photo credit: Noah Devereaux
We’re not going to get pulled into a debate comparing the New Jersey and New York City food scenes. It would start with the usual talking points of water quality in the city and diner culture in Jersey, and devolve into a shouting match over the cost of living and who gets to claim Frank Sinatra.
We simply want to talk about one pizza place in New Jersey. If you insist on comparing it to similar spots in New York, then fine - Razza is better than just about all of them. But it’s not useful to put Razza in the context of restaurants across the river, because it’s not like any of them, largely due to a focus on ingredients from its home state.
Razza is a wood-fired pizza spot across the street from City Hall in Jersey City, two stops on the Path train and about five minutes from Manhattan. A chalkboard in the middle of the industrial-looking dining room illustrates where they source ingredients - heirloom tomatoes, wild yeast and flour for the dough, mozzarella and ricotta - all from The Garden State. Yes, somewhere between the shore you’ve seen on a terrible TV show and the turnpike you know from the opening credits of a great TV show, there are water buffaloes and farms with some of the best produce in the country.
The pizza at Razza has thin, springy crust and light, but excellent toppings. People who enjoy meat lovers’ pies or pools of melted cheese will probably find them a bit subtle. But if the idea of simple and high-quality toppings based on ingredients currently in-season sounds good to you, then we’d recommend making a trip to Razza as soon as possible. Try a pizza like the Project Hazelnut, which features housemade mozzarella and ricotta, honey, and hazelnuts from Rutgers’ Agricultural Experiment Station. Because tasking your state university with breeding nuts only grown in the Pacific Northwest is just the New Jersey way.
But if the toppings here are The E Street Band, then Razza’s pizza crust is The Boss. The base is very thin, but unlike fork-and-knife pies with soupy centers, each slice at Razza extends straight out when you pick it up. The outer rim gets charred in the wood-burning oven in the open kitchen, but it’s still fluffy and salty underneath the crisp outside. Eating this made us feel how the people at The Stone Pony probably felt when they saw Bruce on-stage as a teenager - we can’t explain how it’s done, but we know we’re experiencing something special.
Even without the pizzas and freshly made cheeses, we would come to Razza just for the bread and butter. Yes, the bread and butter. They’re fermented and made in-house every day, and just another example of the way Razza makes the simple into something exceptional.
If you’re a New Yorker in need of a reason to visit New Jersey beyond Giants games and trips to the airport, now you have it. Razza is just further proof of what George Washington knew a long time ago - crossing the river can lead to great things. (Yes, we know it’s a different river.)
Bread and Butter
You may think loading up on bread and butter is an amateur move before eating a lot of pizza, and while you’d usually have a point, you need to order it here. Warm slices of sourdough come out soft and springy with a thick, crunchy crust. The butter is also made in-house everyday and has a tang you’d typically expect from cheese. We would come back just for this.
A bunch of fatty beef and pork meatballs topped with grated cheese. Keep some bread around to dip in the pool of tomato sauce.
The toppings - fresh mozzarella and some seriously good salty and sweet tomato sauce - are very light. So you get the full crust experience with this one. Charred but springy crust, and a thin but not-soggy base. If better pizza crust exists, we’d like to hear about it.
This one is pretty similar to the margherita, but with a bunch of olives on top. There are also some pine nuts and raisins, but you can’t really taste them.
Cremini mushrooms and fontina cheese on the same base of tomato sauce and mozzarella. The tomatoes actually seem to come through on this one more than on some other pies, and they’re awesome. The mushrooms also have a pretty strong flavor, and if you’re generally a fan, then this may be your favorite pizza here.
Kind of like if Jurassic Park were about tasty food rather than killer dinosaurs, the Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers breeds hazelnuts that Razza roasts and puts on this pie along with some honey, mozzarella, and ricotta. The hazelnuts give it crunch and the honey some sweetness, and this is a unique pizza that we’re really into.
If they’re offering this (it’s a rotating special), then order it. It has four types of mushrooms, so it’s real mushroom-y.
It’s an objective fact that maple syrup makes everything better, and pizza is no exception. There’s a good amount of bacon on this, along with onions and some really good tree sap.
This looks simple and while the thin crust comes topped with just a couple things, it has the flavor of a full-fledged meat lovers’ pie. Like when the Lost Boys visualize that feast in Hook, you’ll imagine you’re eating something much larger and more elaborate than you actually are.