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Daily Slice: A Mano, Ridgewood, New Jersey
Daily Slice gives a quick snapshot each weekday of a different slice or pie that the folks at the Serious Eats empire have enjoyed lately.
Ridgewood, New Jersey's A Mano looks to disrupt the Garden State's sweet-sauce stereotype. Its Neapolitan-style pizzas come directly from a 1,000°F wood-burning oven built with stones and clay imported from Italy. The brainchild of pizzaiolo Roberto Caporuscio (now of Kesté in the West Village), A Mano is certified by both the VPN (Verace Pizza Napoletana) and employs pizzamakers accredited by the APN (Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani). A Mano's pie shares more resemblance to its cousins back in the old country than to its neighbor down the street.
We quickly dug into three pizzas: the obligatory Margherita, the Padrino (topped with Caciocavallo cheese, tomatoes, hot sopressata, Gaeta olives, Parmiggiano Reggiano, olive oil, and basil), and a vegetarian friendly Carciofo (topped with fresh mozzarella, Gaeta olives, artichokes, Parmiggiano Reggiano, olive oil, and basil). The pies arrived in less than ten minutes and each exhibited a significant amount of both care and craft.
There was a healthy char to the crust, a tangy addition of San Marzano tomatoes, and evenly distributed cheese. Perhaps this is a stylistic choice, but we found the bottom of the dough a bit undercooked, leaving the generous helping of cheese unsupported in both texture and flavor. Yes, Neapolitan pies are fork-and-knife affairs, but this felt a little too doughy in the center. (I'm not the first to feel this way; Jason Perlow of Off the Broiler mentions similar crust troubles in his review.)
Our favorite pie of the bunch was the Padrino: the spicy sausage and bright olives heightened the pie's primary flavors. The Margherita was a tasty pizza and an attractive value at $11; but the softness of the crust really showed itself in that pie. The Carciofo was an artichoke lover's dream but a little shy on the olives. Combined with a healthy dosage of cheese, the result was a bit too straight-forward and lacking in acidity. Were they perfect, transcendental pizzas? No. But they were very good, and as an added bonus, A Mano is BYOB.