By Sally Deering
When you step inside RAZZA, Pizza Artigianale on Grove Street in Jersey City (right across from City Hall) you are immediately transported from the city street to a totally different atmosphere. Industrial and mysterious, like something out of a futuristic movie, the restaurant and the food are both unique and original. The walls are unpainted and reminiscent of the days when the space was part of the old Majestic Theatre, an old movie theater. There are unvarnished wood tables, metal stools and a large blackboard that features the day’s menu.
RAZZA is the dream restaurant of owners Dan Richer and Fred Shandler who also own Arturo’s in Maplewood. They named their Jersey City eatery RAZZA, which in Italian means “pure breed” because it signifies the two entrepreneur’s philosophy. Richer, who is Head Chef, explains it this way: “RAZZA is basically a celebration of the uniqueness and individuality that applies to everything that we do. Our veggies and meats are specific breeds. You’ll never see cross-bred products at our restaurant. We are definitely unique and we like being unique.”
For example, Richer explains that the lettuces used in RAZZA’s salads are specifically grown for the restaurant. They are particular heirloom varieties of lettuces instead of the typical Iceberg or Romaine that everybody uses, he says. Richer and Shandler work with farms in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, that grow the restaurant’s vegetables and supply its meats and Razza’s bread, butter and cheeses are made on site with the purest of ingredients.
“From a chef’s perspective, our ingredients will determine the final product and it’s my goal to create the finest product,” Richer, who earned a 2011 James Beard Award as Rising Star Chef of the Year, says. “Food is highly perishable, so why am I going to get something from California? It’s either old by the time I get it or they have to preserve it by some means like chemicals or picking it when it’s not ripe. If we purchase from a large farm in California it doesn’t help our local food eco-system at all.”
The proof is on the plate and RAZZA’s one-page menu offers Small Plates, Salads and Pizzas. For the Small Plates, there’s homemade Bread and Butter, a naturally leavened bread and cultured butter from grass-fed Lancaster Valley cow’s cream; Olive Oil Tasting, which is three varieties of extra virgin olive oil served with naturally leavened bread; Ricotta Crostini, naturally leavened bread with cow’s milk ricotta cheese; Ceci, Chickpeas with California extra virgin olive oil and parmigiano reggiano; and Polpette al Forno, fire-roasted meatballs. ($4-$8)
Salads include Funghi Misti, mixed Shibumi Farms mushrooms, urban greens, roasted shallot vinaigrette parmigiano; Kale Caesar, Tuscan kale with Caesar dressing, sourdough croutons and parmiagiano reggiano; and Beet Salad, fire-roasted beets, pistachios and goat cheese. ($10-$12)
RAZZA’s Pizzas are served several ways including the Margherita, tomato sauce, handmade fresh mozzarella, basil, Maine coast sea salt and California extra virgin olive oil; the Blanco, fresh mozzarella, ricotta and basil; the Panna, tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, grass-fed Lancaster Valley cow’s cream and arugula; the Mai Pie, fresh mozzarella, maitake and cremini mushrooms and parmigiano reggiano; and the Santo, tomato sauce, mozzarella, sausage, shaved onion, roasted chili oil, ($15). The pizza dough is made with “oo” flour milled from American wheat.
“We use flour from a Vermont-based company that mills only American wheat,” states RAZZA’s Blog on its website www.razzanj.com. “They have cultivated trusting relationships with their wheat farmers to ensure the best flour possible. In fact, the wheat is milled right here in Clifton, NJ. Our flour is the highest quality wheat produced with the least environmental impact possible.”
Both Richer and Shandler believe every decision they make for their restaurant must adhere to the highest standards. The two friends and business partners met and clicked immediately when Richer took ownership of Arturo’s restaurant in Maplewood six years ago and Shandler came on board as co-owner.
“We worked there for six years straight to develop the system, “Shandler says. “We knew we wanted our next restaurant to be in a city. We found this space and fell in love with it. Dan is the chef and I run the dining room and we each run the business. That’s how we operate. We make sure we train our staff properly and that they meet our expectations which are very high.”
A welcome addition, RAZZA brings a new and different style of eatery to Grove Street. The neighborhood is a bustling area filled with restaurants and retail shops and RAZZA is just a couple blocks from the Grove Street PATH station.
“We want to be part of the development of the neighborhood and contribute to the growth of the community,” Richer says.
Shandler adds: “More restaurants are doing the right thing which adds credibility to the neighborhood and to Jersey City.”
If you go:
275 Grove Street Jersey City (201) 356-9348
Dinner: Mon, Wed, Thurs, Sun: 5:30 pm – 10 pm
Fri & Sat: 5:30 pm-10:30 pm
Lunch: Saturdays & Sundays only, 12 pm-2:30 pm