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Lyndhurst, New Jersey: Mr. Bruno's Pizzeria

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[Photographs: Tim Kang]

Mr. Bruno's Pizzeria & Restaurant

439 Valley Brook Avenue, Lyndhurst, NJ 07071 (map); (201) 933-1588; http://www.mrbrunosrestaurant.com/
Pizza style: Sicilian style
Oven type: Gas
The skinny: Excellent Sicilian pizza
Price: Pizzas $11.70 to $20.95

In January 2010, The Star Ledger touted Mr. Bruno's Pizzeria of Lyndhurst, NJ to have the best Sicilian slice in the state. Anthony, Joseph, and Lenny Livreri, the current proprietors, bought this local favorite a couple of years ago from their uncle-in-law Steve Bruno, who opened the original pizzeria two storefronts down in the late 1960s.

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They still use the same recipe Mr. Bruno brought from Italy, and cook their pies in the Bari oven from the original location. With all this tradition and hype stoking my curiosity, I decided to investigate The Star Ledger's claim and the inner workings of this famed institution.

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As the old adage goes, the devil's in the details. As I settled down in the dining room, something odd about the cheese shaker caught my attention. The grated cheese bits seemed a tad more variegated in size than the usual canned cheese product, so I wondered if it was real Pecorino or Parmesan. A quick tasting confirmed my suspicion, and it was a wonderfully fresh and salty sample. The waiter informed me that they grate and fill the shakers with fresh Pecorino Romano every night.

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From first sight of this steaming beauty, you can spot the slices of low-moisture Wisconsin mozzarella secured under the sauce. The dough for the signature Sicilian pie rises in the morning at room temperature, cools in a dough retarder (a humidity-controlled refrigerator), and then is set into the pan and topped with the cheese slices. They subsequently spoon on a sauce of uncooked D.O.C. San Marzano tomatoes, scatter a healthy dose of Pecorino and splash on extra virgin olive oil. In the oven, it becomes a thing of beauty.

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As a point of comparison, NY Pizza Suprema's "upside down pie" is my personal standard for old school Sicilian pizza due to its onion-flecked sauce and pillowy, greasy crust. Mr. Bruno's pie is pretty different but delicious; the vibrant and fruity sauce's simplicity showcased the tomatoes' natural flavor.

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During the cooking process, the mozzarella infused itself into the crust, so I couldn't really feel it in my mouth as I bit into the slice. This imparted an extra bit of creaminess to the crust and made it a delight to eat.

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The crust has a subtle yeasty note and a relatively soft, airy crumb. The outer edge was quite crisp. I expected the bottom to have a deliciously grease-infused, golden crisp typical to this style of pizza, but it had no oil at all.

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As you can see, it is plenty crisp and bubbly, so this lack of oil isn't necessarily a bad feature. The lack of extra oil helped the pies sit easier in my stomach.

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The highlight of the pie, in my opinion, is the baked Pecorino Romano dotting the surface of the pie. This salty, piquant accent ties the pizza's flavors together, and the large chunks of cheese melt into addictive toasted nickel-sized cheese chips.

Although I usually make it a practice to order a cheese Neapolitan pizza to grade a location, I spied these new menu items rolled out just two days before my visit:

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They deemed these creations "Pizza Napoletana," although their size and topping configurations reminded me of the pizza al taglio joints I've seen in Rome and Florence. I'm a huge fan of the onion, potato and rosemary topping combination, so I ordered Mr. Bruno's version.

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It came with 1/4" thick potato chips, caramelized white onions, a sprinkling of dried rosemary and oregano, slabs of low-moisture cheese, and a crust made from the same dough as their Neapolitan pies.

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The first, transporting bite yielded a blissfully warm, fried potato bass note accented by the sweet onions and anchored by the stretchy mozzarella. However, another bite yielded a heavy-handed dried rosemary application that overpowered the flavor balance; after a while, it was the only flavor I could taste.

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The 1/8" crust was cooked to a crispy cracker crunch that, from a texture point of view, complemented the toppings well. However, its stiff, dense crumb and lack of flavor left me underwhelmed. It wasn't a bad crust, but it functioned more as a platform for its toppings instead of imparting a crucial bready note to tie the pie together. Overall, if it weren't for the rosemary issue, I would definitely get this pie again.

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I could see why The Star Ledger rated Mr. Bruno's so highly. I haven't had quite enough Sicilian pizza in NJ to weigh in, but the level of quality explains the local popularity—this place is so busy that the owners have plans to expand their dining room soon. I'm certain these guys are passionate enough about pizza to successfully preserve their tradition and venture out into new territory.

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