1-16-08: Editor’s Note: Roberto Caporuscio, the founding pizzaiuolo (pizza master) of A Mano, has left. The pizzas are now being modified to meet “American” tastes.
24 Franklin Ave, Ridgewood, NJ
Web Site: http://www.amanopizza.com
Related Video: Jason visits A Mano
Last week, I wrote about Trattoria Sorrentina, an Italian restaurant and pizzeria in North Bergen making high-end pies with top quality ingredients, and declared it to the “closest thing you will find in North Jersey to actual Pizza you will find in Italy.” While I really love Trattoria Sorrentina, and I think it makes phenomenal pies that set it apart from just about every pizzeria in this area, that statement was incorrect. As it turns out, we really do have a pizza parlor that makes pizza exactly like it is done in Naples. That being said, what you may find there may not be what you may expect or even be looking for.
Before I made that statement, I had not yet visited Roberto Caporuscio’s 9-month old A Mano in Ridgewood. Certainly, I had heard about this pizzeria before, but dismissed it out of hand because I had heard it was expensive and frankly, I hate going to Ridgewood. I find Ridgewood to be the most obnoxious town in Northern New Jersey — it has the worst parking situation imaginable, this despite having a gazillion restaurants everyone wants to go to. It isn’t near any of the Bergen County highways, so you have to drive at least 20 minutes off any major road to get to it through a lot of stop signs and lights, and the area is almost always congested with local traffic. That being said, two of my favorite restaurants, Sakura Bana and Dim Sum Dynasty are based there, so I tolerate the occasional hassle of getting there and finding a place to put the car.
To call A Mano (which means “by hand”) “Authentic Italian Pizza” would be a huge understatement. The best way to describe it would be as if one of those alien motherships took one of those Star Trek tractor beams, hovered over Naples, ripped a pizzeria right off its foundation and out of the ground, and plopped it right down in the middle of Ridgewood.
The attention to detail that Caporuscio has made is approaching either insanity or genius. Everything, right down to the silverware and furniture, is from Naples or other parts of Italy. The pizza is baked in wood-burning ovens that were made from bricks and tile from Italy and assembled on site piece by piece by Italian artisans, he’s using imported Italian slow ground “00” low-protein pizza flour, Italian mozzarella di bufala cheese, San Marzano tomatoes, and he’s even using the same Pietroroberto electric mixers that they use in Naples. To learn how to make the pizzas, Caporuscio studied at the famous Antonio Starita pizza school in Naples, where many of the best Neapolitan pizzaiuolo are trained.
A view of the cavernous main dining room at A Mano in Ridgewood.
Why go to Naples when you can go to Ridgewood? Well, aside from the airfare, the parking in Naples might actually be better. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.
Roberto Caporuscio, artisan pizzaiuolo and owner of A Mano.
The business end of one of the two wood firing ovens. Caporuscio uses fruit woods as fuel to bake the pizzas. The oven reaches temperatures approaching 1000 degrees and the pizzas bake in about a minute. The pace at the oven is incredibly fast and to say I had to snap a lot of photos to get ones that weren’t blurred was an understatement — they are assembled, baked, sliced, and then served in less than 5 minutes. This is exactly like as it is done in Naples, where a pizza must enter and leave the oven in no more than 90 seconds.
I took a video of this process so you can see what I am talking about. Click here to watch the A Mano video.
Pizzas are baked first on the tiled oven floor, and are then lifted towards the oven ceiling where the temperatures are hotter in order to get a nice crust char.
The pizzas are of the smaller, personal sized variety. The yeast leavened dough, which is simply flour and water and seasoned with salt, is rolled to about 1/8th of an inch thickness. The amount of sauce which is applied is much thinner than an American style pizza, and its flavor is much more subtle than a bolder-style American pizza sauce.
The upstairs dining area which overlooks the main dining room.
The seating area near the ovens.
The first of our two pizzas to arrive, a traditional margherita, which is one of the only three types of pizza that have official Pizza Napoletana recognition. It is simply topped with fresh mozzzarella, a thin layer of tomato sauce, extra virgin olive oil and basil. This is about as orthodox a pizza you are going to get. It’s also rather expensive at $10.99 for what amounts to about a 10″ personal-sized pie. It’s certainly a high quality pizza and I appreciate its artisan qualities, but I am somewhat ashamed to say I prefer the Nouveau-American pizza style exhibited by a place like Trattoria Sorrentina, a NYC anthracite coal oven pizza like Patsy’s or Arturo’s, or even a high quality steel-deck gas pie such as the venerated DiFara in Brooklyn.
Here is where I think the pizzeria fails on me and I feel probably needs additional tweaking. Despite the fact that they are using 1000 degree ovens and the dough is rolled very thin, the center of the pizza has uncooked and doughy parts while the outside ring by the crust is charred and well done. This is likely due to the fact it is a very busy oven and the pizzas are not allowed to sit on the floor of the oven very long. I think if the pizzas were allowed to cook for closer to the permissible 90 seconds by Neapolitan standards and less time were spent towards the oven ceiling, the pies might be more consistently cooked.
The crust of A Mano’s pies are also significantly different than anything else I have experienced. In fact, I would say that the pizza crust is more resembling that of an Indian clay-fired Tandoor bread like a naan than it is a an American-style pizza. This is because the 00 Caputo (doppio zero) flour is milled to an almost talcum powder consistency and yields a much softer dough, even though the protein levels in the flour are similar to American AP flour, or sometimes even higher.
The second of the two pizzas we ordered, the Padrino, which has Caciocavallo Cheese, Sopresata salami, Olives, EVOO and Basil.
I actually preferred this one to the Margherita because I think it was allowed to cook more due to having moist toppings on it, and because the saltier caciocavallo cheese and toppings made for a less bland pie.
A closeup of another pie just coming out of the oven.
One of A Mano’s pizzas featuring Prosciutto di Parma and Arugula.
A white pie.
The Bufala Caprese, which has 8oz of buffalo mozzarella, that is thick sliced and accompanied by cherry tomatoes and basil.
A montage of various antipasti and pizzas.
A Mano makes its espresso in the traditional method. This is a single shot made with Lavazza coffee.
A very nice crema. Don’t look for a lemon peel, you won’t find one in a traditional espresso.
A semifreddo berry dessert made with marscapone cheese. All the desserts are made fresh in-house.
A Mano also makes great traditional gelato.
A view of the dessert case.
The gelato, while excellent, comes in small portions. We both really liked the pistachio flavor whereas the chocolate didn’t have the intensity we were hoping for.
A Mano also runs the Jerry’s Gourmet outpost next door, where you can buy all kinds of Italian gourmet goods and pre-prepared foods.