Not long after Vitella's Cucina opened in West Caldwell, we visited the restaurant on Clinton Road so this time we're going to cut right to the cheese.
There's a one-of-a-kind choice offered to all prospective pizza eaters: Pies can be baked in either a conventional (Bari-type) oven or Vitella's custom brick oven.
That "natural wood burning fire brick" oven is at the entrance to the main dining and deli area, and you can't miss it.
Large and grand, it's where special selections are made, such as the "Green Pizza" (seasonal veggies), "Pizza Rosa" (prepared with Nonna's vodka sauce and grilled chicken—Vitella's has joined the "Grandma" craze, albeit in a slightly altered fashion) and the "Girasole" (roughly translated to "turning sun")—a combination of sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, feta cheese, tomato and pesto.
We (that's editor Mike Pignataro and contributor Ron Albanese) earlier had a "Vitella's Brick Pizza" (basically a margarita pie) from the brick oven, and were both impressed—the taste, consistency and sauce won us over. A pleasant surprise was that there's no mess on the bottom of the crust from the brick oven.
The regular oven is where "Jersey Pizza" is made. In true Vitella's fun and witty fashion, the menu describes these creations as "regular pizza, made with Jersey water, made in our pizza oven ... in Jersey."
Rather than a stock list of types of pies, there's a laundry list of toppings that customers can "have fun" with (it actually does say that on the menu). Highlights include eggplant, zucchini and Kalamata olives. On the unique side, there's avocado, feta cheese and blue cheese crumbles.
All pizzas are available by the slice (various selections at the counter), and in personal and large sizes.
We officially tested a "Jersey style" cheese pizza, made in a conventional oven. We ordered up some drinks, had a seat in the casual side of the dining room and prepared to dig in.
With a sweet sauce that was evident under a good amount of flavorful cheese and a nearly perfect crust, Vitella's really stood out. While thin, you can taste the layers of the pizza from the cheese to the sauce to the dough with each bite.
There was just enough cheese, which had a good flavor and wasn't oily or salty. It wasn't too thick. It was just right.
But what grabs your attention—or at least mine—was the sauce. It was sweet and tasted extremely fresh with a good amount spread evenly throughout the pie. This was the difference for me.
The crust was good, but didn't necessarily stand out. It was thin, somewhat crispy, yet had no problem holding up the sauce and cheese.
I think overall this was an excellent pizza. I wasn't sure what to expect from the conventional oven after trying the brick-oven style. But I wasn't let down.
Cheese: The cheese was rich, tasted good and there was a sizable amount on each slice.
Sauce: It's funny; the cheese sort of hid it! Underneath the "formaggio" was a very flavorful, almost fruity-tasting sauce, that also yielded a light taste of garlic. It seemed fresh, like it went from the simmering pot to our dough.
For me, this is the secret weapon of Vitella's pizza—but that's not to say it dominated the overall taste.
Crust: The crust was light in consistency and taste, but regardless of its thinner nature, tied things together nicely.
With a little more cooking (just a little more), it could go from the support slot to breakout star of the pie. I suspect getting the same exact pizza from the wood-burning oven would point things in this direction.
Overall: What put this cheese pizza over the top for me was the amount of the ingredients, the baking and that sauce. This is a strong contender.
Address: 40 Clinton Road, West Caldwell
Phone: 1-888-Vitella (848-3552), 973-228-6500
Web site: www.vitellas.com
Price of a large cheese pizza: $14 (brick oven), $11 (conventional)
Tested on: Wednesday, April 28, 2010
If you would like to be a guest judge, please let us know or post your experiences at each pizzeria below. The Caldwells Patch has already visited Forte, Calandra's, Nicco's, Cedar Grill and Pizza, Pizza and Sandwich Barn, Tony D's, Domino's and Papa John's , Michael's and Russillo.
Next week: Frank's Trattoria