Front St. Trattoria
If Front St. Trattoria has been residing in Red Bank for almost 30 years, and I've been plowing my way through their big bowls of pasta and pizza for a third of the restaurant's lifespan, does that make me a real New Jerseyan now?
Homey Italian restaurants are stock in trade in the Red Bank area, but my in-laws have been frequenting Front St. way before I became part of the family more than a decade ago. They're not the only ones. Even with at least six other options for pizza and pasta on and just off the main Broad Street drag, weekend waits of an hour or more are typical for the Trattoria. (You can make reservations, but hey, when the need for pizza strikes.... )
I can't speak for the rest of the families lining up on Friday nights, but I'm willing to stake out the BYOB spot just to eat their fresh bread: stacks of puffy foccaccia for sandwiches, softball-sized boules with garlic oil as a complimentary salve for rumbling tummies, and floppy, cornmeal-dusted semolina crust on each specialty pizza.
Front St.'s ultimate expression of dough, however, might be the signature stuffed pizza ($16): a bread bowl barely encasing a molten amalgam of mozzarella, Parmesan, garlic, and oregano. Baked in a pan that cooks the thin bottom crust to a near-blackened crisp (why, yes, I am the kind of girl who eats the burnt pieces of garlic bread—why do you ask?) and lets the triple-folded puffy sides rise in all their yeasty glory, it's a deep-dish mishmash that might give you heartburn eight hours later, but it's a small price to pay.
The stuffed pizza might be the only Front St. pie with which I actually want—no, need—a serving of homemade red sauce. On the classic thin crust, the simply simmered crushed tomatoes are too bland. But served in an adorable little pitcher alongside the salty, oozing interior of the stuffed pizza, the plain sauce strikes the right balance.
Since the red sauce often leaves me cold, it's no wonder my longtime favorite pie on the menu is the ricotta pesto pizza ($13). Instead of dotting the pie with globs of ricotta, Front St. mixes the soft cheese with the pesto before spreading it across the dough for a fluffy, lighter sauce that mellows the garlic. Black olives from a can don't offend me; they're giving salty punctuation to the melted fresh mozzarella that blankets the pie. The toppings slide off easily, so I've taken to the fold-over method: it not only stops the mozzarella and pesto from dripping off but delivers the goods twice as quickly.
Oh, and don't be fooled by the size descriptions on the menu: an individual pizza can easily serve two, and a medium stuffed pizza can feed a table of four, especially if you're trying to decide between two pies or adding some of the piled-high salads and pastas into the mix. (Hint: the aforementioned ricotta pesto sometimes shows up on the daily specials list as a sauce for cavatelli; if this combo ever re-appears, don't think twice about choosing it.)