Jeffrey Marrone transforms food truck into restaurant menu

Pizza Rita: A Passion For Pies




Independent/Hannah Selinger

Pizza Rita has grown up.

What began as a pizza truck has transformed into a brick-and-mortar space in Mattituck. If you’re wondering if you can still make a living as a small business owner in America, here’s what I can attest to: on a recent Saturday afternoon, Pizza Rita was very, very busy.

The restaurant itself is minimalist. With handcrafted tables and chairs made from what appears to be live wood, it’s a spare space, with lemon yellow walls and a massive oven covered in mosaic tile. That oven is of premium importance. How big is it, you ask? So big that it came in through the window. “That was a stressful day,” owner Jeffrey Marrone said when my husband and I asked him about it.

Marrone mans his storefront as he would a food truck. It’s just him — in the kitchen, on the registers, talking to customers. As a crowd amassed at lunchtime, I watched him take out the trash, serve drinks, run credit cards, take phone orders, take in-store orders, and, yes, line pizzas on a peel to be delivered into that maw of an oven. He seemed nonplussed by how busy he was. In that regard, the menu, which is limited, helps him.

On the day we visited, there was one type of beer available, making the choice easy. A tall can of lager from Riverhead’s Moustache Brewery, it was refreshing enough to drink on its own and sturdy enough to hold up to the pies. About those pies. Marrone offers eight pizzas and one calzone, each of them made to order. They’re 12-inch pies, which means you can easily polish one off by yourself. (I fail to understand what the family of four who came in after us was thinking when they ordered one pizza to share; a Neapolitan slice, as any connoisseur knows, is a two-bite deal.)

For our part, we ordered the Marinara Verace — San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil, pecorino Romano, and extra virgin olive oil — and the Holly — mozzarella, sausage, pecorino Romano, San Marzanos, basil, and extra virgin olive oil. There was not a crumb left when we finished, and we probably could have eaten a third pizza, too, had we been feeling a little less conservative.

Other pizzas include a Margherita, with regular mozzarella; a Marinara, with garlic and oregano; the Stella, with hot capicola; the Bianco, with caramelized onions, mascarpone, and garlic; the Cannolo, with ricotta, mozzarella, sausage, oyster and button mushrooms, and garlic; and the Papa, with mozzarella, smoked provolone, purple potatoes, pancetta, and pecorino Romano. The calzone, called the Fritta, is stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, pancetta, San Marzano tomatoes, and basil, and then fried.

We ventured not, in our brief visit, to the sweet side, but Marrone does offer dessert. His simple selection includes a handful of homemade gelatos (chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, lemon, and saffron-cherry) and an affogato (a choice of the chocolate or vanilla gelato covered in a shot of espresso, made with Aldo’s coffee).

Neapolitan pie has been making a comeback, especially on the North Fork. Two years ago, Avellino arrived at Macari Vineyards, just down the road, and the passion for this style of pizza — more doughy than crispy, and charred around the edges — has not yet abated. Pizza Rita is an answer to the question of where to go after the moment of the food truck has passed. There is still a desire, it seems, for a sit-down experience, however casual. Expanding his concept to a space that accommodates the types more prone to lunching in than out appears to be paying off. Pizza Rita is delicious.