New Jersey is full of good pizza. The best pizza, some might even say. From slice shops and brick oven joints to Detroit-style and bar pies, New Jersey looks a whole lot like it’s the pizza capital of the world. Within this deeply woven fabric of pizzerias are pizzaiolos without their own shop, dedicated to slinging out pies in any way they can. One of these NJ pizza trailblazers is the newly sprouted Bucky’s Pizza.
I first heard about Bucky’s through Instagram, where they tout their pizza with a bio that simply reads: “Real good pizza.” For me, that’s enough reason to rush over to wherever they might be cooking up pizzas each week. With only two weeks under their belt, the sourdough-focused pizzeria is already making waves in the New Jersey food scene. Founder Dom Calise has spent a year perfecting his naturally-leavened dough, researching ingredients to use and playing around with pizza methodology after a sudden career change left him searching for a new passion. What he settled on was simple ingredients presented on an expertly-crafted dough.
I knew I had to try it, but one question remained: Where do I even get it? Bucky’s doesn’t have a storefront. Instead, they set up a portable pizza oven and tent and get to business. For their first two weeks in business, Bucky’s set up shop at Autodidact Beer—a brewery that opened in Morris Plains back in March. The modern brewery, boasting a sleek, minimal design and several excellent beers on tap, became the perfect place to sell some pizza. So, the two businesses linked up. Bucky’s would bring pizza lovers to the brewery, who would no doubt be in search of a crisp beverage to wash down their food and Autodidact would bring beer drinkers to Bucky’s, who might need some food to go along with their drink. The combination is a no-brainer.
I scrolled through Bucky’s Instagram feed, entranced by their pizza, which appeared to have a crisp dough with slight charring around the edges. I had to have it.
So, I made my way over to Autodidact for week two of Bucky’s contribution to the pizza world. Impressed would be an understatement. Let me preface this by saying it was not a great day to be making pizzas—especially outside. Heavy rainfall was on and off, combining with the summer heat to create what was a pretty unbearable humidity. Moreover, these were conditions that were not great for the rising of Calise’s dough. Still, Bucky’s powered through.
I ordered two pizzas: A plain (think of it as my control when it comes to rating pizza) and ricotta with hot honey and pepperoni. Their menu also included a pepperoni pizza, veggie, mushroom and buffalo chicken. The operation is small and the oven is even smaller, so expect to wait a bit for your pizza. Not a problem for me, Autodidact is conveniently 10 steps away—beer time.
20 minutes later, my pizza was ready and I headed over to the tent to grab it. Upon opening the box, which was hand-stamped with their branding, I was met with two personal-sized pizzas, each one freckled with bubbling around the edges. The plain had a showering of fresh basil, while the other glistened with honey, filling each cup of pepperoni to the brim. Despite the humidity, the dough remained excellent. It had a slight chew to it, similar to an NY/NJ style, but with a subtle airy characteristic that has become associated with Neapolitan pizza. Beyond the structure, the flavor was otherworldly. Bucky’s pizzas are naturally leavened with a three-year-old sourdough starter and no commercial yeast is used for their dough. This brings a slight fermented flavor into the picture, which is not always present in yeast-leavened pizza dough. For me, that tangy note is extremely desirable.
This hybrid style of dough is part of what makes me love pizza so much. When you get into the deep research of perfecting your pizza dough, you can customize it to be exactly how you like. Calise explained to me that he settled on a hydration of around 65 percent, meaning 65 percent of the dough is water. A cornmeal dusting provides crunch around the dough’s edge and unlike Neapolitan pizza, a Bucky’s slice stands straight up when held out—no flop, as they say.
In a controlled environment, like a temperature-monitored room, this ratio of flour to water can remain consistent each day. But, for Bucky’s, they have to adjust based on weather conditions each time they make dough. This means you might get slight variations in dough depending on the day, but that’s just the name of the game when it comes to outdoor pizza.
The dough is, in my opinion, the most important part about pizza, but the ingredients that top it are a close second. For Calise, extended pizza R&D led him to use some of the best ingredients available in the pizza world. Grande shredded mozzarella for that distinct New York flavor, Ezzo Pepperoni (yep, the ones that cup and char), Mike’s Hot Honey and Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes—the best canned tomatoes available.
While the dough is step one, this culmination of hand-selected ingredients is what makes Bucky’s pizza shine beyond it. The sauce is sweet, bursting with real tomato flavor and when combined with Grande cheese, you get what is an exceptional plain pie. It was reminiscent of the style of pizza many of us in New Jersey grew up on, but distinct enough to stand out on its own. For the ricotta with hot honey and pepperoni, the already great plain pizza is dolloped with creamy ricotta and the pepperoni buckles up, creating a crispy topping with intense, savory flavor. It has a slight spice, but is overall well-balanced.
Bucky’s Pizza is worth driving for. It is “real good pizza,” they weren’t lying. So, how do you find Bucky’s? You can follow along on their Instagram to stay updated on where their next pop-up will be. For the time being, Saturdays at Autodidact seems like the move. As Bucky’s gets more into its groove, you can expect to see more pies on the menu—including a Detroit-inspired square pie that Calise is eager to roll out. When asked if a brick-and-mortar storefront is the goal, Calise answered quickly: “That’s the plan.”
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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 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.