Al Santillo Jr. represents the third generation of family bakers and pizza-makers at Santillo's Brick Oven Pizza in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Here, he's about to check the temperature of his massive brick oven with an infrared thermometer.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
When it gets busy, Al says, he can always keep up because the oven holds so many pizzas. In those busy times, it's imperative the customer check his or her order. ;)
Over the oven is an elaborate array of peels hanging from hooks in the ceiling, ready to be deployed.
Al loads in a pizza. The peels are heavy and long and require considerable skill to handle as adeptly as Santillo does. "It's hard work," he says. "A lot of people don't realize how hard it is."
The Back Room
Al has an 80-quart Hobart mixer — "I don't even think they make them anymore," he says. Look closely. See what he uses to portion out his dough?
Yes, this is the scale Al uses to portion out dough. Great in case of a power outage.
In addition to pizza, Al also makes bread. They're loaves of lightly seeded, good, fresh white bread. They're all made from the same pizza dough.
The oven goes back a good 20 feet or so. It used to be coal-fired, but the strain of loading in coal got to be too much, and Al switched to gas in 1990 or so — he's not sure exactly when. When it's busy, he says, he uses almost all the interior space to keep up with demand.
Hang out with Al long enough, and you'll see plenty of this. "Everyone who orders here likes it a different way." So some for some folks, he cooks the pies to well done. "One guy likes it mushy, half-cooked. If I do it any other way, he'll call me the next day."
When I walked in, Al said to his cousin Joey, who works there, "This is the guy from my favorite website!"
"PMQ?" Joey says.
"Scott's Pizza Tours?"
"Adam, from Slice of New York."
LOL. Later in the visit, Joey pulled up Scott's site to check something. I see where I stand. Hmmph.
Call Me Al
Me and Al in front of the oven.