Having never seen an episode of Jersey Shore, I nonetheless felt I knew Snooki, the Situation, and the rest of the gang. My only question: what kind of pizza would a Jersey Shore personality eat when not tanning, getting drunk in a hot tub, or tanning? (Apparently, not Dominos.) Even a shore novice like myself knows the answer is probably Mack & Manco, a boardwalk tradition as ubiquitous as a weathered Bon Jovi tour shirt.
It’s the middle of a long cold winter, but we nonetheless headed down the shore to see what pies were available off-season on the boardwalk. Amidst the shuttered arcades and surf shops only a few pizzerias were open for business, each attracting a smattering of intrepid dog walkers and bikers.
One of the boardwalk’s three Mack & Manco locations was open on this chilly winter day, so we sidled up to the counter for two slices at the shore’s most famous pizzeria, established in 1956 by Anthony Mack and Vincent Manco in Ocean City.
Having been to Mack & Manco once previously — waiting in line for a seat on a glorious summer day — I remembered the buzz of watching the “piemen” hurling dough and making their patented upside-down pies in front a throng of excited shore goers. Maybe it was the bitter cold, or the fact that we ordered slices instead of a full pie, but today’s pizza was a soup of cheese and sauce with a soggy crust unable to support its weight. Much of the toppings ended up on the paper plate.
Mack & Manco hailed from Trenton, which in the 1950s became known for its “tomato pie,” a term used regionally by Italian-Americans in the Philadelphia and south Jersey area to describe a yeasty, saucy pizza with a minimal amount cheese served at room temperature. The variation known as the “upside-down pizza” was born in South Philly in 1951 as a cheeseless pie. Today’s upside-down pies typically have thinly-sliced fresh mozzarella under the sauce (Mack & Manco uses shredded cheese, which may be why our pie was so soggy), though many old timers still order the traditional sauce-only version.
Mack & Manco’s upside-down variation is not a shore classic for nothing, and perhaps off-season is not the time to sample it. So, we’ll be back next summer to take another crack.
A pleasant surprise was our Walt’s Original Primo Pizza the following day, which we ordered takeout from the Somers Point location (the boardwalk location was closed for the season). Walt’s sauce-to-cheese ratio and crust crispness was just the tonic needed to erase the disappointment of Mack & Manco’s winter slump.
— Brett Essler
For a great history of tomato and upside-down pies, check out this great Philadelphia Daily News article.