What Makes A Good Pizza & Bagel?

What makes a slice of pizza good? You can ask anyone this question and get about a thousand answers. The crust, tomato, cheese, toppings, how long it’s cooked. In this state, it doesn’t just stop with pizza.
There are bagels. Is it fluffy? Has it been toasted just right? Is there enough cream cheese or butter? What type of bagel is it?

With so many opinions surrounding these two simple foods that we in New Jersey take so much pride in, it is time to provide an authoritative answer.

First, it’s essential to talk about pizza. Perhaps the most important staple food of the Garden State, pizza doesn’t get any better than in New Jersey. Don’t believe me? Check out the New York Times opinion article on why a Jersey City pizzeria has the best “New York” style pizza. And for argument’s sake, I’m sorry, but Connecticut does not come close.

Despite New Jersey’s ranking as number one, that doesn’t automatically mean that every slice of pizza from this state is good. Some places in New Jersey have better slices than others, but that is another can of worms to crack open.

So, what makes a good slice and a bad slice? It’s essential to define the excellent slice first. Ideally, any slice of plain pizza should have a crust that doesn’t flop. After it sits outside the oven for 15 minutes or so, it should be sturdy and have a little bit of crunch. Most people should agree with that, and if you don’t, please come to the office and ask to write a piece on floppy pizza as a counterpoint.

The sauce and cheese are other vital players here. This one also heavily comes down to opinion. Some like sauce better than cheese, and vice versa. What is undeniable is that a slice with sweeter and thinner sauce tops all. As for the cheese, it’s essential to keep it simple and not overdo it. Biting into what can sometimes taste like a thick mozzarella sandwich doesn’t always make for the best slice. Margherita slices found at Scala’s Pizzeria in Long Branch or the tomato slices at Maruca’s in Asbury Park are examples of sauce done right, with Maruca’s also being a textbook example of how to do the crust. Perhaps New Jersey’s state government should do more to let the world know we invented the tomato pie – when done right, it is one of the best pies, that’s for sure.

The New York Times said the best bagels are found in New Jersey. I won’t waste much time deliberating that point. All New Jersey bagels are made equal. Don’t tell anybody, but North Jersey reigns supreme here.

Let’s compare a pizza’s crust to a bagel’s fluffiness. There’s a much more nuanced line here. Nobody wants to bite into a cream cheese or buttered-up rock, but at the same time, nobody wants what is essentially a ball of dough. It’s in a faraway land, but Goldbergs in Pompton Lakes does it right. Not only are the bagels large, but they somehow have made a bagel with an initial crunch to it (the right kind of crunch), but it is fluffy enough on the inside to where the bread nicely compliments the condiment. This means you get all the flavors and sensations you’d want to be associated with bagels.

Closer to home, but not close enough, is Bakin’ Bagels in Ortley Beach. Bakin’ Bagels is different from Goldbergs because their bagels go in on the crunchiness. Usually toasted for a little longer, Bakin’ Bagels never fails to give me a crunchy cream cheese bagel that always has me stopping by whenever I visit Island Beach State Park. If you’re not a fan of cream cheese or butter with plenty of crunches, this place is not for you. As for Monmouth County bagel shops, I’ve still yet to find a place that impresses me.

Coming full circle, I am a simple man. I enjoy both my bagels and pizza plain, although, with pizza, I go out of the way for other slices that don’t have toppings. I see it as the way to not corrupt the actual taste of the slice or the bagel.

Pizza and bagels will continue New Jersey’s cuisine for as long as we live. While we may disagree, it is essential to remember that at the end of the day, we have the best and will always have the best.