In Wildwood, New Jersey, you're either a Mack's or a Sam's fan. That's what my wife and I gathered when asking the locals for pizza recommendations the first year we started vacationing in this Jersey Shore town seven years ago, and that theory seems to have held up over the years.
In the past, I've always been keen on Sam's, but this year I fell for Mack's. In a big way.
There are two Mack's Pizza shops on the Wildwood Boardwalk (though there used to be four), each serving thin, crisp slices topped with a slightly sweet sauce and just enough cheese. That cheese is what tastes like a blend of mozzarella and white cheddar—like at Manco & Manco* (reviewed here), but Mack's Pizza seems to go heavier on the cheddar component. The slice here is salty, sharp, and, yes, greasy.
* Until this year, Manco & Manco in Ocean City, New Jersey, was known as Mack & Manco's. The Mack and Manco families are cousins, and the pizza at these outlets are similar, though Mack's seems to use more cheddar.
This turned me off the first year I visited, but I've come to like the slight pungency that the cheddar adds. And the grease? Well, some folks say that's an essential part of a Mack's slice. Don't like it? Then blot it with a napkin, or hold your slice tip-down for a spell while the grease pools on the paper plate, or keep moving up the boardwalk (and watch the tram car, please).
Like Manco & Manco, to which it's related, Mack's Pizza uses a magical sauce pump. There's a barrel of sauce in the basement with a hose attached. It's a unique way to sauce a pie and speaks to the large volume of pizza Mack's goes through.
Pies are built cheese first, sauce, more cheese, then they hit the oven—a Roto-Flex whose multiple decks slowly revolve. It has sliding glass doors in the front and sides; the main pieman drops one in the front while his colleagues check and pull pizzas from the others. Toppings are added above the second layer of cheese, if you've ordered them. I've never needed anything more than a plain slice here, though.
I fell for Mack's not just for the great flavor but for the style and attitude as well. It's the bad girl of Jersey Shore pizzerias—Rizzo decked out in her shades, tight black dress, and pink jacket.
The neon signs are over the top. The graphic design is pure 1960s. The folks who work there have that Jersey Shore swagger—I mean, look at the photo of the guy with the sauce hose further up the page. He looks like he's going to kick my ass for taking that photo.
And check out the photo of the late Dominic "Duke" and Charlotte Mack at top left in the collage above. Decked out in all white (even white shoes)—style for miles, folks.
But I think the thing that clinched it for me was reading Ralph Grassi's Mack's tribute page, from which I sampled the black-and-white photos above and grabbed the video below. He writes so lovingly of the place that you can't help but admire it, too.
There's a sign on the northernmost Mack's on the boardwalk that reads, "STOP! There are no more Mack's Pizza beyond this point." Prior to this year I've never heeded it. Next year, I'm going to take it a little more seriously.