Restaurant review: Borgata Pizza Cafe, a hidden gem that doesn’t cut corners

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From the May 23, 2013 edition

Borgata Pizza Cafe is an under-the-radar restaurant that should be brought up in “hidden gem” discussions. Skillfully catching floppy, high-tossed dough-discs for nearly four years now, this hard-working family operation doesn’t cut corners — not when slicing its pizzas into pie pieces, not when scratch-making its own crusts, sauce, meatballs, pastas and so on.

Located in the inevitable strip mall just off State Rt. 161, Borgata occupies a gleamingly clean space that’s considerably roomier and more airy, modern and inviting than you’d think based on its nondescript storefront. Inhabiting pride of place is a big open kitchen with a wrap-around bar equipped with about a dozen front-row seats onto the tossing and cooking action. Borgata also has a handful of extra-large tables, a few four-seaters and a flat-screen you can command the remote to.

After ordering a $3 beer (go bottle of Stella or 16 ounce can of Yuengling) that you’ll happily dump into a tall frosted mug, try a palate-punching starter like the terrific — and terrifically messy — Spicy Sausage Stuffed Peppers ($8). Kicky Cubanelles (similar to banana peppers) are generously mounded with “unsheathed” lumps of good, juicy sausage. These get broiler-blasted with chunky and oregano-scented marinara sauce plus gobs of gooey mozzarella. Dainty it ain’t, especially eaten quaintly off of — as everything is here — an aluminum pizza pan ”plate.”

The big and meaty wings are also worth a shot ($9/pound, or about 10; served with celery and the kind of good blue cheese sauce everyone should offer). Instead of greasily fried, they’re sorta rotisserie-broiled in a contraption with a rotating basket. This results in an attractive char-grilled flavor if not exceedingly crispy exteriors. Go with the thick, fruity and incendiary housemade Pineapple-Habanero BBQ sauce.

Borgata likely serves the best deals on “nonna”-style (Italian granny) homemade pasta dishes in town ($7.25, with crusty and cheesy garlic bread). Whether marinara-sauced cavatelli (twisty dumpling strands) or spaghetti with pesto (my preference), Borgata’s irregular-shaped, rib-sticking pasta is strongly recommended.

So is the Calzone ($10) — but not if you’re dining alone. Arriving well-oiled and flagrantly garlicked, Borgata’s hardly low-cal ’zone is approximately the size of a Fiat. It’s also better than most you’ll ever try. Instead of thick and bready, its enveloping crust is thin and crispy and embraces a cheese-head’s dream of creamy ricotta melded to footlong-strand-forming melted mozzarella. Dunk-buddy tomato sauce (bold, chunky, oregano-y) comes on the side.

This brings us to Borgata’s thin-crusted, NYC-ish pizzas (huge 16-inchers start at $13.50). Their mildly sweet, blistered-on-the-toasty-edged crusts sport a crispiness that diminishes toward the super-thin tips. Lots of high-grade toppings and topping combos are available, but be careful. For instance, while I quite liked the Mediterranean Roasted Vegetable pizza (big chunks of eggplant, zucchini, sweet peppers, caramelized onions and spinach) and the whole-hog Supreme (sausage, pepperoni, peppers, onions, mushrooms and more), they both weighed down and deliquesced the didn’t-stand-a-chance bready base. Therefore crust-lovers should stay minimalist with just one or two add-ons — like rich, pliant and classic sliced meatballs plus spinach.

Borgata’s portions are enormous, so plan on leftovers. But don’t forget to (paraphrasing the great “Godfather” movie) leave a tip and take the cannoli ($2) home — because you’ll want that crispy, piped-to-order, better-than-any-in-the-city dessert tube later. My favorite was the wonderful pistachio-graced version, but since you’re right here right now, spring for a chocolate chipper too.

Photos by Ryan Young