Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza

Review by: Roadfood Team

Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza is a local legend in Elizabeth and elsewhere in north Jersey. The specialty of the house is the Sicilian pizza and don’t forget to grab some garlic bread on your way out.

Tucked away in the industrial city of Elizabeth, NJ, lies a pizza joint that receives high praise and respect amongst the locals and former locals. Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza serves what has been dubbed “The best Sicilian pizza in America” and is typically listed high on lists of best pizzerias in the country. Needless to say, this warrants a road trip to Elizabeth to see what all the fuss is about.

Approaching the pizzeria, one can see the glow of the old fashioned pizza sign hanging out front. Once there, you will find that the entrance is in fact in the alley along side the building. Walk through the alley door and you will find yourself in nothing more than a 3 foot by 6 foot takeout area. If you’re claustrophobic, place your order and wait in the alley. Beyond this is the prep area and the main attraction: the 1957 brick oven and a ceiling lined with pizza peels. Most of the peels are 40 to 60 feet long, to reach into the depths of the brick oven.

What should I eat at Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza?

Besides the oven, there are several other facets to Santillo’s that make it a popular destination. First of all, they make their own Italian bread fresh daily, whereas most pizzerias will carry bread from a local bakery. This is the reason their garlic bread is a must-have side dish. Besides their famous Sicilian pies, they recreate classic pizza styles from decades past and there are many to choose from. Luckily, during my visit we were fortunate to have a regular customer waiting for their order, so we were able to get some suggestions. First thing we were told, “Get the garlic bread!” After a short conversation, the decision was made to get one of the famous Sicilians with sausage, and a 1957-style round pie (extra thin crust).

Now that we have our order, the other decision needs to be made. Unless you live right in the area, you need to walk out of this joint with a plan of where to eat the food. My visit was in 15 degree weather and eating in the car was not really an option. From what I was told, you can ask the owner, Al, for suggestions. One suggestion we jave heard is he will advise you to go around the block to the local bar and they will deliver it there. Having driven over 40 minutes to get here, driving home was not an option, we were starving. Between us, the perfect plan unfolded. A sign on the wall says that Santillo’s sells the pizza bags that keep the pies hot for $20/bag. When we arrived, the pizza was still piping hot. Fantastic $20 investment that will keep on giving. FINALLY, we can try the pizza we’ve heard so much about (and had to smell from the trunk for 20 minutes!).

First up, we had to try the sausage Sicilian. Upon opening the box, you can see the characteristics of a brick oven-fired pizza. The outer edges of the crust had blackened soot lined across and some blackened spots of cheese across the top. The bottom of the crust had some nice golden to dark brown markings. As with most fresh Sicilian pizzas, it tended to get a tad soggy in the middle sections and were best eaten after being heated a second time. However the outer slices were nice and crisp, with a delicious taste to the crust. The sausage, which is put on the pizza raw, gave the pizza a nice, sweet flavor. The sauce and cheese work well with the crust to make for a well-balanced pie.

The 1957 round pie was up next and in my opinion, outdid the Sicilian pie. The sauce and cheese are the same, so it’s not a dramatic palate change. But, what made the 1957 better was its crust. The extra thin crust was nice and crispy throughout, with the same chars on the outer edges. On the bottom, what is now a lost art, the semolina lined crust. If you like thin and crispy pies, this is the one to try.

These pies suffer from one flaw – excessive amounts of oregano. After several bites, the oregano started to dominate the flavor profile and took away from the clean flavors of the other ingredients. I like oregano, but I don’t LOVE oregano. For only this reason did this place not rank higher to me. The first question I always myself after eating somewhere: “okay, would I want to eat it again?” The answer for this place is – if I was not far away, I would stop in and grab something, but wouldn’t drive 40 minutes again for it. However, if you’re the type that loves oregano on pizza, this place is not to be missed. Overall, excellent pizza and worth a try.

*Original Post by Mike I*

What To Eat

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Thin-Crusted Sicilian Pizza


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