I believe there are as many varieties of pizza on this planet as there are variations on any other regional dishes like BBQ, fried chicken, etc. Owner and executive chef Johnny DiLeo calls his pizza “New York.” Having chewed my way through all five New York boroughs, I must concur–kind of. Even given the differences among NY style pizzas themselves, Johnny’s pizza is within (what I consider to be) the two key NY pizza technical specifications:
1. It is thin. New York pizza has a thin, pliable dough and a yeasty, chewy crust. A little corn meal or semolina sprinkled on before baking also doesn’t hurt in the texture/mouth-feel dept. (The legally sanctioned way to consume a slice of authentic NY pizza is to fold it over onto itself (kind of like a taco) and eat it from the pointy end.)
2. It should always be ordered “well done.” I’ve never met a piece of lightly browned cheese I didn’t like. It also imparts a golden crackle to the outside of the crust while adding an extra crisp to the meat toppings.
Unless you’re inclined to take a last-minute trek up the Jersey Turnpike to John’s Brick Oven Pizzeria (no relation to Chef DiLeo) at 44th and 8th in midtown Manhattan, DiLeo’s will often fill the bill–if you are looking for New York style pies.
It’s not just about pizza at DiLeo’s. They stick to the Italian standards like chicken parmesan. The breast is thin and lightly breaded, with a firm coating stands up to the cheese and sauce. Ditto for the parms using veal or eggplant. All the standbys are there, including chicken or veal marsala, fettucine alfredo, ravioli, shells, gnocchi and lasagne. The lasagne is a must-get at DiLeo’s. A proper lasagne should be firm; standing proudly erect in a tall, stratified square or rectangle –not topple onto itself because of too much sauce or because it was overly hot when it was cut. I usually get it crowned with their meaty Bolognese sauce. Be sure to sprinkle on a little grated parmesan.
The last time we went (there were 4 of us), even the specials stayed within the “neighborhood Italian” genre. The Lobster Fra Diablo (notice their own spelling) was loaded with shellfish in a spicy marinara. DiLeo’s offers an interesting variety of pasta sauces, including a white clam sauce, a red clam sauce and an oil & garlic sauce (aglio e olio, a countrified cucina rustica-style preparation). One side you have to try (they offer it as an app) is their garlicky and cheesy broccoli rabe. Add sausage and it’s almost a meal. Last night the specials menu featured two “Oscar”-style preparations, one with Filet Mignon and the other with Cappelini (angel hair pasta). Sundried tomatoes added a nice texture to this traditional asparagus-based dish. I didn’t try them, but I did take a stroll around the place to look at everybody else’s food (nope, doesn’t bother me a bit…). Have you had any of the specials? If so, please add your comments below (unless I beat you to it).
UPDATE! Tonight we had the “Old Forge” pizza. This is a rectangular pizza with a thick crust. The “red” has a normal crust that is crispy, with sauce and cheese on the top. The “white” is a “double,” meaning there is a crust on the top and the bottom (like the “stuffed” pizza you see on TV). Both are topped with roasted onion straws…just enough to taste. These pizzas are extremely filling. The “small” is quite enough for two, especially if you start with a salad. Don’t plan on eating again for about a week.
Casa DiLeo is located at 721 Rehoboth Ave., in the last strip center at the west end of Rehoboth Ave. just before it joins Rt. 1. The restaurant also has a busy lunch, with fair prices (the $2.50 single slice is as big as a small pizza elsewhere). Sandwiches, salads, calzones and strombolis are served in all the traditional variations, plus a few unusual ones featuring chicken and Italian cold cuts.
Know that this is a “neighborhood” Italian joint and neighborhood bar serving very basic food for a fair price. They’re open every day until 1 a.m., but it never hurts to call and check. They also have a busy carryout business, and, in my experience so far, they’ll always tell you if it’s going to take a while. Click here for the dinner menu. And click here for the lunch menu. They also have live entertainment. (302-226-8660) (L., D., Bar) Price range: Moderate -.