Bracco Bread Co. Pizza Pop-Up At Aquila

by Peter Candia

Since 2020, there has been a spike in at-home pizza and bread makers. If your Instagram algorithm is laced with food like mine is, then chances are you can’t scroll through your feed for more than two minutes without seeing a homemade pizza or sourdough loaf. 

For Chris Bracco of Bracco bread Co., this obsession with pizza and bread has garnered him a decent following. This past Sunday, he put his skills to the test with his first official pizza pop-up—hosted at none other than the legendary Aquila in Little Falls. 

The event was set  to revolve around bar pizzas—an NJ-specific style that features a thin, pan-baked crust with cheese and sauce spread to the edge. The characteristic of a bar pie is the crispy cheese that burns to the edges, sometimes called frico. This style has been made famous by top-rated pizzerias such as Star Tavern, Kinchley’s and Pete & Elda’s. 


bracco pizza

Pan pizza | Photography by Chelsea Dubow

Bar pies are traditionally baked in deck ovens, so Aquila’s wood-burning oven presented a unique challenge for Bracco, who aimed to serve several different pies at his pop-up across two separate seatings. 

The meal began with a cool panzanella salad, featuring stale cubes of Bracco’s own bread along with ripe tomato, cucumber, onion and mozzarella cheese. The mixture gets doused in a zingy lemon vinaigrette, which brings life back to the bread along with flavoring the salad. Panzanella was originally considered a peasant food as it was employed to stretch the shelf life of bread; however, today, it is enjoyed all over for its textural contrast and distinct flavor profile. 

Bracco’s offering was classic and the perfect way to start the meal. The salad acted as a way to open up our stomachs for the remainder of the dinner, which had plenty of pizza in store.

Panzanella | Photography by Chelsea Dubow

As diners enjoyed their salads, Bracco began stretching his signature thin-crust dough into oiled carbon steel pans. The first pie up was an upside-down pie, which included homemade sauce, Grande mozzarella, gorgonzola, grated parm, basil and lemon zest to finish. However, soon after launching the first four pizzas of the dinner, Bracco quickly realized he had to pivot his method. 

You see, wood-fired ovens are lauded for their intense heat and imparted flavor, but where they lack is in temperature control. By launching four cold pans into the oven, the temperature immediately fell, resulting in lengthy cook times. No sweat for Bracco, “we adapt,” he joked.

The plan was to switch pizza styles and ditch the pans entirely. Bracco’s dough was a high-hydration version meant for thin crust, so without the pan, the pizzas baked into a crisp and well-flavored shell akin to a Bari-style pizza—a thin and well-done variety found in Puglia. 

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“We adapt.” | Photography by

Bracco’s quick thinking saved the day right then and there. Once the on-the-spot method was hammered out, the toppings flowed perfectly. Diners enjoyed upside-down pizzas in the pan variety while the other offerings were adapted to fit the new style. The thin and crispy crust was perfect for his next two pies: “Disco Duck” and “Pep in the Step.” The former a poutine-inspired pie featuring duck fat gravy, sliced potato, fontina and cheese curds. The latter pizza included pepperoni, banana peppers, hot honey and whipped ricotta to finish. 

The Disco Duck was rich, with even browning around the edges. Bracco added the curds at the end allowing them to barely melt and hold onto their squeaky texture. Rather than tomato sauce, the dough was spread with brown gravy made from duck fat and beef broth. 

Disco Duck | Photography by Chelsea Dubow

For the pepperoni pie, the acidic banana pepper was the perfect counterpart to the pepperoni, which baked into crisp cups, pooled in the center with fragrant oil. The creamy ricotta to finish added temperature contrast—a necessary component to the pie. 

I found Bracco’s dough to be exceptional, even if it was donning a different outfit than he had originally intended. The pizza crisped up nicely, wearing charred bubbles on the outer crust and undercarriage. A slice held its form with ease—otherwise known as “no flop” to pizza aficionados. My favorite part of the pizza was the dough’s actual flavor, which for Bracco who is a breadmaker at heart is never an afterthought. Plenty of time went into this dough and it was immediately apparent within my first bites. It didn’t matter if it was in a pan or taking a trip to Bari, the pizza was a total knockout. 

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Hot honey to finish | Photography by

Bracco also explained to me that he had formed a friendship with Aquila owner Jerry Arcieri last year, who was kind enough to let him use the pizzeria on a day that the store would have otherwise been closed. The first official Bracco pop-up sold out across both seatings. 

Keep an eye out for future dinners by Chris Bracco. If this first event is any indication, his pizza will only continue to improve. Maybe he’s able to stick the landing on bar pies next time, or maybe he leans into this pan-less charred style. Whatever the case might be, I just hope there is more Bracco pizza in my future. 

About the Author/s

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Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.

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1 comment

Maureen Finn Forrester April 3, 2024 - 10:11 pm

Good article. Will have to try this place too.


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