to take Tacconelli's to the next level.
That's when He and Doris opened a second Tacconelli's Pizzeria closer to their
home in Maple Shade, NJ.

Of course, some changes were inevitable. At Tacconelli's - Maple
Shade there is no need to reserve your dough; in fact, walk-ins are welcome. At
Tacconelli's - Maple Shade, we serve three types of salads (with homemade
dressings) and a variety of delectable desserts. And at Tacconelli's - Maple
Shade, we're open for lunch Thursday and Friday.

Some things, though, never change: at Tacconelli's - Maple Shade
you'll find Vince Jr. making the same freshly-baked, award-winning pizzas he
made at Tacconelli's - Philadelphia. The ingredients, and even most of the
cooks, are the same. So it is our commitment to our customers, namely to not
tamper with Giovanni Tacconelli's inimitable recipe for delicious, thin-crust
"tomato pies"."

Tacconelli’s Pizzeria’s New Jersey location actually dominates the original in many categories. First, they are open more hours. Second, the place is much bigger. Third, the brick oven is a gas oven instead of oil burning. This causes them to be able to cook more pizzas as long as they want. Fourth, you don’t need to reserve dough (Absurd). This is caused by the better oven in the new location. Also there are many more employees. Fifth, the menu selection is larger including salads and desserts.

Basically, the second location is operated the way a quality pizzeria should be – like a business. The other location produces a great pizza (we’ll save this for another review) but this is after the many inconveniences that a customer must face. If you have an old brick oven that only makes one pizza at a time but the demand is great then change the damn oven! Simple. That is the business way. Their old oven may have been good 50 years ago but as a business expands there needs to be adjustments made. They should also consider expanding the building too. OK…back to my review of Tacconelli’s Pizzeria in New Jersey.

There are 5 major gourmet thin crust pizzas served by Tacconelli’s Pizzeria NJ: the white pie, the signature pie, the red pie, the tomato pie, and the marinara pie. You can also add other toppings, which include: Onions, Mushrooms, Sweet Peppers, Chopped Tomatoes, Sweet Sausage, Pepperoni, Anchovies, Olives, Spinach, Roasted Peppers, Extra Cheese, Pesto, BBQ Sauce, Fresh Basil (when available). Each pie is about 12 inches round.

I sampled the signature, red, and marinara pie. The crust on all of the pies varied. At minimum, each pie was slightly charred on the tops and bottom (very slight). However, the signature pie’s crust was different. First, the charring was stepped up a notch to medium char. Also, the edge of the crust was sprinkled with extremely tiny charred crust specks. This produced a very tasteful and unique crust (this may be a reason that it is their most popular pizza).

The pizzas were also thin crust but I debate that. I guess what constitutes a thin crust can be interpreted differently depending on the person. For me, thin crust is super thin like Slice or Pizzeria Stella by Stephen Starr. With that style of thin crust, my consumption level can double easily. For example, if I am hungry for 4 slices of regular traditional pizza, I would be able to eat a whole pie that day of thin crust, etc. Tacconelli’s Pizzeria NJ has thin crust that is more filling then the ultra thin crust pizzas served by many others. I could not eat as much here without getting full. The thickness of the pizza is about ½ inch, slightly shy of traditional American style pizza crust. So we can call this thin crust with a very loose definition of thin crust.

Another good quality about this pizza was the foldability. This pizza was able to be folded without cracking. The crust produces a very crispy texture that was still solid enough to not crack and cause a mess (that many bad pizzas do).

Tacconelli’s sauce, in general, is very sweet and tangy. This is a very good quality for me as I believe that it is important to taste the sauce. Many pizzas have a bland sauce that blends in the background but not here. Their sauce makes you crave more. You find yourself searching for the next big sauce spot on the pizza to fill that sauce void. You can almost ask for a side of sauce to go with your pizza (but that wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the ingredients).

The marinara pizza had a slightly different sauce as it was a bit spicier. Their marinara sauce was slightly coated with a base of their sauce. That sauce is cooked to a golden brown and topped with grated Asiago cheese. I enjoyed the marinara pizza sauce but I preferred the original sauce found in their red pie better as the sweet tangy sensation was much more prevalent.

The red pie had about a fifty fifty mix of sauce and cheese. The cheese made this more of a traditional American style pizza. However, that style calls for cheese on top of sauce. That wasn’t exactly the case with their red pie. They put cheese on top of sauce and then a few dashes of sauce on top of the cheese – a hybrid. If you wanted just sauce and no cheese then you could have chosen the tomato pie pizza.

The signature pie did not have any pure sauce on there. It is a white pie, topped with cheese, garlic, spinach, and large chopped tomatoes throughout the pie. The final effect was delicious.

The signature pie was definitely my favorite because of how the crust was done. My only regret is not trying the traditional tomato pie. I think that I may have enjoyed this because I would like to eat their pizza with just the sauce (it was that good).

The service was excellent at Tacconelli’s Pizzeria NJ. For a busy night, the waitress kept checking in on my table to see if I needed anything else.

The price was reasonable for one of the best New Jersey pizza places (if not the best NJ pizza): The plain was $11.50 for the whole pie; $12.25 for the marinara; and $15 for the signature. Three pizzas can easily accommodate 6 people. This makes the price per head extremely cheap for quality gourmet pizza.

I have made a special exception for Tacconelli’s and allowed them to be included amongst other best Philly pizzas because of their history as a true Philadelphian Italian pizzeria and their close proximity to Philly (15 minutes). However, when I start a Best New Jersey Pizza Club, they will be on that list as well. Tacconelli’s Pizzeria NJ welcome to the Best Philadelphia Pizza Club!

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