Ramsey, New Jersey: Excellent Bar Pizza at Kinchley's Tavern

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[Photographs: Tim Kang]

Kinchley's Tavern

586 N Franklin Turnpike, Ramsey NJ 07446 (map); 201-934-7777
Pizza style: bar pizza
Oven type: Gas impinger
The skinny: Addicting Fra Diavolo bar pizza and spicy sausage
Notes: Cash only
Price: Pizzas $9 to $19.95

Although I've had my fill of many types of pizza, I admit that I haven't had much bar pizza. Up until now, the closest I'd tried was this Jersey Shore pizza I reviewed last year, but the delicious cracker-crust pies I had recently at Kinchley's Tavern made me hungry for more.

Kinchley's has been a local favorite since 1937—in the old days, primarily as a watering hole, but for the past three to four decades, it has been known as a pizza destination.

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Once you exit Route 17, you can't miss the huge parking lot and the gargantuan Clydesdale horse perched atop a glowing "PiZZA" sign.

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Our blunt but friendly waitress first recommended the house specialty, a Fra Diavolo pie. This 14" wide bubbling beauty had a roughly 1½ to 1 cheese:sauce ratio that, to my usual taste, would have been overwhelmingly heavy were it not for the healthy dose of crust bubbles breaking up the surface.

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The piquant and spicy kick in the onion-flecked tomato sauce makes this pie an absolute winner. The heat cuts through the grease of the low-moisture mozzarella but doesn't overwhelm the senses. The almost imperceptible onion flavor works perfectly well with the sweet spaghetti sauce flavor.

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I loved the 1/8" to 1/16" thin cracker crust. It snapped with a satisfying crackle when I tried to fold my slice. I know some readers don't prefer this style of crust, but I thought its slightly malty flavor and crispness worked perfectly with the sauce's soupy and loose texture.

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The crust got a bit chewier in the middle, so the texture wasn't monotonous. The oven screen imprint hints at the conveyor belt gas oven they use to cook the pie.

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To get a taste of their standard sauce, I ordered another pie, half topped with anchovies. The cheese and sauce meshed more uniformly than the previous pie. The perfectly cooked sauce had a similarly sweet flavor and loose structure to the Fra Diavolo sauce, but I couldn't taste any onion flavor. It also had slight hints of oregano leaves scattered throughout the pie. The anchovies were added sparingly, but their strong salt and umami characteristics still came through.

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The other half of the pie, an unappealingly but aptly named garbage pie came piled with sausage, onions, pepperoni, green and red bell peppers, and anchovies. The pile of toppings was so heavy that I couldn't pick up a slice without having it collapse under the weight.

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Though they made the middle a bit soggy, the toppings themselves tasted great. I could have done without the green bell peppers, but the fresh mushrooms and spicy sausages in particular stood out. The sausages (made at a local meat purveyor) came sliced as thin as the pepperoni pieces and had a pleasantly spicy and slightly sweet fennel flavor. The sausage as an individual or doubled topping on other customers' orders crisped up beautifully in the oven.

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Kinchley's Tavern isn't just a popular pizza joint, it's the stuff of nostalgia and childhood delight. They'll make pies "7/8 cooked" for customers take home to freeze and reheat later. They even freeze and overnight up to 20 of these "7/8 cooked" pies packed in dry ice to some particularly homesick individuals who have moved out of state. Given how delicious these pies are at the source, I can understand the yearning.

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