Woodbury’s Pizza Scene

Move over, apple pie; it’s the pizza pie that reigns as America’s national dish. Meet your local pizza scene and rejoice.
A super combo of sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, onion, green pepper, Canadian bacon, black and green olives from Ronnally's Pizza.

Pizza is the most simple thing to do, but not simple to do right,” says Angelo Montes, chef and proprietor at Sole Mio Ristorante. Born in Sicily, Montes moved to America in 1999 from the Milan area of Italy. It is a pleasure to listen to him pontificate on the misunderstood art of pizza. He contends that in the process of becoming universal, pizza has gone astray. “Pizza, to me, is light; when you bite it, the crust melts in your mouth . . . they put too much yeast [in the dough] to make the pizza puffy, but this is bad in the stomach.” He uses an Italian recipe for his dough, carefully letting it rise and bringing it to room temperature before firing. To him, Americans overload the pie: “There is too much stuff on top. People think more stuff, more good. I won’t fight their opinion,” he says, “but that’s not a pizza. It should be light.”

Montes recommends a classic Margherita pizza ($11.99), a modest application of San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella de buffala and a little bit of olive oil with fresh basil. The Margherita evokes the colors of the Italian flag—green basil, white mozzarella and red tomatoes. The sausage pizza ($11.99 ) at Sole Mio is special, too, made in-house using a traditional finochetto recipe: pork, fennel, crushed red pepper and a bit of honey to mellow the bite of the spice.

Another native Italian, Enzo Lipari, brought his business from Sicily in 1977. Step into Pino’s Pizza and inhale the heady aroma of hand-tossed, made-to- order, NYC-style (foldable, with a medium-thin crust) pizza by the slice or by the pie. Lipari is also happy to share his thoughts about pizza, proudly using the best ingredients and making fresh dough each morning.

The only place in town that offers pizza by the slice, “everybody knows Pino’s Pizza, the kids grow up with my pizza, they all come after school,” Lipari says. Who is Pino? “My dad died so young; when my brother and I opened pizza places, [we named them] out of respect for my father.” The shop offers all kinds of deals, including two slices and a pop for $6.75. For a whole pie, you can’t beat the rustica ($16.95)—think tough guys, rugged landscape—a pungent array of strong flavors: peppery salami, tender, well-marbled capicolla (dry-cured pork from the neck muscle), ham, sundried tomato, ricotta and mozzarella cheese. The Tuscany ($16.95) is a tangled garden of a pie, ripe with portabella mushrooms, roasted red peppers, Italian sausage, fresh basil and mozzarella. If that sounds like overkill, it’s not: the ingredients are judiciously applied, in just the right measure of veggie, meat, cheese and crust.

Pizza and beer go together like peanut butter and jelly; there’s no better place to indulge in this divine match than at the Tamarack Tap Room, where there are over 70 rotating taps of local, craft and imported brews. The Tap Room turns out wood-fired flatbread—pizza’s gourmet, trendy cousin—with a locally made focaccia-style crust. The chorizo & cheese ($9.95) fuses Italian and Mexican flavors with garlicky pesto, spicy chorizo (Spanish sausage), queso, hot peppers and a cooling cilantro sour cream. Try the local beer Surly Furious, a bold brew with bracingly bitter hops that will stand up to the spice.

Ronnally’s Pizza has been around for a long time, on call to realize all your needs, both old school and new. Owner Greg Ehlenz and his wife Diana considered buying a Red’s Savoy pizza franchise before they chanced upon the opportunity to take over Ronnally’s, which at 43 years, is the oldest restaurant in Woodbury. The key factor in this kitchen is the Blodgett slate oven, which is unique to Ronnally’s. Unlike the speedy wood-fired pies, the Blodgett takes its time: Ronnally’s super pizza ($18), for example, takes 20-plus minutes to bake.

It’s hard to improve on a good cheese pizza. But imagine a mashup of pizza and one of your other favorite foods. Thus, Ronnally’s bacon cheeseburger pizza ($16.30), an erstwhile novelty that took off like wildfire, has hamburger, bacon bits, cheddar, onion and optional pickles. Another oddball combo that has stood the test of time is the Hawaiian ($14.35) with Canadian bacon, which is round like ham, and pineapple. It has a Tiki lounge sort of vibe, and it’s profoundly satisfying, sweet and juicy.

One of the most influential events in America’s pizza history harkens back to the 1980s and the Austrian chef Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant, Spago, in Beverly Hills, Calif. His innovative, now-famous combinations included smoked salmon, and they changed the pizza scene forever, spawning a distinct style and even a restaurant chain called California Pizza Kitchen. If it weren’t for Spago, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the divine lobster and shrimp flatbread ($15.95) at Crave. It is to die for: luscious garlic cream sauce, red pepper, yellow tomato and chunks of fresh crustacean. The flatbread is fancy-schmancy yet somehow, endearingly, still pizza.

Family-friendly Green Mill Restaurant and Bar has a pie for everyone, from the most finicky kid to the snobbiest foodie. The menu boasts artisan flatbreads (Asian shrimp, chicken Diablo and spinach artichoke made from that crazy-addictive artichoke dip) and “legendary” pizzas, which hew to a more traditional recipe. A diner may choose thin, Pescara, old world, deep dish and gluten-friendly crusts. The California BBQ chicken pizza ($14.99) is a gooey mess of sweet and tangy barbecue sauce, mozzarella cheese, grilled chicken, cheddar cheese, red onion and feisty banana peppers. This one is not available deep dish, which is fine; this is gratifyingly filling as is.

The Tavern Grill has “flatbread pizzas,” running the gamut of lowbrow to shi-shi; the Tavern taco ($11.50, choose chicken or beef) sounds like a college student’s dream—a crisp, thin crust brushed with cheesy jalapeno sauce made from cheddar and habanero (hot!) jack cheeses, and liberally piled with black olives, tortilla strips, scallions and homemade Sriracha ranch dressing. It’s crowned with refreshing shredded lettuce and chunky pico de gallo.

(The Tavern Grill's Tavern Taco: A crisp, thin crust brushed wtih cheesy jalapeno sauce made from cheddar and habanero (hot!) jack cheeses, piled with black olives, tortilla strips, scallions and homemade Sriracha ranch dressing.)

Let’s talk about flatbread, which allows a bit more creative license than regular ol’ pizza. Like pizza, there’s topping on dough, but the thin crust is more likely to hold herbed goat cheese than mozzarella. Lakes Tavern and Grill pushes its flatbreads to the outer limits; the loaded baked potato ($10) is more tuber than tomato, an ingenious combination of creamy white sauce, red potatoes, cheddar cheese, chopped bacon, sour cream and chives. Hooray for creative license, we say—this brash roundup of flavors knocked our socks off.

Pie Five Pizza Co. is new on the Woodbury scene, a casual chain with the clever name (get it? high five for the pie?) and lots of deals, including the “circle of crust” loyalty program. Pie Five makes fresh dough throughout the day, offering a choice of thin-rolled, “artisan” dough, a thicker pan crust as well as whole grain and gluten-free. The chicken carbonara is deliriously rich with Alfredo sauce, Parmesan, grilled chicken, mushrooms, crushed red pepper and bacon; the recommended crust is artisan thin. Feeling more virtuous? The farmers market is a colorful array of mushrooms, spinach, red and green peppers, red onions and roasted tomatoes. You can swap ingredients or customize at will; helpfully, all the pizzas are the same price ($6.99). All told, there are 28 toppings, seven sauces, four crusts; the eatery suggests mixing sauces, like ranch and marinara or spicy (Sriracha marinara) and Tuscan. One of the finishing options is called “magic dust,” and that’s all we’ll tell you about that—go satisfy your curiosity.

Carmine’s Restaurant and Bar is a jovial, family-owned joint with live music nights: a perfect atmosphere for hardcore pizza enjoyment. The Italian flatbreads here include a sophisticated sundried tomato with mozzarella and chicken, and an exquisite Mediterranean ($12), thick with artichokes, Kalamata olives, onions, mushrooms, pesto, mozzarella and feta cheese garnished with Italian herbs. On the fusion front, try the buffalo chicken ($12) with blue cheese sauce, hot buffalo sauce-marinated chicken, green onions, mozzarella cheese, parsley and extra buffalo sauce.

If you eschew meat, there are no fewer than eight enticing vegetarian pizza choices at Punch Neapolitan Pizza, where the dough is quickly fired in a 900-degree wood burning oven. Build your own veggie pizza from premium ingredients such as artichokes, arugula, roasted eggplant and olives. Try the restaurant’s own creation, the delectable borgata pie ($12). This pizza starts with a bed of impeccably fresh mozzarella and the crème de la crème of crushed tomatoes—San Marzano. It’s topped with generous sun-dried tomatoes, fresh goat cheese, roasted eggplant, Saracene olives, olive oil and fresh basil—all on a perfectly blistered, ultra-thin crust.

(Pie Five Pizza Co. Select-a-topping: 28 toppings, seven sauces, four crusts; the eatery suggests mixing sauces, like ranch and marinara or spicy (sriracha marinara) and Tuscan.)

Places to Pie One On