Ocean City Part I: Pizza Wars
While Maryland might have the more famous one, New Jersey has its own Ocean City. Found way down south between Atlantic City and Cape May, Ocean City is famous for its sprawling boardwalk. It is also known for being one of the Armpit of America’s few dry towns, meaning alcohol isn’t sold anywhere within its borders. While this might be somewhat disappointing, the good thing about it is that you won’t find any drunken guidos there.
Although the weather wasn’t perfect, the woman and I went down to Ocean City this past Saturday. As we were driving down the Garden State Parkway, I got the sudden urge to get off at Exit 38B for the Atlantic City Expressway and head over to the casinos. Somehow I managed to fight it, and we were soon at Exit 25 and a short distance from Ocean City’s boardwalk.
Since it was a little chilly outside and the weather called for scatter thunderstorms, I figured the boardwalk would be pretty empty. Though it doesn’t happen too often, I was wrong. It was kinda crowded.
There was no sign of rain, but the weather still wasn’t perfect. It was incredibly windy. And I don’t mean just a strong breeze here and there. These were hurricane-force gales. We tried walking on the beach but had to turn around rather quickly. After being on the beach for like two seconds, I already had sand all over my hair and in my eyes. Still, I’d rather have my eyes tortured by sand then being tortured by the sight of the sleazy guidos found elsewhere on the shore.
But I wasn’t going to let a little wind ruin my fun and my mission to taste the best of Ocean City’s pizza. Though there are countless pizza places on the boardwalk, the most famous is Mack and Manco’s, which has three locations just in Ocean City and some more all over the southern Jersey Shore. Being from the northern Jersey Shore, I had never had Mack and Manco pizza. From what I’d heard, it’s the best pizza in the world.
When we got there, the inside was PACKED with people, and there was even a line at the boardwalk-facing counter to order some food. After waiting on line I put in my order for two plain slices and a small drink. The price tag? A reasonable (compared to pizza at other places on the shore) six dollars. As I waited for them to heat up the pizza, I was thinking about how good this pizza would be. With this many people packed into one shop, while there were plenty of other places that were completely deserted, this must be some amazing pizza, right?
I was not impressed.
I will give credit where credit is due. The crust was pretty good – it was thin and slightly charred and crispy, the way good pizza is supposed to be. But the compliments end there. As you can see in the pic, the slices were pretty small. Aside from that, the cheese reminded me of that from my elementary school cafeteria’s pizza. It was gelatinous and kinda sour. Okay, that probably makes it sound worse than it actually was, but I can’t think of a better way to describe it. The sauce was just as disappointing. Although no one can accuse it of not being zesty, that zest was all it had going for it. Seriously, all I could taste in this thin sauce was Italian seasonings and nothing else. It was like someone took a jar of tomato sauce, mixed it with water, and then threw in some oregano, hoping no one would notice. Well I sure noticed!
After the lackluster meal I just ate, it was time to give another Ocean City pizza establishment a try. I had heard about a place a couple blocks off the boardwalk that puts Mack and Manco’s to shame. The place, called Express, is a pain in the ass to get to, but I was told I wouldn’t be disappointed. Well, after hearing only good things about Mack and Manco’s, I was pretty skeptical.
This place was completely empty, save for a couple of cops enjoying a romantic meal together. The staff at Express was very friendly and accommodating. Just like at that other place, I ordered two plain slices and a drink. The cost? Just five bucks. I already liked Express better.
When the pizza came out, I was dumbfounded. Just one piece was about the same size as the two pieces from Mack and Manco’s. Though the crust wasn’t as crispy as I would have liked, it did have another surprise. The bottom of the pizza is covered in some kind of flour or something, giving it an interesting texture that I’ve never experienced before.
As for the cheese, it got the job done, with none of the gumminess or sourness I’d experienced earlier. Now onto the sauce, the ingredient that makes or breaks a pizza for me. The sauce at Express is what tomato sauce on pizza should be. It was thick and tangy, with just a touch of sweetness. There were even a couple chunks of tomato skin, proving that it’s made from real ingredients and not some watered down excuse for tomato sauce. My only complaint about Express’s pizza is that it was a little greasy. But that’s nothing a little pat down with a napkin can’t fix.
So the pizza at Express is a lot better than the pizza at Mack and Manco’s. Though it might not be the best pizza in the Armpit of America, it may very well be the best pizza in Ocean City. So if you ever find yourself in Ocean City and get a hankering for pizza, skip over the crowded boardwalk spots and make your way over to Express – if you can find it.
After gorging on pizza, what boardwalk activity did I do next? Stay tuned for Part II of my adventures in Ocean City to find out!