Summer Pizza Tour With Monmouth Park’s Mirahmadi

Events / Travel
Pizza at Federici's. (Frank Mirahmadi photo)

Frank Mirahmadi’s Twitter bio reads: “Track Announcer at Monmouth Park. Pizzaholic.”

These two passions are prominent during his second season at Monmouth. When Mirahmadi is not in the announcer’s booth, he spends part of his time exploring the East Coast through his “Pizza Tour Summer 2016” and sharing his experiences via Facebook and Twitter, giving him additional opportunities to interact with racing fans.

Mirahmadi with a self-made pizza at DeLuca's. (Frank Mirahmadi photo)
“Since I was a little kid I’ve eaten pizza almost every single day—more than 360 days a year. It takes a fluke for me not to eat at least one slice of pizza a day,” Mirahmadi said. “I have very strange eating habits. I don’t eat beef, chicken or fish. I love plain cheese pizza.”

Mirahmadi is a California native. Before interviewing for the position at Monmouth, Mirahmadi had only been to the track once, as a fan, in 1997.

“Living in Oceanport gives me the opportunity to explore some great tracks and the East Coast,” Mirahmadi said. “I was disappointed that I didn’t do as much traveling as I should have my first year at Monmouth. So that inspired the pizza tour. I’m getting out and visiting restaurants and seeing the area.”

Since he started at Monmouth, Mirahmadi estimates he’s dined in 40 to 50 pizza places between Monmouth Park and Belmont Park, sampling both Sicilian pizza and flat New York style pizza.

“I am a big fan of Sicilian style pizza with the thicker crust. It is an art. On the East Coast, sometimes this is referred to as squares,” Mirahmadi said. “But I’ve also come to really appreciate thin, traditional style New York pizza.”

After much research, here are Mirahmadi’s top pizza picks near Monmouth:

  • Nunzio’s Pizzeria in Long Branch, N.J. “I am there often. It is a five to 10 minute drive from Monmouth. It's a wonderful place with great people. Many racetrackers go there, and it's certainly one of the best pizzas in New Jersey. I think our racing secretary Mike Anifantis might go there more often than I do. I keep telling them to raise their prices. $12.25 for a large cheese pie is ridiculous.”

Phil Rizzo of Rizzo's Pizza. (Frank Mirahmadi photo)
  • Rizzo’s Pizza in Ocean, N.J. “Rizzo’s consistently serves delicious, fresh slices. They don’t let a bunch of pizzas sit around and get old! Phil Rizzo is very proud of his pies, and they’ve been at it since 1978. Just six miles from Monmouth Park, it was my most frequent stop during summer 2015.”
  • Scala’s Pizzeria in Long Branch, N.J. “The owner is a racing fan. They make a great Sicilian. The best part about it is the crust. There’s an art to making crust airy in the middle and crusty on the outside. He does a fantastic job of that.”
  • Krispy Pizza in Old Bridge, N.J. “Krispy’s is about 30 minutes from Monmouth, but it is well worth the drive. I went there one day during the week. I tried the Palermo, which had a very rich flavor, and the traditional square. Both were Grade 1. It was so good I went back the next day, and it was packed. They were doing quite the business.”
  • Denino’s Pizza Place, Aberdeen, N.J and Staten Island, N.Y. “The Aberdeen location is only about 20 minutes away from Monmouth. The original location is in Staten Island. They are exactly the same. Both fantastic.”

Mirahmadi’s non-pizza picks near Monmouth:

  • Ama Ristorante in Sea Bright, N.J. “This waterfront restaurant has a great bar. Friends of mine from the races like to go there on Saturday nights. It is one of the top picks in the area. The bread they serve is a 10, and so is their spaghetti marinara.  They serve lots of other great food, but I haven't had the pleasure since I don't eat meat or fish.  A tremendous restaurant.”
  • Jimmy’s Italian Restaurant in Asbury Park, N.J. “Jimmy’s pasta and sauce are as good as they come. They are in the top two for pasta and sauce. Also, I would not expect a good pizza from this type of restaurant, but it is actually very, very good.”

Mirahmadi’s pizza picks in the greater area:

Pizza at Joe & Pat's (Frank Mirahmadi photo)
  • Joe & Pat’s on Staten Island, N.Y. “For a thin pizza, this is definitely the best. I was shocked at how good it was. My first time there, I had one Sicilian slice and one regular. The thin slice won by 15 lengths and was an instant classic. I had to go back the next day to see how good it is. There are still a lot of places to visit, including in Brooklyn and Manhattan, but Joe and Pat's is certainly vying for the title of best thin pizza.”
  • Federici’s Family Restaurant, Freehold, N.J. “Absolutely amazing. They are in the running with Joe & Pat’s for the best overall.”
  • L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn, N.Y. “[Brooklyn native] Anthony Valinoti, proprietor of DeLuca’s Pizzeria (Mirahmadi’s favorite pizza place in Hot Springs, Ark., where he was track announcer at Oaklawn Park for four seasons) took me here. And it was ridiculously good. I was proud of him for knowing where to take me. He took me to a couple other places too, but that place just stood out. A cousin of the owner came up to me at the track and asked me if I had been there.” Note: “Franky’s Classic Margherita Pie” at DeLuca’s is named in Mirahmadi’s honor.
  • De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies in Robbinsville, N.J. “No list of New Jersey Pizzerias is complete without De Lorenzo's. They make the tomato pie, which is great.  I don't like a lot of cheese on my pizza, so I was eager to try it. When I told some people I went they said, ‘I hope you didn't have to wait too long.’  That's a good sign.”
  • New Park Pizza in Howard Beach, N.Y. “They churn out hundreds of pies a day and there's seemingly always a line. Very popular and rightfully so.”
  • Spirito’s in Elizabeth, N.J. "Spirito's is an old-school classic in Elizabeth, not far from Newark airport.  I remember when my friends took me there in 1997 the waitress gave me some ‘are you kidding me’ looks when I asked for butter with the bread or if the salad had cucumbers and/or carrots.  Their pizza has to be among the best in the country."

Al Santillo of Santillo's Brick Oven Pizza. (Frank Mirahmadi photo)
  • Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza, Elizabeth, N.J. “Santillo's is close to Spirito's, and a guy named Vito who runs one of the most respected pizzerias in Los Angeles (Vito's) worked there as a youngster.  Al Santillo took a liking to me and said he'd be open to teaching me all about the pizza business and would certainly consider working out an arrangement where his recipe could be used if I open a place in California.”

Mirahmadi has a dream of improving the West Coast pizza scene.

“I would like to open a pizzeria one day. I’ve talked to some pizza place owners about the possibility of opening in California using their recipes. A few are open to the idea. One of my friends whom I met on the northern California fair circuit is considering investing in a Franky’s Pizza in California. He owns a restaurant, which is good because I have no idea how to run a restaurant. The pizza in California is not even close to the quality on the East Coast. I’m sure it would be successful,” he said.

The difference between East and West Coast pizza is very pronounced, according to Mirahmadi.

“There is no comparison between East Coast and West Coast with pizza. It is so much better on the East Coast,” Mirahmadi said. “In Southern California, there’s only one place where I like the Sicilian pizza: Valentino’s Pizza in Manhattan Beach. I’ve been eating there and sending people there since they opened 25 years ago. But overall, the pizza selections on the East Coast are so much better than anywhere else in the country.”

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