Here's the winner of the Slice Showdown! North Jersey's best pizza!
And then there was one.
The readers have voted and the winner of the North Jersey Slice Showdown, where we bracketed 64 of the top pizza joints in a March Madness-style single elimination tourney is Jerry Arcieri's artisan-style Aquila Pizza Al Forno of Little Falls.
Arcieri's 15-table, wood-fired brick oven restaurant proved once again that the Davids can take down the Goliaths of the pizza world.
Arcieri was grateful for the win but was not overly surprised. Word of mouth has expanded his client base, with many coming from Ramsey, Woodbridge or beyond for his tasty 12-inch pies. During a visit to Aquila's on Wednesday, the phone rang regularly as people vied to score a reservation for the weekend.
"People have no problem driving 30 minutes to enjoy a 90-minute meal," he said, adding that because of his limited seating capacity, he needs to turn over his tables twice each evening.
The finalists in the competition
North Jersey's March pizza madness finals came down to two distinct styles of pizza, Jerry Arcieri's artisan style vs. Marcello Segura's more traditional pie at Grumpy's of Saddle Brook.
The two emerged above the other storied pizza joints' styles, including delicious bar pies from Nellie's, Kinchley's and Star Tavern's, traditional pies from Lodi Pizza or Rudy's of Closter and artisan pies from Morristown's Coniglio's.
Segura, who's new to the pizza scene opening his Saddle Brook pizzeria in January 2022, developed his own following with supporters vaulting him into northjersey.com's pizza slice showdown finals, and voting him into Jersey Pizza Joints' Pizza Bowl 3 regional finals this year.
"It's amazing to make it to second place against so many great pizzerias," he said.
But as Acieri and Segura can attest to, not all pizzas are created equal.
The way the simple components of dough, cheese, and sauce meld together can drastically change the end result.
The amount of olive oil drizzled, the type of cheese sprinkled, the variety of tomato simmered — all of these factor into what could be a fantastic or failed pie.
Arcieri's pizza kitchen
On Wednesday we watched Arcieri at work in his kitchen. When we arrived he was stoking ash logs in the brick oven to push the temperature up to 700 degrees as he talked of how he makes his basic pie, a Margherita, one of five on his menu.
He stretches his pies onto his paddle. His dough combines the high protein 0 flour, a sprinkling of winter rye and a third more flour he wouldn't identify. He adds to that salt, yeast and "Little Falls water." The dough slowly rises for 24 to 36 hours.
Once stretched, he adds his sauce made from Jersey tomatoes instead of the San Marzanos, a favorite of most other pizza places we've visited.
"I like their taste better," he said.
The cheese is a mix of the fresh mozzarella he makes every day, some low-moisture mozzarella and Parmigiano cheese. He adds fresh basil leaves before popping them into his oven.
It took him less than two minutes to bake the pizza. He shifts it twice during the last 15 seconds, Arcieri said as he held the pie paddle, so the crust doesn't overcook.
"Getting it right is really more of an art," he says. "People really like a bit of char."
It's easy to see why his pizza came out on top. The dough is really light, airy and delightful.
"The dough is the base for everything," he says. "I have made every single pizza that has come out of my oven. I know what they should look like before they land on a table."
Go: 7a Paterson Ave., Little Falls; 973-256-0050 aquilaforno.com, but take note, the dining room is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday with take-out only on Wednesdays.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Here's the winner of the Slice Showdown! North Jersey's best pizza!