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D'Abuscos Brooklyn-Style Pizza in East Windsor

The location at the Town Center Plaza (Multiplex Cinema shopping center) in East Windsor hasn't worked out for a couple of previous pizza shops. Singas opened, lingered, and died. The Azzaro brothers (of Trenton Tomato Pie fame) couldn't make a go of it no matter how well their other stores did and they were out in a year. Now a new place is in its third week: D'Abuscos Pisseria E Cucina. The sign says "Brooklyn Style Pizza" and that's almost a double-dog-dare-ya to find a flaw. I mean, if someone tells you they can make Brooklyn-Style pie, it's either hype or it's real - there's no middle ground. ("Don Pedro's of Vineland Brooklyn-Style Pizza" is probably hype...)

Bottom line: this is DEFINITELY the real deal. I've now been there four times. Before I spoke to the owners on my first visit, I tried a couple of different style slices. A couple of things were obvious: no sugar in either the crust or the sauce; a tiny bit of semolina, but it didn't screw with the crispness; the crust is one of the best I've ever had. Like all Brookly pizzas, it's under-salted. Good cheese, not the crap from Sysco's ("let's buy our cheese where we buy our kitchen cleanser and save on the delivery costs!"); thoughtful specialty pizzas. There are 3 main styles: Napoletana round thin-sliced, amazingly crispy sicilian squares, and some round "pan pizzas" that have everything except the kitchen sink on them - I normally avoid these like the plague, but today I tried the "lasagna pie" and I tell you that it had every flavor you expect in lasagna, and a huge but tight and crisp crust - one slice is a meal.

Speaking to Michael, the first time, he confirmed the "no-sugar" rule and explained the semolina quandry - he dusts the bottom of the pie in it AFTER the pie is made. He also presented his credentials - he's a nephew of the family who owns Gino's Pizza in Brooklyn (no, not the fancy restaurant but the pizza joint that has had an ongoing rivalry with their neighbor Lenny's for generations.) I asked about the water - seeing how phenomenal the crust is, I thought it might be imported - but Michael explained that for a week before they opened, he made small batches of crust, all day long, to get the recipe adjusted for the local water. This is key and extremely telling. The prior owners had a pedigree, but their pie was soggy, probably because nobody thought to take a week experimenting, taking notes, and modifying a recipe.

This place is absolutely worth trying. The specialty pies are not inexpensive (their version of a "grandma pie", a Sege pie with thin crust, fresh mozz and amazingly carmalized onions is 18 bucks), but I've seen higher, and this time it's worth every penny. I haven't tried the sandwiches yet, and the fold-over handout-menu (all they have) says "We apoligize for the limited menu. We are currently installing a full service kitchen in our facility to better serve you. We appreciate your continued support and thank you for your patience during this time" so I suspect real entrees are on the way, but there's no reason to wait. The Pie is the thing. As we all know, above a certain level, the "best" pizza is a matter of personal preference; with that said, this isn't my favorite pie in the world (although I've been there 4 times in 3 weeks,) but it may be yours, and it is ABSOLUTELY perfect in what it tries to be. This is one of the pies that should be in anybody's "best list" even if it isn't first. To find it in East Windsor, of all places, is amazing. Would love to see this place succeed where two others (albeit with medicore pies) have failed. Would love to know that the local consumers can tell the difference and that the location isn't the Bermuda Triangle of Pizza Joints....

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  1. Gave this place a try tonight and it was very good pizza. They were out of the square but the grandma pie and the regular round thin crust pie were both excellent. I look forward to trying the square and some of the other offerings. The owner seems llike a good guy and I hope they do well.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Bossa_Nova

      I went in yesterday around 5pm. May be not the best time to do that.
      They heated up a slice for me.
      It was okay, but nothing special. Seems about the same as with previous owner.

      Cranbury Pizza is still my favorite.

      1. re: ieee488

        I was going to try it tonight, but was exhausted. I will give them a shot this weekend and post my likes/dislikes. Cranbury Pizza is good, but don't care for the attitude of the owners, so we haven't spent a dime in there in 4 years. We used to go once or twice a week.

        1. re: jethro

          I have been going to Cranbury Pizza ever since a co-worker recommended it. That was 6 years ago.

          I don't know what you mean about the attitude of the owners.

          I go in, get some slices, and eat them. Works for me every time.

          1. re: ieee488

            Does eating pizza behind the counter on a Friday evening at the height of a 6PM rush ....and handling food and money without washing their hands count?


        2. re: ieee488

          This is by far the best pizza in ALL of NJ!! The cheese is creamy and the crust is cooked to perfection. This will be my go to pizzeria.

      2. What's the address? Would like to try!

        4 Replies
        1. re: wench31

          The address is 319 US Highway 130, East Windsor, NJ 08520. The easiest thing is to just look for the shopping center with Shop-rite and the movies in it. It is just north of the Americana Diner on 130.

          1. re: Bossa_Nova

            It is 2 doors away from Shoprite, next to the liquor store. They still have the old sign up for Azzaro Brothers, so don't be confused. They are redoing the kitchen to become more of an Italian restaurant than just a pizza shop. Stopped in late for a menu and it smelled great. Azzaro's problem was it was really good during the week, not so much on weekends, because different people worked the weekend. We gave up on them.

            1. re: jethro

              Giovanni (John) says it will be a couple of weeks before they're ready to try dinners - what was happening last night was the gas lines were being run for the whole setup. John is the full-menu chef and his background is Naples, but his taste runs to more northern dishes, so it might be very interesting. Listening to him talk, he brings the same passion to the dinner menu that Mike brings to the pizza. He uses some of the techniques that take a little added time but add dimension to the food (both roasted garlic and fresh garlic in the same dish - one for the sweetness and depth, one for the up-front bite) so I have what are probably unreasonably high expectations, but we can hope.
              My concern, of course, is that a real dinner service at that location may be problematic. Minimum foot traffic after six; no ambience (they'll separate the front from the back - the front is pizza, the back is real food - other places in the area do the same thing, but with a more "restaurant-style" setting...) but I don't know if they can turn six or seven fourtops twice a night during the week, and it will probably take that to break even, in a place like this. John isn't talking about Chicken Parm and Sausage and Peppers; he's talking things like tiny littleneck clams, roasted, fresh in their own juices with butter, garlic, and fewer than half a dozen other ingredients which means the clams have to be absolutely first rate. He's talking about a menu with specials built around what's brilliant from his supplier that particular day. In short, he's talking about an East Village take on northern Italian in East Windsor...
              If this place's dinners are as good as its pizza (and remember, I've said before that while the pizza may not be exactly your style, there's little doubt that, personal preferences aside, this is absolutely first rate fare) then I'll try to eat here once a week, if only to support local artists. If it doesn't hit the mark, then it's still a great pizza place, but if the dinners are up to the level I hope to see, then we as locals have no one to blame but ourselves if the kitchen investment proves too dear and we end up with a Pizza Hut in its place...

              1. re: eapter

                Eapter you are correct. If the pizza and eventually the dinners are great, residents must help them make a go of it. There are a lot of really good pizza shops around East Windsor, some very mediocre.......................then there is Papa Johns. And a see a lot of delivery cars on our roads. Why? Why? I only support the privately owned local shops. I agree that it mght be hard to envision this as a true "restaurant", but have seen others make strip mall stores into one, and it works. Let's hope it's true here.

        2. Had a pie last night. Without a doubt, the best in East Windsor and the surrounding towns!!!!!! IMHO. Can't wait for their full menu

          1. Well, the dinner menu is set (not at the printer's yet, so things could change,) the kitchen won't be really ready for a couple more weeks, and John still insists that a big part of the attraction will be the specials based on what looked really good that day from the purveyor or an outside source, but here's a quick overview of where they're headed:

            First, it's a little rough to figure out from the current version of the menu's layout what's designed to be the kind of "take-out dinners" that most of the pizza joints that call themselves "restaurants" offer and what' designed to attract a more serious diner. The obligitory Chicken and Veal dishes are there (parm, marsala, Franchaise and piccatta) as well as the pasta "dinner" staples (Lasagna, baked ziti, eggplant parm, rigatoni in vodka sauce, and stuffed shells.) The appetizers also include the needed stand-bys ( mussles, fried calamari, caprese) but I don't know that I'd dismiss these "everywhere" dishes too quickly. Today, as usual, I let Mike decide what kind of a slice to give me, and he gave me this amazing white pie with garlic-asparagus - two things of note: first, I thought the asparagus had to be blanched - there was absolutely NONE of that "green taste" to it, but apparently the 550+ degree deck took care of it during cooking the pizza, and second, the riccotta was of a kind I haven't tasted in quite a while - extremely creamy, with some real body to it. That isn't in style anymore (everyone looks for riccotta that's almost a foam, it's so etherial) and Mike and John were still arguing over whether that would be the final choice. It's these kinds of little things that make me want to try the stuffed shells, the new broccoli rabe appetizer, the spinich sautee - things that are fodder at other places might turn out to be noteworthy here.
            The definite "Dinner and Proud of It" dishes look like they're going to be winners or losers depending on ingredients and cooking skill, rather than any ground-breaking new recipes, but that's not a flaw in my opinion, it's what was decided in putting together the menu. There's a spidini alla dabusco appetizer that looks worth trying based on description, as well as some pasta dishes (homemade ravioli with shrimp in a lemon-wine-cream sauce; homemade gnocchi with blue cheese and parm) and there are enough more complex veal and chicken dishes to merit mutliple visits to try them all. The seafood side looks a little weak compared to everything else, but even there, there's something that's got me curious enough to try it (sauteed shrimp, mushrooms,artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes and basil in a white-wine-marinara sauce.)
            The new menu has some additions to the regular fare as well - cheesesteaks, a couple of new pies including one with clams (although there are ALWAYS more pizzas in the rack than on the menu - Mike keeps putting new things out.)
            I'm told that pricing is absolutely NOT set yet, but based on the prices the boys are playing with on the current version of the menu, it looks like appetizer and entree will be in the $22-$32 per person range.

            3 Replies
            1. re: eapter

              I finally tried this place recently and was more than impressed. I tried a plain slice and a Grandma slice, both were excellent. Many of the other pizzas looked very good as well, so a return trip is warranted (probably tomorrow). These guys know how to buy good ingredients and make a good pizza with them. I passed by tonight and the dining area was pretty crowded. I am glad to see positive reviews by other Chowhounders.

              1. re: jethro

                Your experience was much better than mine was.

              2. re: eapter

                Some hang-ups in getting dinner going, but I'm told to expect them to start in the next 10 days. Tonight Giovianni cooked a tasting menu for my wife and me. I'm not going to review the meal because #1, I don't review if the chef knows who he's cooking for (I can't rave over food if you're not going to get the same food I did) and #2, much of what he cooked will probably not be on the regular menu.
                With that out of the way, let me clear up something that needed follow up. In a previous post I said "Listening to him talk, he brings the same passion to the dinner menu that Mike brings to the pizza" about Giovanni, but I had yet to taste his cooking (I never made it to his Villa Barone in Robbinsville, although I had heard good things,) so I had no idea if he had the chops to go with the talk. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy..... working with a limited pantry and all the "wrong" pots and pans, the technique is killer. It's always the little things that tell: to what degree of "doneness" the shrimp and calamari are cooked, how well the roast potatoes are cooked, whether you can taste each ingredient in a dish... Giovanni has had fifteen years in the area perfecting his craft, and his technique is flawless. Listening to him describe each dish was almost as good as eating it - his passion is currently out of control in his excitement over opening the dinner part of the business - if you can, once things settle in, ask to "speak to the chef" when you dine there - for a foodie, he's better than a floor show.

              3. Stopped by today with co-workers. Ordered a grandma pie and while waiting I had a single slice of fresh plain. Pizza was good and comes recommended. We'll come again. He's looking for an electrician so I told my brother in law to stop by.

                I do get a chuckle regarding the perceived superiority of NY food over NJ. Without a doubt there are more numerous 'better' places in NY...and we don't have a wealth of Del Posto type or specialty places here...but to say a NJ establishment cannot replicate the quality of what's cooked across the river is pure and unadulterated hogwash. I'm sure there's a post on this board where people have rolled up their sleeves on this topic but my experience is what it is... and no self-appointed food snob is convincing me otherwise.

                3 Replies
                1. re: pktaske

                  I guess the key word in your review is "fresh". The slice I had when I was there one evening at 6pm had been sitting for hours and reheated. Not so good.

                  1. re: cuddles115

                    I stopped by to pick up a plain pie tonight - delicious. My wife wanted it plain, to see if it was good just the way it was. It was. They now have full kitchen; going to try "food" over the weekend. They should do well next to Shoprite....let's hope.

                    1. re: jethro

                      Yeah, you and I hoped the same for Pom-Pom, but look what happened there...

                      This is a precarious situation - Mike makes great pizza. Giovanni has great credentials and talks great food but I haven't eaten his stuff yet. Away at the summer place for another week, so I'll miss the opening, but G promises me a tasting dinner when I return; I'll surely take him up on it, but will also have someone else go in, order us a dinner to my specs, and then come in AFTER the food is on the table, before I'll post a review. If you get there for a full dinner before I do, PLEASE post and let us know what to expect.

                2. Dabuscos, at least in this incarnation, is not going to be the dinner place I had hoped. The pizza is still excellent and the standard sandwiches are fast approaching that same standard, but dinner at a level on a par with the better restaurants of the area is now out of the question in the forseeable future.

                  I've been in three times since my last write-up and two of the three times the chef didn't know for whom he was cooking. Each time there was a different set of problems. For the two times I can review, the first was a problem with ingrediants: I had veal Saltembocca and while the veal was seasoned perfectly and cooked perfectly, it started out as pretty ordinary commercial veal and while you can dress it up, it's always a bit chewy and the meat itself bland. It doesn't belong in a $21 dinner entree, but would be fine in a lunch sandwich. The beautiful puffed up "bread" concoction that Giovanni had whipped up for us a few weeks ago was replaced with Italian bread in olive oil, herbs and shaved parm. The bread was outrageously good (it's brought in daily from Brooklyn and is what they now use for their sandwiches) and I didn't mind the substitution. The salad was full of surprises (extremely sweet grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, capers) and was perfectly dressed in a clean balsamic. The service was finally good - Nicole, the new waitress actually knew what she was doing. I had high hopes.
                  Went in late last week and it was a disaster. Nicole was gone. Her replacement had just been fired. Service was a disaster. Worse yet, the food was fodder. The bread itself was still the best I've had in NJ. The salad had been simplified and the balsamic replaced with a lemon and oil blend that did nothing for it but drown it - heavily over-dressed. My wife had chicken Francaise that was slightly undercooked and lacking in intensity of flavor. I had "Cappelini with Jumbo Crab Meat" that had no flavor and virtually no crab (and what crab there was was certainly not "Jumbo" anything.)
                  I have since found out that the boys are going to have a parting of the ways. Giovanni intends to go back down to Robbinsville to open a new place to compete against his old one; his head isn't in the game here at all anymore and he's apparently given up on getting the variety or quality of ingredients he wanted here. Mike is the realist - I'm assuming that at the tiny volume they're doing, stocking what Giovanni wanted would bankrupt a very profitable pizza business.
                  I'll continue following both of them - Mike because the pizza really IS that good, and perhaps he'll find a chef who can do dinners within certain constraints; John, because he is very talented and capable of hiddy acts of god in the kitchen, but may not have the consistancy he once brought to Villa Barone. Time will tell.

                  1. We've been going here pretty often. The pizza is great. However, we just had dinner there and I'm not going back.

                    I don't know what has happened there (haven't been there in a few weeks), but it was like walking into an episode of "Jersey Shore". The guys behind the counter (one with tattoos all over his arms and another with generous "product" in his hair) were beyond rude to us and other customers.
                    The bathrooms were filthy and had no soap. The pizza was still great through.

                    Some details: due to some sort of misunderstanding we ended up waiting almost an hour for our "Grandma Pie" despite ordering it via phone before we left home. No big deal. We have 2 kids, and they were getting a bit hungry, bored, and cranky. I asked for a piece of paper for them to draw on. One of the guys gave me a guest check along with some major attitude. About half an hour later, I asked if I could buy a garlic knot they could share. Again, major attitude "You have to by 3!". Another family walked in and went to a table in the back since there were no tables for four up front. They got yelled at.

                    The counter guys were arguing with each other while we were there. The TV was blasting a football game. It was just all-in-all an EXTREMELY unpleasant experience. However, as I said, the pie was great.

                    Such a shame. If they don't get their act together fast, they're not going to make it.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: cranrob

                      No restaurant should ever need excuses, but there are a couple of things you need to know before you write off a place.
                      First is Sandy. My wife, father-in-law and I went in Friday night (the first night they were open since the storm) and the place was crazy-mobbed, they were working on generator power and had no ability to take credit cards, earlier they had all their food thrown out because it was without refrigeration for 4 days, had nothing except the makings of pizza they had bought that day plus some wings and fries they had bought frozen. There were people lined out out the door - many people had gone out for dinner, having no electricity themselves, but the diner had an hour wait, the other places within a mile were in the same shape, and anything going towards Princeton on 571 had no electricty. Lots of people who never tied this place before tried it out of desparation, on probably the most challanging night it had ever had.
                      Second issue is a personality issue: Giovanni (of Villa Barone), the one you describe with "hair product" is leaving to open his own place [again]. Mike, the one with the tatoos, who is the pizza-genius, is the owner, who having bought into the "we could do great dinners here," spent a zillion dollars he didn't have building a full-service kitchen and provisioning it (with stuff that had to be thrown out on Friday.) Now Giovanni is jumping ship, Mike is in the hole for the dinner-experiment, and the fact that there's no actual bloodshed going on behind the counter is a tribute to man's basic goodness or a ton of valium.
                      As I said at the start, no restaurant should ever need excuses, but given that all this has happened in three months since they opened, and the storm and the desertion of the dinner chef happened in a five-day period, perhaps it might be wise to stay away for a few weeks, and then try it again. As you said, the pizza is rather amazing.

                      1. re: eapter

                        WOW! Thanks to your review I will try this place in a few weeks! Thanks for sharing and your previous delicious reviews! I appreciate your efforts and thoughts.

                    2. I need to disagree. My husband and had it delivered tonight and it was by far the WORST pizza I have ever had. Aside from them charging $2 for a garlic knot (normal sized) with a thin slice of cheese in it, their pizza was disgusting. It was not hot when it arrived and the cheese was sliding off of the crust entirely. Im not sure if you can picture this, but imagine the cheese being cold and solid (almost like putting mozzarella in the microwave and then letting it sit out for 20 minutes) and every time you went to pull a slice out of the box, the cheese flid off the crust in one big clump. It was disgusting. I would have rather ordered Dominoes or Papa Johns and eaten fake pizza apposed to spending $20 on inedible "brooklyn style" pizza. Order from anywhere else but here. Andiamos near Heddys Liquors is amazing. I should have ordered from there tonight.

                      1. Drove past today - place is locked up with a notice from the County on the door. Looks like they got evicted for non-payment of rent. Another one bites the dust.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: punkin712

                          My wife went to get a pie and as she walked up noticed the darkness, this was maybe 2 weeks ago. I went with my sons a few days earlier as we were going to the Halloween store, so hey, why not eat first? It was right aroung noon, tons of people passing by to go to Shoprite and the other stores, but not one person came in. I agree with prior Chowhounders statements about the pizza is good but the workers needed a little adjustment. They could have put on a friendly face on occasion. I think they tried to make it a high end restaurant but the idea didn't sell. Let's see who the next tenant is!

                          1. re: jethro

                            This was the third pizza place at this location that went under. By the time it finally went under a few weeks ago, the owner was working mornings as a loader for UPS because he couldn't draw a salary from the restaurant and he was trying to keep the place open. I agree the kiss-of-death was the massive outlay during the period that the then "head chef" was trying to turn it into an upscale dinner place. Alas.