August 7, 2022

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It’s over the river, but not through the woods, to the New Jersey Tacconelli’s Pizza

By Patty-Pat Kozlowski

DSCF4090It’s almost as bad as being turned down for the Prom. No, in fact, its worse. Calling Tacconelli’s Pizzeria in Port Richmond on Somerset Street and getting the answering machines telling you they’ve sold out of dough for the night and to try tomorrow. Heartbreaker.

Cause when you’re in the mood for thin crust, brick oven tomato pie, opting for anything else is a mortal sin. But now, redemption is upon us and Tacconelli’s Pizza in Maple Shade, New Jersey is like the second coming of Christ to pizza lovers. “We Got Dough” is emblazoned right on the new magnets Doris Tacconelli gives out at the cash register.

Right across from the Moorestown Mall on Lenola Road-if you don’t see the packed parking lot and warm and cozy dining room from the street with a line almost always pressed against the front door, you’ll smell the garlic and olive oil being baked in the gas brick oven. Funny thing is, when I first went to the New Jersey Tacconelli’s location after calling the original and finding they were sold out, I didn’t find a lot of Garden Staters in the booth. In fact, I saw a lot of people from across the bridge, from the Philly riverwards who probably got the same recorded message I got and had the craving for a pie from Tac’s. We look at each other, like we just got caught cheating and ashamed that we paid the $4 to cross the Betsey Ross Bridge-but for phenomenal pizza and the way Vince Jr. and Doris run the place, I think we’re all getting an E-Z Pass. And since then, I’ve been back, again and again, and again with a bottle of Chianti or a six pack of Corona.

Vince Tacconelli Jr. hasn’t missed a beat, acknowledges he was taught by the best, and doesn’t get into whether there is or isn’t a family “pizzing” match between the two pizzerias. He just goes about his business, and boy, what a business, of working his mammoth of a brickwall gas oven, dressed in his baker boy whites turning out crispy pie after crispy pie like a well oiled machine during the Industrial Revolution.

Starting off, there are three kinds of salad you can have while your pizza is being baked within ear and nose shot. Caesar, with romaine, asiago cheese, crotons and freshly housemade Caesar dressing; The Greek with red onion, kalamata olives, popcorns of feta with olive oil and balsamic dressing,; or The House with lettuce, mushrooms, onions, cucumbers, red peppers with a dash of garlic salt and cracked pepper rounds out the choices. It’s a nice salad offering, but you’re here for Vince’s pizza, right?

There is a basic choice of five pies starting off with the White Pie made with fresh mozzarella, heavy doses of olive oil, topped with salt, black pepper and garlic. Nothing is as pure as a Tacconelli White that Vince Jr. leaves in the oven just long enough to produce a pizza crust bubble-a half sphere ball burnt on the outer edge that is the birth of all sibling fights in my house-“Who gets the pizza slice with the burnt bubble?”
There is a Red Pie showcasing the famous Tacconelli’s pizza sauce and pairing it with mozzarella and the Tomato Pie sans cheese. For those of you who want a zippier pizza, the Marinara Pie is toped with grated Asiago cheese and ladled with their spicy Mariana sauce.

But it’s the Signature Pie, a White Pie topped with cheese, garlic, spinach and chopped tomatoes that coming out of the brick oven looks like it will bend the pizza pan from all the generous topping and pools of sizzling olive oil, that makes your mouth water and clears your sinuses. Sudafed-PE, eat your heart out.

And to even put one of Vince Jr’s pizzas in the same sentence with a decongestant is a mortal sin. It’s up to the diner, the pizza eater, to create their favorite toppings after they start with a foundation from the basic five. My family are purists, Sister Dawn gets a Red Pie with mushrooms and hopes nobody else eats the fungai so she can take the rest home. Ma and Pa always opt for the sausage, meaty morsels (not sliced casings) that smell and taste of fresh fennel and Gina, the baby at age 30 gets the Pepperoni, and doesn’t have to worry about the grease ponds inferior cheaper pepperoni on other pizzas.

I remember as a teenager, getting a Coke and a slice at numerous pizza joints throughout the City and holding the pepperoni slice vertical, so that bright orange grease would drip off onto the paper plate. It was a right of passage, like going through puberty, you knew there was a better pizza slice out there, but as a teenager, you couldn’t help yourself.

The Signature Pie is a hands down winner, but I also go for the Mariana with all its kicks and have fresh basil and extra Asiago atop and ask Vince to incinerate the crust. The crisper and crunchier the better and I don’t have to share with those who don’t like it well done as the outer rim blisters and crackles and I feel like I can eat the whole pie myself, ala John Candy, eating the big 96er steak in that old comedy, “The Great Outdoors”.

And if, by chance of a miracle, there are any slices left, they are best served cold the next morning for breakfast. However, some have been found to mysteriously disappear overnight, prompting us to believe that our family dog, Fonzarelli the Dalmatian can, in fact, open the fridge (as well as order adult movies On Demand with the remote control).

A bit of history

    In 1918, Giovanni Tacconelli traveled from his hometown of Chieti, Italy to Philadelphia. After a few years working as a laborer, he decided to do what he’d done in his native land – bake bread. The best and only way to do so, he said, was to bake it in a brick oven. So, along with a few of his friends, he built a 20′ x 20′ brick oven. The bread business went well until the outbreak of WWII, at which time his sons- all of whom had helped him run the family business- were drafted into military service. With no one around to help him, Giovanni had no choice but stop baking bread.

    In 1946, with everyone home from the war, Giovanni had a brainstorm; rather than simply make bread, he decided to use his massive brick oven to make Old World “tomato pies”, a skill his mother had taught him many years before. A skill that in time he would pass on to his own son, Anthony.

    In 1998, after decades of operating an award-winning restaurant, Anthony and Sylvia’s son, Vince and his wife Barbara Tacconelli decided to retire. They entrusted their business, which by now had become a Philadelphia institution, to their younger son, Vince, Jr. Vince and his wife Doris would successfully operate the pizzeria for the next five years, from 1998 – 2002.

    In 2003, Vince decided it was time to take Tacconelli’s to the next level. That’s when He and Doris opened a second Tacconelli’s Pizzeria closer to their home in Maple Shade, NJ.
    Of course, some changes were inevitable. At Tacconelli’s – Maple Shade there is no need to reserve your dough; in fact, walk-ins are welcome. Some things, though, never change: at Tacconelli’s – Maple Shade you’ll find Vince Jr. making the same freshly-baked, award-winning pizzas he made at Tacconelli’s – Philadelphia. The ingredients, and even most of the cooks, are the same. So it is our commitment to our customers, namely to not tamper with Giovanni Tacconelli’s inimitable recipe for delicious, thin-crust “tomato pies”

    Tacconelli’s Pizzeria 450 S. Lenola Road, Maple Shade, N.J. (856)638-0338 Open Wednesday-Sunday.

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