Razza Pizza Artigianale, the pizza restaurant in Jersey City across the street from City Hall, opened five years ago, shortly after I began this blog. Neapolitan-style pizzerias are common today, but Razza was on the front side of the trend.
Despite frequent trips to Jersey City for business, I could never get to Razza for a pie because I was rarely in town at dinner time.
This week, I finally got the chance, but my visit to Razza comes just one month after Pete Wells of the New York Times (readership somewhat larger than Pizza Quixote) declared Razza (in New Jersey!) to be New York's best pizza. As a result, even as I arrived before 6:00 p.m. on a weeknight, I waited more than 30 minutes for a seat at the bar.
Razza was buzzing with excited customers on this warm autumn day, some dining al fresco and others at the narrow tables and modest bar. Some were out-of-towners, some were regulars, and some were locals who had to come see if Razza merited the hype. The interior space, narrow and deep, was casually urban-rustic with a warm vibe.
My server warned me that pizzas take a long time (she cited that they are all custom-made, but the real issue was likely the volume of customers relative to the size of the oven). Facing that long wait, I was persuaded to order the beet salad, which was modest in size but not in flavor. Cubes of red and golden beets were drizzled in deep green olive oil with garnishes of cheese, almonds, and paper thin radish slices.
Dining solo, I didn't have the option of sampling several different pies. My selection this evening was the Cinghiale Bianca ($18), a white pie with wild boar salami and kale. The wild boar (shown as "sausage" on the menu) was the drawing card. Owner/chef Dan Richer is meticulous in choosing the tomatoes for his sauce (sourced from NJ, CA, or Italy), and that means I have to go back to try a pie with red sauce.
I would ordinarily be leery of a pie loaded with damp mounds of kale, but the NYT review noted that every pie is "put together with exquisite sensitivity to the needs of the dough. The crust had no soggy or underbaked patches, and the bottom surface was crisp all the way from the puffy outer lip to the inner tip ... when I tore open the outer rim, the crust crackled and the white interior steamed, soft, somewhat springy, with a slow-building, many-layered, lively flavor underlined by sea salt."
At the iconic Denino's in Staten Island, they simply and succinctly say "In crust we trust." Clearly, Dan Richer embraces that philosophy at Razza. The test of any pie is "would I eat the crust without the toppings?" The answer here is a resounding YES.
This pie shares much in common with the Neapolitan hybrids at the wonderful yet still underrated La Porta in Media PA (chef Peter McAndrews) and the strictly authentic pies at Scuola Vecchia in Delray Beach FL, where owner Sharon Aloisio was trained by Robert Caporuscio.
It's no surprise that the toppings were applied in ideal balance. No soggy mounds of chewy kale, but a lovely bit of kale clippings that had browned from the heat of the wood-fired oven. I should have paid closer attention to the cheese, which certainly contained fresh mozz of some sort.
The skill of the pizzaiolo was again on display, because fresh mozzarella often imparts moisture that can ruin a Neapolitan. But there was no dampness or soggy sections here.
Despite the brilliant chew and crackle of the crust and the other powerful flavors, my experience eating this pizza was akin to eating top-line Japanese food; the harmony and the balance send subtle signals that are more important than the individual flavors.
The pies were so good that my fellow bar-seat patrons and I were compelled to rave and compare tasting notes. Is the best New York pizza in Jersey City? I'm not ready for such a bold declaration, but this pie is as good as Neapolitan gets. $18 for a personal size pie (I ate it all) may seem pricey, but it's a screaming bargain for such a gourmet experience. I can't wait to come back.