As most of us New Jersians know, and pride ourselves on, we have great pizza! There are restaurants in almost every town that offer pizza for takeout and delivery. Most of us consider pizza as a food of convenience. It is something to order when we don’t have time to cook or need something to feed a crowd.
Lombardi Pizza Co. is one of the up and coming pizza eateries that is trying to change the way we look at pizza. There is no delivery at his shop, you must come in and sit-down to enjoy your meal. Your pizza will still be a quick served meal because the restaurant offers Neapolitan style pies that cook up in just minutes ( 90 seconds to be precise) in their state of the art, 100% wood-fire, oven. The Neapolitan pizza is smaller in circumference than a standard pizza pie. Their dough is soft and chewy (in a good way!) and the distinctive ingredients like bright tomatoes, flavorful charcuterie, and fresh cheeses that top the Lombardi Pizza Co. pies with are heavenly.
I recently sat down with Peter Lombardi who started the restaurant. He happens to be a good personal friend of mine. We met on my first, his second, trip to Italy for our senior study abroad in college. I have followed Pete’s career, his studies in Naples for pizza and his journey to open this venture and I am so proud to have seen the evolution. He is extremely talented and it truly shined through with every bite I took at his restaurant. Some of you may think I am biased (And I can promise you I am not…well maybe a little…but I swear his food is as good as it sounds and looks!) so I decided rather than reviewing my overwhelmingly good experience that I would interview the chef and owner himself.
I asked Pete a few questions about his start in the restaurant business, why he took on pizza and what his personal menu favorites are.
Pete, when did your love for food develop? And building on that, when did it become a thought to turn this passion into a career?
When I was little I always watched my mother and my aunts cook. I would stay in the kitchen and just observe. I also used to watch some of my former girlfriends’ mothers’ cook in their kitchens. However, I came from a family of lawyers and doctors. It seemed like the right thing to do to follow that path; so I went to Rutgers for Law School. I realized that Law was not the career for me. I then decided that I wanted to go to culinary school for my Associate’s degree because I knew it would be something I would excel in. Once I started down that path is when I knew it would become my career. After my Associates degree I entered a new Hospitality program that Fairleigh Dickinson University was offering through Mercer County Community College to continue my culinary pursuit.
Why did you pick pizza as your culinary focus?
The first time I went to Italy with my family I remember an exact moment that was kind of the “lightbulb” for me. We were in Cinque Terre eating pizza at a café and I remember thinking that I had never tasted food like this in the states and began to wonder why that was. I revisited that moment quite a bit when I was thinking about what I wanted out of culinary school. My father also gave me some advice that I have not forgot. He said, pick one thing and do it very well. I knew pizza was that one dish for me.
What kind of training did you go through for starting this pizza business?
After I told my father that pizza was what I wanted to do he asked me if there was somewhere, a school or class, which certified that I had studied the craft. I was challenged by my father to find the best place in the world to study pizza making. I did my research and studied under Enzo Coccia in Naples, Italy.
You started your business a bit unconventionally with a food truck first and your brick and mortar second. Why in that order?
Originally, I had wanted to open a restaurant first. However; I could not find one available that fit in with my concept. So the food truck was born (by converting an old moving truck) until this place came along 2 years later. In retrospect, I would still pick the restaurant first because food trucks are a difficult business in New Jersey as it is seasonal due to weather constraints.
* A note for those of you who are wondering, the Lombardi Pizza Co. food truck is still in operation at special events throughout the state and for private rentals for parties.
Ok, give us some insight on your menu. What is the fan favorite pie?
The Clam Pie, which is not a regular menu item, tends to be our fan favorite. We bring it back as a special and it is always a big hit.
What is your personal favorite?
The Millie, which is topped with tomato sauce, basil, garlic, pecorino romano, olive oil and cherry tomatoes. My reason for this is because my pizza really revolves around the dough. It is the restaurant’s signature because I make it from scratch. I think having no heavy cheese or big toppings help to highlight the real star, the pizza dough.
I had so much fun catching up with Pete, meeting the rest of his staff, and learning more about his endeavors. His shabby chic restaurant is the perfect meet up place for a group of friends. They have a large communal table (The first piece of furniture they purchased because it was their vision to have a large family style table as the center of their store) that seats a crowds and more intimate seating along the windows. The dishes and pizzas are great for sharing and did I mention, drool-worthy! It’s also a BYOB establishment so bring your favorite table wine or beer to pair with your pizza.
Lombardi Pizza Co. is located at 1958 Washington Valley Rd, Martinsville, NJ. You can check out their website here: www.lombardipizzaco.com
“Like” them on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/lombardipizzaco
Or swoon over the foodporn on their Instagram: @lombardipizzaco
…all for the love of the dish