Pie A-Peel

Hoboken Pizza & Beer Joint

1459 Garnet Avenue, Pacific Beach

I admit it: I’m moth to the flame. Just ambling down Garnet, around 8:00 at night. Place is buzzing with life. But right across from Longboard’s rowdy crowd, I start feeling the pull of this cavernous, black-painted place, the kind of space you expect bats to come flying out of. They have a bunch of people sitting up at the sidewalk counter here, pouring golden beer from big ol’ pitchers and chowing down pizzas. Pizzas look so hot, peeps look so cool.

I give out and head in. It has varnished plank bench tables running down the middle of the dark room like markers on a nighttime runway, black booths lining the walls. On the right side, an aerial photo of PB. On the left, one of Hoboken, New Jersey, across the Hudson from Manhattan. Bruce Springsteen on a Time magazine cover (“Rock’s New Sensation”) hangs next to a police mug shot dated 11/26/1938. Hey, it’s Frank Sinatra. Address, “841 Garden Street, Hoboken, NJ, Weight 125 lbs., height 5’ 8”, age 22, profession, singer.” Booked by the Berger County Sheriff’s Office for “seduction.”

“A girl thought he was going to marry her. Her father got mad,” says Eric, when I ask at the counter. Eric’s one of three guys in the back kitchen, each molding pizza dough, sprinkling cheese, doinking pepperoni slices around the tops, sliding the pizzas into ovens on wooden paddles they call “peels,” hauling others out and rolling cutters through them. I notice they have Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap. Wow, that beer’s been going since 1844 ($3 pints, $10 pitchers).

The basic cheese pie costs $14 for a 16-inch and $16 for the 20-inch. The Sicilian square pie costs $19. Regular cheese slices are $2.50, Sicilian, $3. Extra toppings on each slice go for 50 cents.

Pizza specials are a bit more. “Angelina’s Veggie Pie” (pick any three veggies) or “Bowery Boys” (with wild mushrooms, roasted peppers, onion, sausage, and pepperoni) cost $18.50 for the 16-inch and $22.50 for the 20-inch. They have pasta too: spaghetti with meatballs is $8.50. So is baked ziti, a sort of penne pasta. There are specialty subs ($6.50–$9.50) and salads starting at $4.50, up to $8.50. First salad looks interesting: antipasto with ham, salami, and capicola as its base. Wouldn’t mind that. It’s $8.50.

Two of the three pizzas in the display case are thin as a Mac Air laptop. But not the middle pizza. It’s inch-thick. It’s square.

“Sicilian,” says Eric. Like a Chicago deep dish? No, he says. “Secret’s in the art of making a rising ‘bread.’ The crust is lighter but also thicker. Tom the owner learned it all back in Hoboken. It takes us eight hours to make the dough.”

So now I’ve gotta find out. For a starter, I order up a square of the Sicilian pizza. They “peel” — meaning paddle-slide — it into the oven for a couple of minutes to finish it off, fresh and hot. Oh, boy.

I also spot pasta primavera: “homemade Alfredo sauce with grilled chicken and two veggies. $8.50.” Huh. Spring chicken. I order one.

“Or, you could have it with any other meat,” Eric says. “Sausage, meatballs, whatever.”

But the menu says chicken, so chicken it is.

Meantime, omygod. That square pizza is a dream. It’s thick but in no way doughy. Airy, and best of all, crispy-crusty on the outside. Both sides. Is that pesto on top, under the slabs of pepperoni? The guy also brought me a nicely chilled Parmesan cheese sprinkler and the chili shaker.

I’m at the halfway mark when the server guy arrives with, whoa, this oval plate of golden gloop, topped with basil leaves and bits of mushroom, and chicken struggling to get out from under a viper pit of spaghetti. Plus I get a long, ten-slice hunk of hot Italian bread served on its own plate.

Man, too much. I plow in anyway.

So here’s my only complaint: the chicken isn’t strong-enough tasting to kick the rest into action. I shoulda taken the sausage. After that mighty tasty Sicilian, this can’t compete. Maybe a glass of Cab ($4) would have kick-started it.

Tom the owner started off in the business at 12, working in one of the very traditional pizzerias in Hoboken. But homesick? No way. “Day I opened here, in September 2002,” he says, “I found 90 percent of Pacific Beach people are from back East.

He says the time to be here is 1:30 in the morning on Friday or Saturday nights. “That’s when the bars close, and everybody takes to the streets, and nobody wants to go home. So we crank up the music — classic rock, Bon Jovi, Tom Petty, Guns N’ Roses — and this place is packed. Late night’s a blast.”

The Place: Hoboken Pizza and Beer Joint, 1459 Garnet Avenue, Pacific Beach, 858-270-7766
Type of Food: Pizza/Italian
Prices: Cheese pizza, $14 (16-inch), $16 (20-inch); by the slice, $2.50; Sicilian square pie, $19; by the slice, $3; toppings, 50 cents (per slice); Angelina’s Veggie Pie (pick any three veggie toppings), $18.50 (16-inch), $22.50 (20-inch); Bowery Boys special (with wild mushrooms, roasted peppers, onion, sausage, and pepperoni), $18.50 (16-inch), $22.50 (20-inch); spaghetti with meatballs, $8.50; baked ziti, $8.50; antipasto salad, $8.50; pasta primavera (with grilled chicken, Alfredo sauce), $8.50
Hours: 4:30 p.m.–11:00 p.m., Monday–Tuesday; till 2:00 a.m. “if busy,” Wednesday; till 2:00 a.m. Thursday–Friday; 11:30 a.m.–2:00 a.m., Saturday; 11:30 a.m.–to 11:00 p.m. or 2:00 a.m. (“if busy”), Sunday
Buses: 8, 9, 27
Nearest Bus Stops: Garnet and Haines

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