The Life of Pie
A Ridgefield pizza adventure
Wood-fired Truffle Sunny Side Pizza from 850 Degrees
Photo by Scott Mullin
Ridgefield currently boasts an incredible ten pizzerias. Ten pizzerias, scattered like pepperoni around our quiet little town!
“Nobody doesn’t like pizza,” says Maria Gardell, whose family owns John’s Best Pizza on Route 7. Okay, I get that. But ten—why?
My taste buds and I set out to slice into it, and I have now eaten at every last pizza place in Ridgefield. So, who’s king of crusts, tops in toppings? Hang on.
Any discussion of pizza in Ridgefield has to begin with the late lamented Roma Pizzeria, Ridgefield’s first real pizza joint, which opened in 1964 on Main Street—today the site of Planet Pizza. George Amatuzzi, then a kid of 20, acquired it with his partner Joe Gigliotti two years later. But it wasn’t just George’s pies that make Roma beloved to this day. “Make people feel welcome,” he says, “and they’ll love you.” They sure did.
George loved them back. He famously donated thousands of pies to local groups and events, and if you presented him an “A” on your report card, he’d present you with a free slice. I saw old-timers grow misty at the memory.
Not to say Roma introduced pizza to Ridgefield. Steve and Alice Carboni, Ridgefield teens in the ’60s, remember that you could get “bar pizza” at a long-gone pub called Mary’s. “It was pretty good,” Steve recalls. But, until Roma, “for ‘pizza’ pizza, you had to go to Danbury,” says Alice.
Roma’s real competition arrived in 1973, with Venice Restaurant & Pizza—now Ridgefield’s oldest existing pizzeria. Genoa Deli & Pizza arrived in ’82. For Greek-style pizza (pan-baked, chewier crust), there was Ridgefield Pizza Restaurant on Route 7. I remember the Venice vs. Roma vs. Genoa debates that raged among pizzaphiles when I arrived back in ’91. (Yeah, there was Pizza Hut, if you want to count it. I don’t.)
Most served what George Amatuzzi calls “regular pizza.” You know, the kind we grew up with—also called “New York style.” (And big, doughy rectangles of Sicilian, too, if that was your thing.) “You could feed a family for $10 back then,” Amatuzzi remembers.
“Regular pizza” still dominates in Ridgefield. “We’ve made the same recipe for 44 years,” says Joey Escobar, who took over Venice in ’94 with his brother, German, a chef there since ’90. “It’s tradition.”
Genoa’s Saverio DiArcangelo echoes that: “We make traditional pizza the traditional way.”
Dom Farago of Planet Pizza on Main Street cites family tradition going back to the 1970s. Maria Gardell of John’s Best says her family’s seven restaurants use the recipe created by her father when he opened their first location in 1962. “Tradition!” she exclaims. (Photo left: Grandma from Planet Pizza)
But hold on, Tevye. This is Ridgefield, where people will pay for trendy. Larry Debany, the original owner of Village Pizza and current proprietor of 850 Degrees Wood Fired Pizza, offers his pies in ultra-thin crust, wood-fired, brick-oven, and gluten-free, serving it up with a helping of live music and atmosphere—outdoors on the cobblestone piazza on summer nights. Piccolo Pizza & Pasta wood-fires its pizza, too.
But if you really want to leave “regular pizza” behind, drop in to Bruno DiFabio’s Romolo Gastro-Pizza, located downstairs behind his Village Tavern on Main Street. The six-time world pizza champion (yes, it’s a thing) is a virtual doctor of pizza sciences. Take just yeast, for example. Eschewing the dry variety, he hunted down the yeast-bearing dew hidden in the cup of a plant high in Italy’s Dolomite mountains. For the past five years, he’s extend that yeast, like sourdough, and its progeny raise every pie he serves. And don’t get him started on flour. (Photo below right: Totti from Romolo Gastro-Pizza)
If pizza-ology interests you, you might also check out Pizza It Yourself (PIY—get it?). Pizza-loving Ridgefielders Ed and Grace Winstanley hit on the idea of bringing the Blue-Apron approach to pie-making. They’ll drop off the hardware and ingredients, and you serve as your own pizzaolo. It sounded ridiculous, until I tried it. It was ridiculously easy and ridiculously good.
But, still, can ten pizza shops thrive in a town of 25,000? Despite appearances, Ridgefield is not actually over-pizza’d. With four pizzerias per 10,000 people, we’re not too far ahead of the state average of 3.6. And according to the the US Department of Agriculture, one in eight Americans eats pizza on any given day. That’s more than 3,000 pizza-eaters a day in Ridgefield alone!
Still, you want to know which one is best, right? I wouldn’t touch that one with a ten-foot pizza paddle (which is called a “peel,” by the way). I’m a pizza-lover, not a food critic—and besides, “best pizza” is nothing but an argument starter. (I’ll be happy to argue with you in person.)
All of the owners I talked to prided themselves on their fresh ingredients, and every slice I sampled was good at the very least (except one, which recalled the bowling-alley pie of my youth). More importantly, they were all different—in taste, texture, style, and seasoning. There was something new and worthwhile in each pizza shop.
Friends, with ten pizzerias, and many more restaurants serving up some version of flatbread, this is Ridgefield’s Golden Age of Pizza. If you’re habituating the same joint all the time, pie after pie, it’s time to bite into something new.
Ever tried a ziti-topped slice, or a vodka chicken pie, or crust made with eggs? It’s out there. And variety, so they say, is—or should be—the slice of life.
WEDGE ISSUE “Pizza tastes best when you eat it right away,” says George Amatuzzi, who fed generations of Ridgefielders at his Roma Pizzeria. Edmar Candido of Piccolo agrees: “It’s not the same when you reheat it.” Skip the warmed-over slice, order a whole pie. Someone will share it with you.
Try their signature pies:
850 Degrees Wood Fired Restaurant
424 Main St.
Genoa Deli & Pizza
113 Danbury Rd.
John’s Best Pizza
955 Ethan Allen Hwy.
Lions Bleeker Street Pizza
103 Danbury Rd.
Piccolo Pizza & Pasta
24 Prospect St.
411 Main St.
378 Main St. (rear)
Venice Restaurant & Pizza
125 Danbury Rd.
Village Pizza & Pasta
113 Danbury Rd.
West Lane Pizza & Deli
127 West La.
Pizza It Yourself