Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Basking in the Sun Ray Pizza: North Jersey's Beacon of Pizza Individuality

Since I've been on somewhat of a pizza kick lately, and I'm always looking to provide due recognition to the many Pizza Pie's around which my childhood seemed to revolve as a growing boy in North Jersey, it's time I say a few words about an operation that is as humble as it is delicious. And so I'd like to honor Sun Ray Pizza for more than a decade of consistently spot-on pies that truly thrive in a league of their own.

Mere yards away from the local NJ Transit train tracks in the historic Passaic County town of Little Falls, Sun Ray feels like another world despite being only a mile away from the non-stop, all too familiar action of nearby Willowbrook Mall. Attached to the back of an Italian restaurant that has seen a few name changes over the years, this tiny pizzeria's expansive, loyal customer base has always obviated any need to ditch its peculiar, almost aloof location on an industrially zoned road outside the town center, for a bigger, for marketable space.

This is quite remarkable considering Sun Ray, over course of its 10+ years of existence serving the surrounding area, has remained a strictly take-out only establishment. Understandably then, you would expect this place to be tiny and outfitted accordingly. In fact, in the traditional sense of the word, it would be inaccurate to call Sun Ray a pizzeria; it's more of a pizza purveyor, a Just-In-Time warehouse designed to field an incessant flow of ad-hoc telephone orders for their dastardly delicious pizza pie. There are no booths, no stools, no gumball machines, no nothing - except for two refrigerators full of soft drinks, a lonely chair nestled in the corner, and a counter for transacting.

In keeping with its quiet, confident self-schema on the outside, the group of guys that work here on the inside, are a pretty tight-lipped bunch, not only with the customers, but among themselves as well. You walk-in, tell them your order # (which they give you over the phone), and then you wait in quiet, as you observe the team of 4 behind the counter put on a spectacular juggling act that involves tending to an ever-ringing phone, organizing and tagging pick-up orders, and making sure not to over cook the goods in the oven.

What's more enjoyable along the course of this wait, is the unbelievably soothing, almost hypnotic aroma of yeasty dough that permeates the entire store. Here, the name of the game is the 24-slice sheet pie, which is cooked on a large tray, but is split in half and placed into two boxes for transport.

Watching the skilled man behind the counter carefully check the doneness of my pie, before artfully dissecting and dismounting this rectangular work of art into two boxes, still makes me giddy after all these years.

The pie itself is probably unlike anything you've had. In terms of girth, Sun Ray's sheet pie falls at the midpoint between Sicilian and Grandma-Style - neither boasting the doughy, chewy bulk of the former, nor offering the cracker-like, buttery, flaky crunch of the latter. In essence, this polygon of pizza perfection could be considered a true hybrid, a new species of pie not yet officially classified by the pizza powers that be the rule of this fanatical community.

The outer crust is of medium width wearing a light-brown char on the outside that provides enough crunch to remind me of a traditional sweet pie crust -- buttery, but not flaky by any means, and yet able to avoid that waferish texture. Beyond the perimeter, and toward the middle, the dough assumes more of a "thin crust" identity, packing a bit more crunch than chew, acting as a perfect platform for a sweeping layer of slightly burnt cheese that is eerily satisfying coupled with a more moderate, albeit sufficient, dose of sweet red gravy.

Though we always get a sheet pie, we usually opt for half pepperoni. As a rule of thumb, I don't like to oilify my pie with uber-salty 'roni as I liken it to putting salt directly on pasta, but Sun Ray's is one of the few pies out there that reaches the next level in the presence of this almighty cured meat product. This is probably because Sun Ray employs giant, thinly-sliced saucers of salty sumptuousness to adorn its sheet pies, instead of the traditional carrot-stick variety chopped into thick "buttons" that end up recoiling and burning in the oven. Without question, Sun Ray is the only pizza I eat today with pepperoni on it. And that's a fact.

A closer look at the pepperoni pies demonstrates Sun Ray's liberal use of dried herbs in its melted melange of red-gravy and cheese, an additional flavor profile that cannot go unnoticed. (Below)
When it comes to pizza, I have always felt as though there exists a pie for every occasion. In a North Jersey culinary arena that supports its fair share of pizza joints, I was fortunate growing up to have at my disposal a collection of pies varied enough to suit whatever mood I happened to be in. Sun Ray's sheet is truly unique, to the point where comparing it to anything else in the area would almost be unfair. It is unlike anything else, nor does it want to be anything else other than a delicious, crunchy, chewy, sweet and salty conglomeration of pepperoni-infused greatness.

And I can certainly tell you I'm always in the mood for that.

Sun Ray Pizza (map it)

Pizza: A (You can't NOT like it)
Ambiance: N/A
Service: N/A
In a thought: "Quiet confidence makes for a loud, boisterous pie that smacks of individuality."


Brandt said...

Forget forte, sunray is hands down the best pie in west Essex area. While I was reading your description of it, I could literally taste that crust that beautiful, buttery crust. If you are on a New Jersey favorites kick, may I suggest a piece on hot Texas weiners and Taylor ham on a bagel breakfast sandwich

Kevin said...

Damn I love Sun Ray's. I've lived only blocks away for years, but my fiance hates sicillian pizza. Maybe I should dump her. I NEED some Sun Ray's.

magba454 said...

Great article on Sun Ray. It is unique and one of the best. I will add one point, Sun Ray has been going strong for at least 30 years and I think a lot longer. Prior to Little Falls, they were located in Paterson by old School # 5.

Stacy said...

SUNRAY PIZZA`s Correct phone number is 973-256-0304