Late last year, a pizzeria opened in Morristown, NJ, that immediately made waves. Aficionados raved about the pizza at Coniglio’s Old Fashioned—which, as the name suggests, offers carefully crafted pies made the old-school way.
Jersey Pizza Joints, a Facebook group that has amassed over 70,000 members who gather to talk and post about great pizza in the Garden State, hosted their third annual Pizza Bowl this year. Coniglio’s took home first place, being crowned as the best pizza in New Jersey. This is, of course, an accomplishment worth praise. New Jersey has the greatest concentration of profound pizzerias in the world, and to catapult yourself in front of that crowd is a brag-worthy feat— especially just a few short months after opening.
Still, Coniglio’s praise was only hearsay—I had yet to try it. Until now.
Unlike many of the other pizza joints in Jersey, which offer dozens of pizzas on their menu, Coniglio’s only offers nine different pizzas, with a mere eight toppings to add on. Is this lack of choice an issue? No, not really and I would even go as far as to say that it is quite the opposite. I have always felt that if pizza is good, then a barebones approach is ideal. It is the expertly made pizzas that should be left to bask in their simplicity—leave the chicken bacon ranch and whatnot to the mediocre slice shops.
Owner Nino Coniglio—who you will often see tossing dough high into the air—is no stranger to good pizza, nor is this his first rodeo. Coniglio quite literally eats, sleeps and breathes pizza. Though born in Jersey, Coniglio spent years working and operating pizza shops in Brooklyn and beyond. Along with Dave Ligas of the now defunct Tavolino Pizza in Wallington, the duo aimed to bring something straightforward to downtown Morristown: Excellent pizza, plain and simple.
I walked into Coniglio’s on a snowy afternoon and was not surprised in the slightest to be met with a full house of customers. In addition to the hype surrounding the place, Coniglio’s does not take phone orders, so a large base of their customers opt to dine in. After all, if you’re already there placing your order, you might as well have it at its freshest, right?
The dining room is adorned with vintage Coca-Cola decor, along with gallon cans of imported Sicilian olive oil which double as stands for the pizza when it comes to the table. Paintings of rabbits—the word Coniglio’s direct translation—dot the green and white painted walls. In the back is the oven, a conventional deck oven. Stacks of freshly made sourdough wait in the sidelines. It seems that looks from both the past and present inspired the design at Coniglio’s.
Being it was my first visit, I wanted to keep my order relatively simple. I opted for the Upside Down Sicilian and the Brooklyn Round. The former boasts a square crust, topped with sliced mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil, while the latter gives you a round pie, painted with tomato sauce, basil and fresh mozzarella. Each pie is showered with grated Pecorino Romano to finish. I know what you’re thinking, those two pies sound eerily similar—like they are the same pizza just in different shapes. This was a strategic decision, as I knew that if Coniglio’s pizza was the real deal, then both pies would satisfy different textural cravings, despite their similarities.
First up, the Brooklyn Round. Let me start by saying that I am not used to round pies being as saucy as this one. To be honest, at most pizzerias I prefer less sauce and you might even be tempted to ask for it with “light sauce.” Counterpoint: Don’t. This isn’t just any tomato sauce. This is unrivaled stuff and ladles of it are more than welcome on any pie I am eating.
Understandably, tomato flavor is the first thing you notice when biting into this slice. The next thing you get is a punch of herbaceousness from the freshly plucked leaves of basil that Coniglio anoints the pizza with. Fresh mozzarella is not usually my favorite on pizzas like this one, I tend to prefer it in a Neapolitan style. However, with this specific pie, it worked decidedly well. The mild cheese flavor married perfectly with the zing from the sauce, which also had a bite of fresh garlic flavor. Of course, all of this would be meaningless if the dough was lackluster. As you could probably guess, it was anything but that.
Coniglio’s dough is next level. It rides the line between light and chewy—crisp and soft. Its golden shell encases what is an expertly leavened dough, jam-packed with complex flavor thanks to the use of wild yeast. Over the years, my palate has become more accustomed to well-done pies—which are the most sought-after style of pizza in Jersey at the moment and tends to be my favorite. I was worried that even if I loved the Brooklyn Round, I would wish it was cooked a tad longer. I am happy to say that was not the case. In fact, I would not change a single thing about it. Case closed.
Directly following the round pie was none other than the Upside Down Sicilian. I grew up on the upside down square slice from Bruno’s in Lyndhurst—a pizzeria my father has been eating at since it opened in the 70s. So, suffice to say, I was eager to try it.
The first bite of Coniglio’s Sicilian pie is perplexing. It is not the sauce or mozzarella that’s so baffling, but the texture of the dough. The airy consistency of Coniglio’s Sicilian pizza is utterly mind-blowing. On top of that, there are lots of funky, sourdough-like notes to the dough’s flavor, which leads me to believe that there is an ample amount of time spent fermenting before the dough is eventually topped and baked off. Furthermore, being that this is a square pizza, it is baked in a pan, which lends a focaccia-like undercarriage and a crispy, caramelized edge.
On top of the dough was a similar story. Slices of low-moisture mozzarella cover the base before being cloaked in the same great sauce from before. To finish, more heaps of basil and salty Pecorino. I don’t say this lightly, but this was a perfect pizza. Even more impressive, is how much each pie differed, despite being 90 percent the same in terms of ingredients. As I said before, that is the sign of an expert pizzaiolo.
After trying Coniglio’s pizza for myself, I can see how it was crowned the winner of this year’s Pizza Bowl. It is a pizza that stands out from the rest with ease.
In a world where charred, thin-crust pizzas have seemingly taken over, Coniglio’s is bringing something different to the table with their old-school pies. Nino Coniglio gives guests a glance into the pizza making of the past by using premium ingredients in the simplest of ways. Of course, to anyone who understands food beyond the surface level, his product is anything but simple. The complexities of Coniglio’s pizza can be found in the method rather than the makeup. To me, that is the recipe for the perfect pie.
Is Coniglio’s New Jersey’s best pizza? That’s a bold claim. There are possibly too many different styles to crown one—but this Morristown joint has certainly earned a spot in the conversation.
Either way, like Jersey Pizza Joints motto suggests: “If your Pizza isn’t from Jersey, it probably SUCKS!”
About the Author/s
Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for food journalism midway through his schooling and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. Peter never stops learning and he is always in the weeds.