Hot From The Kettle ™: Until Ah'Pizz, A Good Pie was Hard to Find

by Melody Kettle

My grandfather, a hard-boiled Italian-American, refused to eat "chewing gum." Therefore, we never ordered pizza - never. My grandmother, a Czech who could cook anything from tripe to tiramisu, made our pizza. So, unless you have a "Grandma" in your kitchen turning out crisp, fresh pizza, you know a good pie is hard to find.

My grandma would have applauded Mike LaMorte, who opened Ah'Pizz this past February at 7 N. Willow St., Montclair. Ah'Pizz, pronounced "ah-peetz" derives its name from the Italian-American slang term for pizza, "a'bizz." At Ah'Pizz, the mission is to keep their Neapolitan Pizza as authentic as possible. Behind the granite counter at the Ah'Pizz, you'll find "pizzaiolo" Robert Cino, serving up Neapolitan pizza from a wood burning stove in about 90 seconds.

Neapolitan pizza dates back to 1889, which implies a certain art to this creative culinary process. To learn this art, Robert journeyed to Italy where he honed his craft in Neapolitan kitchens for a year. Following his cross Atlantic sojourn, Robert returned home where he worked in several New York and New Jersey restaurants, including A Mano in Ridgewood. After six years of pizza slinging Robert retains a true passion for his trade, "I love what I do. I care and I make every pie like I'm serving it to the President. What can say? I just love what I do. I treat like an art."

Neapolitan Pizza, is not the ubiquitous American Pie. It's a bit more rustic; not perfectly round, not too thin, not too thick, not New York, and definitely not Chicago.

At Ah'Pizz, pies are fired in an imported wood burning oven, built by Neapolitan artisans from stone and volcanic soil from Mount Vesuvius. It takes five hours and a whole lot of cherry wood to get Il Forno up to the cooking temp of 1000 degrees. The extreme heat creates a crust with tender crisp, and not a gummy chew!

The most distinguishing characteristic of the Ah'Pizz pies is not a single ingredient at all, its balance. Not too much cheese, not too little San Marzano tomato, and just the right blend of herbs and spices. Pies at Ah'Pizz start at $9.50 and go up to $18, but once you experience the texture of crispy crust topped with oh so creamy Bufala Mozzarella, and the taste and aroma of the distinct flavors, it seems a small price to pay for savory satisfaction.

While you're there and if you've still got room, don't forget the Nutella Pie. It sounds a little weird, but tastes fantastic, think chocolate dipped zeppole. And if you've already been there, how was your experience? What pie did you have?