Regional pizza styles aren’t what they used to be, at least in terms of where you’ll find them. Detroit-style pizza has become a nationwide craze. You’d be hard-pressed to find any decent-sized city that doesn’t have a New York-style pizza joint or three—or eight. And mid-sized chains like Rosati’s have taken the Chicago style (both deep-dish and thin-crust) as far south as Mississippi and westward into Nevada and Arizona.
New Jersey-style pizza, on the other hand, hasn’t exactly blazed a red-hot path beyond the Garden State’s borders. But you’ll find it done right at Dino’s Tomato Pie in, of all places, Seattle. Or so says the Trips to Discover website, which has named Dino’s one of the best 20 “pizza joints” in the U.S.
Founded by Brandon Pettit in 2016, Dino’s offers both Jersey rounds and square Sicilians, all inspired by his childhood in New Jersey. According to Seattle TV news station King5, the restaurant resembles a Jersey dive bar, complete with Formica table tops and water served in red, plastic glasses. Writing for Seattle Weekly in May 2016, Nicole Sprinkle, a New York expat, has described the setting as “purposefully tacky, with dark wood-paneled walls, fake flowers, faux-marble tabletops, and, everywhere, awkward family photos celebrating weddings, proms, sports events, and anything that screams bad perms and pastels.
Pettit also operates Delancey, an artisanal wood-fired pizzeria in Seattle. But, as he recently told King5, the Dino’s menu reflects “all the pizzerias I’d go to after school or drive to with my friends in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.”
“A lot of the good pizzerias [in Seattle] were really fancy, and a lot of the good pizzerias in New York were not fancy,” Pettit added. “And what I wanted to do with this place specifically was make it authentic to what people have on the East Coast.”
Sprinkle gave Dino’s two enthusiastic thumbs-up when it first opened. “Let’s start with the round pies,” Sprinkle wrote. “These are the closest to the real thing I’ve found in Seattle. And when I say the real thing, I’m referring to the kind of pizza you’d get at the original Ray’s or Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn—a crust, with some black spotting on the bottom and sides, that is thin yet thick enough to fold over without cracking as you walk and eat. It’s also not gooey with cheese or overly sauced; those two elements are in perfect balance at Dino’s. And there’s just enough oil (read: grease) to ensure optimal flavor.”
Sprinkle was equally impressed with Dino’s Sicilian pizza fare. Pettit’s square pie “is also characteristically thicker, as is the ilk that predominates in old-school New York pizza joints. However, Dino’s Sicilian is not as thick and puffy, though it still has that kind of golden, almost creamy texture in the center. While it’s twice-risen here to ensure a thicker slice, our server told us that there is less yeast in the recipe, which makes the pie less doughy and chewier. In fact, it’s incredibly chewy, which took a little getting used to….The pizza is also extremely crispy on the sides, in part because it’s twice-baked, but also because Parmesan is added to the crust and the tray, even more so on the edges to really char it up.”
Even the Dino’s website feels straight outta Jersey circa 1997—unpretentious and a tad rusty. In marked contrast to the more polished Delancey site, it’s stuffed with clunky, old-school graphics and oddly positioned blocks of text. A brief autobiography, set in red type against a background of blinking stars, appears to have been written in Pettit’s own words, off the cuff and without a lick of editing. It’s rife with don’t-give-a-damn grammatical errors, penned in a style that evokes early Bruce Springsteen with a touch of Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness:
“Hi so I grew up down in the Valley off Exit 9 and so me and my partner Sonny had this ’69 Chevy with a 396 we built straight out of scratch, and we’d go racing out at the Trestles out on the edge of town and so after racing That’s when I found pizza. Me and Mary we would eat at Kinchley’s or drive out of that Valley up to Martio’s and try the tomato pie so now I have Dino’s and it’s the way I like it and so will you I know. Our menu is actually good we will serve drinks too along with a lot of food you would want. Also the really good bar menu, ladies. Real drinks. We hope you have a lot of them.”
The pizza menu features down-to-earth items like The Classic (tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, Parmesan, anchovies, basil, chili oil and garlic); the Mr. Pink (vodka sauce, fresh mozz, ricotta, basil and Parmesan); the Hot Salami (tomato sauce, fresh and aged mozz, spicy salami, onions and Parmesan; and the Bacon & Onion (tomato sauce, fresh and aged mozz, bacon, onions and Parmesan). But Pettit also sneaks in a fancy item or two, like a pie topped with broccoli and preserved lemon, along with mozz, garlic and Parmesan.
As Pettit explained to King5, “Delancey was the pizza of my dreams, where this place was the pizza of my past and my childhood.” And the success of Dino’s Tomato Pie proves that some things—and some pizzas—simply never go out of style.