If you’ve never eaten pizza yanked out of a wood-fired brick oven, you’ve missed out on one of life’s great pleasures. I’m lucky enough to have eaten it in Naples where pizza was born, and also to have a friend with a real Italian brick oven in his back yard. After eating such great pizzas, the bar was set pretty high for anything else. But a good contender emerged about a month ago when Nomad Pizza in nearby Hopewell opened its doors and unleashed this big blue behemoth on a grateful public.
Prior to opening the restaurant, Nomad pizza operated for two years out of a restored 1949 Reo Speedwagon, outfitted with a wood-fired brick oven. It roamed the region, appearing at seasonal events, local farmer’s markets and private parties. It was parked at this year’s Communiversity festival, a town-gown event held in Princeton, where I savored Nomad pizza for the first time. Nothing beats eating pizza in Italy, but I have to say, Nomad’s was almost as good as being in Naples.
Sadly, since that time, I haven’t encountered the truck along my usual routes. But fortunately owners Tom Grim (who co-founded then later sold Thomas’ Sweet ice cream) and Stalin Bedon found a permanent home for their pizza at the site of the former Soupe du Jour in Hopewell. The mammoth brick-oven, imported from Italy, is the focus of the room. Diners can watch their pizzas being made and baked right before their eyes.
The room is set up with a large communal table and several smaller ones around the perimeter. Outdoor tables are also available if weather permits.
The pizzas aren’t heavily laden with toppings, in the tradition of Italian pizzas. The focus is on a great crust, tomatoes, the cheese, basil and olive oil. Of course, it helps to have the dough-stretching technique downpat (two of the pizza makers trained in Italy) and that fantastic wood-fired oven that cranks the heat up to 800 degrees or more. But the freshness of the ingredients is also key, Grim said.
One taste and you’ll agree. All pizzas (there were six on the menu the night we visited) are made with organic and locally grown products whenever possible including the basil, garlic, shitake mushrooms, sausage and pepperoni. Imported from Italy are the San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala and fontina cheese. The two salads on the menu are also made with locally sourced, fresh organic ingredients. They were delicious, but the pizzas are the real stars here. Like this one with shitake mushrooms:
And this one with pesto and locally grown organic cherry tomatoes:
Hungry yet? If you live anywhere in Central New Jersey (or even if you don’t and you want to take a trip to a quaint town brimming with antique shops and eateries) get yourself to Nomad Pizza. They’re open only Wednesdays through Saturdays, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.