By JIM WILLIS
With at least a half-dozen places to grab a pizza in downtown Red Bank, a pizzeria has to differentiate itself if it’s going to stand out.
Step inside Biagio Wood Fired Pizza on Broad Street and you get a sense right away that there’s something different going on. An enormous red oven stands in the center, glowing with flaming logs.
Biagio initially stoked our interest with its arugula-topped pizza, which helped redefine for us the universe of appropriate pizza toppings. To get the lowdown on the fire-breathing oven, Piehole caught up with Biagio pizzaiolo, Alberto “Tito” Vega.
“There are different types of pizza ovens,” says Vega. “Coal-fired, standard gas ovens, wood-burning ovens. This is a Stefano Napoli oven imported from Naples. It’s one of only five in the United States.”
Vega says the oven reaches 900 degrees Fahrenheit, and can turn out a pizza in about 90 seconds. “But it’s not just the heat,” says Vega, “it’s the flavor from the hardwood smoke that makes such a great pizza.”
Vega says the oven takes an hour and half to reach temperature, so he comes in early to get the fire going. “We chop the wood, too,” he says. “When the wood gets delivered, we’re out back splitting it with axes.”
The wood-fired oven allows Biagio to specialize in Neapolitan Pizza, a particular style of pizza making. General manager Danielle Farley says owner Biagio Schiano is “in love with Neapolitan pizza and the whole process. He was born in Naples and worked in pizzerias there and was certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana.”
Vega, too, is now a certified Neapolitan Pizzaiolo. ”You get trained on working the oven, maintaining the fire and the different techniques and timings for different pizzas,” he says.
“I’ve been making pizza since I was 15,” says Vega. “I’d heard of coal-fired and other ovens, but the wood-fired was new to me. To me it’s the best. I order pizza out all the time, but once you get accustomed to this kind of pizza, you don’t want any other kind.”
As for what to order, Farley says, “If you’re a pizza foodie person, you’re going to get the Margherita, the most standard, signature pie. You get the flavor of the sauce, the mozzarella.”
Vega, on the other hand, turned us on to his go-to pie: sausage, hot cherry peppers and a mixture of mozzarella and provolone. You may not find that one on the menu, but just ask for the “Tito Special.”