Vic's Italian Restaurant
After Hurricane Sandy swept across the shore in October, decimating boardwalks, amusement parks, and entire towns in its wake, one of my first concerns (after the welfare my own home, family, and friends, of course) was finding out which classic Jersey Shore pizzerias were down for the count and which ones had made it through the storm. Vic's, a longstanding Bradley Beach institution, was lucky; like most restaurants, it lost all its edible inventory with the power out for a week, but sustained no structural damage. The great neon signs wrapping around the building are untouched, and the staff is decking the halls for the holidays.
In the summer, every table in the wide dining room is filled with Shore regulars streaming in from as far south as Bay Head and as far north as Bergen County, ready for big pizzas, pitchers of beer, and platters of veal parmigiana. In colder months, walk-ins take up green vinyl booths and old-school Formica diner tables in the wood-paneled tap room for lunch. This side of Vic's is the original restaurant, opened just after Prohibition was repealed (though the pizza wasn't added to the menu until 1947), and it carries the lived-in feel of a neighborhood tavern.
Vic's calls its pizzas "tomato pies," though they're closer in spirit to a typical thin-crust pizza or bar pie than the traditional Trenton style. The pizzas might share the same round shape and crispy-all-the-way crust as Trenton tomato pies, but Vic's puts its sauce directly on the crust rather than slathering it over the cheese and toppings.
But that's being nitpicky—there's nothing that would leave you disappointed at Vic's even without the expectations of a traditional tomato pie. Both the classic white and new whole wheat crusts are homemade and cracker-crunchy with no droop at the tip, making a stable shelf for the roster of toppings that really let you go crazy and customize your pie. In addition to the simple crushed tomato sauce, both the meatballs and sausage are made in-house. Sliced thin as if they were pepperoni rounds and crispy at the edges, we could smell the meatball pizza with an extra hit of fresh minced garlic ($11.95) coming a mile away. The mildly seasoned meatballs were nearly overpowered by the garlic but delivered on flavor when you got them on their own; Vic's offers a meatball sandwich on its lunch menu and these would most definitely be aces with the restaurant's tomato sauce in a hard roll. I had expected miniature balls polka-dotting my pie, but the sliced rounds were a lovely surprise.
As satisfyingly pungent as the meatball-and-garlic combination was, Vic's gave me the best early Christmas present of all. "Black or green olives... or both?" the server asked when I ordered a whole wheat pizza with olives ($13.45). Um, both, of course! A pizzeria that offers green olives as a topping is always a keeper in my book. Where black olives are earthy-briny, green olives are little salt bombs all over the pizza, and to get both together is a treat. With the generously sprinkled olives across the pizza, the wheat crust was barely indistinguishable from the white crust, save a hint of extra toastiness and a deeper brown color. On a plain cheese pizza, its wheatier characteristics might shine through, but a healthy handful of flavorful toppings means you could probably fool a casual pizza eater into snacking on some whole grains. (Ahem, husband.)
Though it's not a pizza, I'd be remiss not to mention the authentically soul-warming pasta fazool, as we Eye-talians say: thick and creamy from white beans cooked until they fall apart and meld with the broth, and studded with ditalini. Vic's is a full-on Italian restaurant, after all, and this one taste from the non-pizza end of the menu makes me ready to eat more, and there are a few more months until the summer crush begins again. (Support the local businesses of the Jersey Shore—go eat pizza!)