Freehold, New Jersey: Federici's Pizza

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If bar pies are your thing, Federici's Italian Restaurant makes some pleasing pizza. [Photos: Adam Kuban]

It's named Federici's Italian Restaurant, but you come here for the pizza. Folks from the Freehold, New Jersey, area have been doing so since 1946, when brothers Dante Federici and Frank "Spat" Federici Jr. returned from WWII and joined their parents in the family business. With their mother, they put pizza on the restaurant's menu, which had been in operation in some form or other since 1921 (first as a billiard parlor that served food, then as a bar with food, then a full-blown restaurant).

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The place looks like it never really shook the bar vibe and remains a bit of a throwback to the loungey '70s. Not that that's a bad thing. When you walk into a place like this, you hope they haven't done anything to "update" (read "screw up") the pizza in the intervening years.

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That is, of course, if you think bar-style pizza is a good thing. It's not everyone's bag. Those looking for complexity of flavor in the crust or open, airy hole structure in the crumb might want to scream down the boulevard. True to its pubby origins, Federici's serves pies built on a thin, crackery crust.

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It's cheesed out to the edges and develops crackly, frico-like stretches that almost make you want to eat the slice backwards.

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It's so thin, in fact, that I'd say a single hungry eater could easily put away an entire small pie (about 12-inches in diameter).

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Case in point: My wife (aka "Girl Slice") and I ordered two small pies. (Mushroom and sausage-and-onion.) This is no easy feat with her. She often backseat-drives my pizza orders and gently tries to argue for less. Here, I overruled her and she was glad. We polished off almost all our pizza (except for one lonely slice of mushroom pie I left on the battlefield as a sort of symbolic gesture that I wouldn't go too hog wild on our vacation to the Jersey Shore).

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Anyway, the pizza here achieves its thinness and flatness via a dough sheeter. They then dock the dough. Somehow, despite all this abuse, it's still a relatively tender crust—and an obviously crisp one. Oh, and what's that in the undercarriage shot above? Microblisters?

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The sauce was a little thin, and the dough was a bit one-note, so the toppings on our pizzas had to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Fortunately, they were workhorses—most of the time. The mushrooms (fresh, not canned) didn't add any noticeably sogginess to the pie, but not much flavor either.

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But the sausage and onion pie was killer. Federici's uses great, juicy hunkachunka nuggets of fennel-flecked pork. I could eat slice after slice of this stuff. And I did. (There's a reason the only slice left standing was mushroom, after all.)

In the end, the thin crust was more a sausage-delivery vehicle for me, yet overall I still loved this pizza. It's classic "pizza parlor pizza"—not masterful by today's standards but if you go into it knowing as much, it's massively satisfying nonetheless.

Pro Tip: Fed's To Go

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Waits can supposedly be long at Federici's. (I wouldn't know. We arrived around 1pm and got an outdoor table right away.) But there's take-out in the back of the restaurant when you enter from the parking-lot side. If this Pizzamaking.com thread is correct, Bruce Springsteen (who eats at Federici's and whose father was childhood friends with Frank Federici Jr) once said of Fed's, "Everyone growing up had a big round grease stain in the middle of the front seat of their car from Federici's pizza."

Like a boss, indeed.

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Federici's Pizzeria

14 East Main Street, Freehold NJ 07728 (map)
732-462-1312; federicis.com

About the author: Adam Kuban is the founder of Slice, where he has been blogging about pizza for more than eight years. You should follow him on Twitter @akuban.

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