College Park certainly didn't need yet another pizzeria, but when that pizzeria is run by the high priest of pizza in this city, Bruno Zacchini, it's hard to lament its presence on Edgewater Drive. Zacchini's neo-Neapolitan pie house Pizza Bruno on Curry Ford Road has achieved near-landmark status despite it being just shy of seven years old, but the brand's expansion efforts, first with a counter service operation inside Orange County Brewers in 2018, then with Slice by Pizza Bruno, a concept that ended before it began, proved confounding.
Unlike those abortive forays, however, Pizza Bruno College Park appears to have staying power. For one, it's not a facsimile of Pizza Bruno Curry Ford. Its pizzas aren't wood-fired Neapolitan rounds but, rather, Jersey-style pies. If you're thinking pizza eaten while wearing a pink Juicy Couture tracksuit or an Ed Hardy shirt buttoned up to the navel, you'd only be partially correct. They're actually thin-crust pizzas where the tomato sauce is ladled on top of the cheese and toppings before being baked in a deck oven. And that's reason enough for a visit.
The tomato pie ($18), synonymous with Jersey-style pizza, is a specialty here, comprising a lot of crushed tomato sauce, Sicilian Green Gold olive oil, oregano and sea salt. Like the tomato pies in Trenton, it's round. And like tomato pies in Philly, it has no cheese.
"I spend a lot of time in Cape May County and South Jersey and I wanted to riff on my love for Jersey-style pies," Zacchini says. "I wanted to aim for something different, something I like, and making New Jersey-style pies is my attempt to say this isn't New York-style or Neapolitan."
And in the case of the tomato pie, neither Trenton-style nor Philly-style. Either way, it's a great pizza, just like the cheesy classic ($24) and pepperoni ($26), not that I haven't experienced issues with consistency at the College Park location. I've had 16-inch pies that have been flawlessly crispy and chewy, and I've had pies whose undercarriages have been charred black. Sometimes the cornicione, or pizza's edge, has been too wide, thereby hogging up valuable real estate for sauce and toppings. But to Zacchini's credit, he's made the necessary adjustments, either through training or personnel changes, and the pies have been a whole lot better as a result.
We recently gorged on the Atomic Elbow ($32), a pie hefted with Ezzo cup pepperoni, soppresata and Italian sausage, along with red onions, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, mozz and tomato sauce. My dining comrade used utensils to eat it, while I went the fold-over route. Our reactions were the same — "mmm."
During lunch, slices of PB's "Classic" pies are offered as well as one from their "Specialty" selection. I really enjoyed the slice of the "Wodka Pie" ($4) with meatballs, hot cherry peppers and basil slicked with vodka sauce and topped with a mozz blend. While the pal wasn't crazy about the flavor combinations, we both lauded the meatballs. The beef-and-veal orbs are served as a starter ($16 for three) too, just as they are on Curry Ford Road.
Same for the garlic knots ($12) only here, they're fried like zeppoli, lending an undeniable crisp to the doughy twists. And while Zacchini was forced to scale back the bread program here — "College Park wasn't buying our hoagies, so we stopped," he says — the house-made seeded Italian bread with cacio e pepe butter ($8) made an ideal accompaniment to another College Park-only offering — pasta.
They're made and extruded in house and they've always been perfectly toothy be it cacio e pepe with spaghetti ($19), or malfadine ($18) with bacon, tomato, red onion, chili and pecorino, or orecchiette ($24) with shrimp, asparagus, peas and garlic confit. If the pastas lacked anything, it was that most basic of seasonings, salt.
[Editor's note, May 12: Owner Bruno Zacchini has announced that Pizza Bruno College Park will no longer serve its house-made pastas, saying they couldn't "compete with pizza." That said, he is looking to open a restaurant "dedicated to great classic pastas."]
Inside, booths of blond wood and bar seating keep the space comfortably pie-friendly, while the covered patio out front is a favored spot for the al fresco set to enjoy their carb of choice along with a beer, glass of Italian wine or sangria, or sugar-dusted zeppoli ($7) or soft serve ($6). Though, really, no matter where you choose to sit, just know that it's always Jersey weather at Pizza Bruno College Park.
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