By: Jason Perlow
If there ever is one food that can generate endless debate, it is pizza. Chinese food comes second, but let’s not go there.
Thick or thin crust? Chicago style or New York? Is deep dish pizza even pizza?
Ask a dozen people around you, and you would end up with a dozen different answers.
South Florida, home to a large population of northeastern transplants, is not immune from the debate over pizza. To many who moved south for the sun, it seems that local pies can never compare with those from up north with reasons that range from the pseudo-scientific to the mythological. Whatever their motivation, self-proclaimed pizza lovers often cite New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut as the best places in the entire country to get your pie on.
Seemingly powered by nothing but nostalgia and magical thinking, these self-styled pizza connoisseurs will often proffer two easily disprovable tropes to explain why the pies up north are just “better”: the dough and the water. Most of the time, these statements are propelled by memories of the slices back home, consumed in the distant past at revered neighborhood stores that either no longer exist or have since seen better days. Should you read some of their Yelp reviews, you can practically feel the glow of their red sauce-stained glasses.
It is purely psychological, and of course, it is absolute nonsense. Pizza making is all about the skill of the pizza maker and the quality of ingredients, not magical municipal water (which, by the way, is reclaimed in New York City via expensive reverse osmosis and chemical treatment technology just like everywhere else) or mysterious forces of nature.
As someone who has lived in some of the most iconic pizza cities in the country, I have a more extensive pizza background than most. My hometown of Queens, New York, is one of the best places to find old-school, steel-deck pies in the entire Tri-State area. Northern New Jersey, where I lived for over 20 years, is also a significant bastion of pizza-making. I’ve been to most of the legendary coal-fired and steel deck pizzerias in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Coney Island, and the Bronx. I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time in the coal-fired pizza meccas of New Haven, Connecticut; and I’ve eaten pizza all over Chicago, where contrary to public perception, thin-crust is appreciated just as much as deep-dish is.
Since moving to South Florida, I’ve learned how to find good pizza. In fact, one of the very best local practitioners of the pizza arts is in the city of Coral Springs. Pasquale’s, founded in 1988 by George Marrone in its original location on Royal Palm Boulevard, has been making real New York and New Jersey-style pizza for over 30 years. Their Coral Springs restaurants where I go when my appetite calls for an authentic slice.
Pasquale’s pizza pedigree comes from New Jersey. Pasquale Marrone, George’s father, is the family patriarch for which the business is named. He opened his shop in Tom’s River on the Jersey Shore in 1974. George honed his own craft in the late-1960s at Pizza Town USA, a legendary Elmwood Park, New Jersey pizza store founded in 1958.
The style of pie executed at Pizza Town USA is a “Brooklyn” pizza, or in Jersey parlance, a “tomato pie.” For those uninitiated, it is a thin crust pie with a prominent layer of sauce, lighter on the cheese and, baked in a gas-fired steel deck oven. The store is credited as the first to bring that style of pizza to New Jersey, and their pie is considered a benchmark by which other New Jersey pizza is compared. It was also the first pizzeria in the state to sell by the slice.
The pies from Pasquale’s in Coral Springs are a direct descendant of this specific type. They are still made in precisely the same way to this day, cooked in late-1980s gas-fired Baker’s Pride steel decks, which makes all the difference in the world because new gas-fired and electric steel decks do not yield the same results. So when it comes to pizza pedigrees, Pasquale’s ticks all the right boxes.
Among the five Pasquale’s locations in South Florida, the Royal Palm location is considered the flagship. George’s son Nicholas Pasquale Marrone and his uncle Phil have now taken over the place as chief pizzaiolo and manager.
Although the shop still makes the same great Brooklyn pie, Nick has chosen to make his own mark on Coral Springs’ pizza scene. With help from Alfredo Generoso, a family friend that hails from his own pizza family legacy in New York, Nick is reviving two old-school pies, the “Nonna” and the “Grandma.”
These traditional pies were first made in the early 20th century in family kitchens on Long Island by first-generation Southern Italian immigrants. They are very different from Pasquale’s Brooklyn-style pies in that they more resemble traditional Italian focaccia than they do an Italian-American slice shop pizza.
The dough — made in small batches — is fermented, proofed, and then blind-baked in an olive oil-lined rectangular pan before toppings are applied. This process creates a thin but robust and firm crust which can handle heavier toppings than a typical New York pie.
To create the “Nonna,” a layer of minced garlic mixed with olive oil is applied to the baked crust, followed by a blend of grated whole milk and part-skim mozzarella. Uncooked pureed tomato sauce is then ladled in diagonal stripes atop the cheese, along with grated parmesan and dried oregano. The pizza is then baked to perfection. The resulting pie has a robust and garlicky flavor that is not for the timid.
To create the “Grandma,” a chunky cooked tomato sauce is applied first, followed by slices of fresh mozzarella. After baking, chiffonade of fresh basil is added on top just before serving, gracing the pie with a floral aroma that invokes the flavors of the classic Neapolitan Margherita. It’s a traditional, fresh-tasting, old-world pizza flavor that begs for a glass of Chianti or Sangiovese.
The new offerings are different but equally excellent and are a real treat for crust aficionados, the likes of which Coral Springs has never seen. As these pies are more labor-intensive and use premium ingredients, slices are priced at $4.95, and whole pizzas are $22.95.
The “Nonna” and the “Grandma” are currently only available at the Coral Springs Royal Palm location, while the family gauges the demand for the new pizzas. If successful, they might appear at their other sites. Until then, head over to the original and enjoy them while they are hot.
Pasquale’s Pizza & Subs
10337 Royal Palm Blvd, Coral Springs, FL 33065
Sunday-Thurs 10:30 a.m. -11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 10:30 a.m. – 12 a.m.
Jason Perlow is a long-time foodie who spent 20 years in the New York City and New Jersey metro areas reviewing restaurants for The New York Times and his personal food blog, Off The Broiler, which he started in 2006 and ran for ten years. He is also the founder of eGullet, a popular food discussion site and not-for-profit organization that was formed in 2001, which was featured on Tony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” cable television program.
As a technologist by profession, he writes the Tech Broiler blog for CBS’s ZDNet web site. He has been a Coral Springs resident since moving to South Florida in 2012.
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