I grew up in far northern New Jersey. So far north, in fact, that when I was in college and my boyfriend referred to his hometown of West Orange as being northern New Jersey, Wendy and I scoffed at him and informed him that West Orange was in fact, central New Jersey. I have subsequently changed my opinion on this topic, as has Wendy, probably because we both now live in Essex County.
Anyway, one of my deeply held prejudices in favor of my childhood county of Bergen (aside from the fact that the malls are just vastly better up there) is that you cannot get proper thin-crust pizza anywhere but Kinchley's Tavern in Ramsey. Some of you may recall that I have a dear friend from college, Lauren, who now lives in Kansas. Lauren is engaged to an old high school chum of mine, Bill (yes, I introduced them and I take full credit for their happiness, but if they ever fight, it's entirely not my fault). Bill loves Kinchley's and I dare say it is what he misses most about Jersey. Can't say that I blame him - Kinchley's is pretty great.
Anyway, some years ago I went to the Star Tavern in Orange, the heart of Essex County (the physical heart, not the emotional one). The pizza was good, reasonably priced, and the joint is a lot less.... grimy than Kinchley's, but still, the pizza was not quite as good.
So it was with some trepidation that I approached the pizza at Lombardi's in Cedar Grove with Mike and Gena last night. Mike and Gena have made Lombardi's their Friday night tradition as of late, and as Mike put it - "I eat as much as I could possibly eat and drink as much as I could possibly drink and I have never paid more than $30." Sounded like a good deal. Also, as you may recall from previous posts, Mike and Gena's taste in food is impeccable and I am always inclined to trust their stellar reviews.
For the record, this Lombardi's is not related to the Lombardi's in New York. The NJ Lombardi's does however also have a location in Fairfield (Mike and Gena prefer the Cedar Grove branch, though, cause it's a bit cosier).
I met up with Mike and Gena a bit after 8pm - the restaurant is located in a strip mall with the Food Town. As such, it's not a huge place, but it is packed with people, which is always a good sign for the quality of food. There is a long bar, with about half a dozen flat screen TVs behind it showing various baseball games. Clearly my kind of place.
We had a bit of a wait for our table - about fifteen minutes. Once we sat down, we started things off with a Lombardi's Plate appetizer (broccoli rabe sauteed in olive oil with garlic, sausage, hot and sweet peppers, slices of cheese and potato chips on top), some stuffed artichokes and a sausage platter of some sort. We followed this up with four pizza pies (I should mention that four of Mike and Gena's friends joined us, so it wasn't just the three of us eating all this food). Gena branched out and had the penne a la vodka. The pizza was razor thin, crispy, with bubbling slightly browned cheese, and a perfect balance of sauce with that. I loved it. It was much better than Star Tavern, and I think I might even prefer it to Kinchley's.
To top it all off, the place itself is filled with interesting sport memorabilia, and is better maintained than Kinchley's. The service is better too, though I must admit that might have something to do with the fact that Mike and Gena are regulars, and have a favorite waitress who takes excellent care of them - I never sat with an empty beer and when we were done with our meal, we sat talking for well over an hour without any pressure to leave. I guess I will have to cast off another Bergen County prejudice.
Let me take this opportunity to remind everyone that Zagat's survey for New York restaurants is currently open until May 14th. Remember - if you do the survey, you get a free copy of the book sent to you when it's published, so get judging!