Following the first part of my “Takeout Joints” column, here are three more pizzerias and Italian restaurants in my area. They each offer something different, from a special crust to childhood memories, and finally some wild and wacky slices you will not find anywhere else.
Esposito’s Pizza and Pasta (Matawan)
Three words: sesame seed crust. Without it, unfortunately, Esposito’s is little more than average pizza. Not bad by any means, but remember the area I live in. I could go a mile in any direction from my house and probably run into five pizzerias. I actually never liked Esposito’s until we started requesting their sesame seed crust. This simple modification of your order turns the entire pizza around. The crust becomes more crisp, with the seeds adding little pockets of crunch and flavor. The remaining crust after working your way through the slice is good enough to standalone as a breadstick. I skip over their regular pies and go right for the specialties (they used to have a pie with sliced potatoes and Fontina cheese which was to die for). They have one with fresh mozzarella, arugula, prosciutto, shaved Parmesan, and spicy olive oil. It’s excellent. The right combination of crispy, creamy, melty, savory, and spicy. That hot oil packs a punch. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Denino’s Pizza Place (Aberdeen)
Yes, this is the same Denino family from Staten Island. That was the pizzeria of my childhood. Oh, the memories: waiting two hours for a table no matter what night of the week it was, seeing my dad and grandma knock back a pitcher of beer (even at 88 now, she still enjoys beer with her pizza), devouring their crunchy, crusty slices, and then heading across the street to the original Ralph’s Ices. For as long as I can remember, Denino’s was considered “thin crust”. As pizza-making has evolved or we have become more exposed, I would consider it “normal” crust now. Still, it was fantastic. The seemingly ancient well-seasoned oven over there gave it a distinct char and overall flavor. When this new one opened in Aberdeen, we were excited. Yay! A taste of home without having to pay $15 to go over the Outerbridge Crossing. But it’s not the same. Still good in its own right, the new Denino’s lacks the pop and crunch of the original. Perhaps my opinion was tainted by years of eating the old one, or maybe it really is all in the New York water. Prices are through the roof for a pizzeria in this area. On a positive note, they will make us the Staten Island version of the white pie if we ask, which is essentially what you know it as, only with extra garlic and no ricotta. This is good pizza. Don’t let any negative aspects of this review bring it down. (And lo and behold, there’s a Ralph’s right next door.) 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Nunzio’s Kitchen (Sayreville)
Holy creativity, Batman! This is one of those places that belongs on a TV show somewhere. Or maybe not, because that would make them more crowded than they already are. Look, when you start doctoring up slices with all kinds of crazy ingredients, it either works and becomes something special or turns into a novelty—a slice you’re ordering for the sake of ordering it. Nunzio’s blows all that out of the water. Take the “Scooby Snacks” pizza, for instance. Who would ever think to combine pulled pork, sesame glazed popcorn shrimp, and lemon zest? How about the “Candyland”: corned beef, jalapeños, candied bacon, and sour cream? There’s even loaded potato, sausage and broccoli rabe, mac and cheese, buffalo chicken, chicken or eggplant parm, the ubiquitous chicken-bacon-ranch, and to drop your jaw even more, a chicken and waffles pizza. Those are all self-explanatory. Should I keep going? How about the “Mr. Saturday Night”? Let’s throw some sausage, cherry tomatoes, bleu cheese, and walnuts on a pizza. I could go on and on. I think they have 30-40 in the display case at any given time. The best part is that you do not have to order by the pie. There are always slices available two or three at a time so you can make your selection. They will even make a slice to order, which is rare. Every visit I walk in and stand there dumbfounded for about five minutes before I order. These slices are packed with ingredients. The crust is always sturdy enough to hold them all. To make matters better, the service is extremely friendly and helpful if you have questions (you will) about certain slices. Novelty? Specialty? No, try gourmet. 4 out of 5 stars.