Wildwood. Oh, how I loathe that name. I’ve always been considered a Cape May/Ocean City man myself. Call me crazy, but I’m definitely NOT a fan of walking 8 city blocks from the boards just to enjoy the beach. The cringing sound of that robotic tram car, ordering you to get out of the way. The endless sea of pimple faced carnies, taunting you to win your sweetheart a giant stuffed tweety bird. The wife beater wearing, tribal tattooed-lowlife with a newport stuffed behind his ear is eagerly pushing past you to score a phone number from the girl sporting “Italian swag” on the ass of her shorts. It’s these reasons, coupled with the hundreds of thousands of other people who flock here to do the exact same thing that you’re doing, that make this place my least favorite site to vacation. However, one thing that Wildwood boasts is a half a century old rivalry between 2 of the biggest pizza names in the state of New Jersey. When you hear the word “rivalry”, your first thought usually isn’t pizza.
Eagles VS Dallas.
Tyson VS Holyfield.
Alien VS Predator.
Bayside VS Valley.
2Pac VS the world.
These are just a few of the rivalries that immediately come to mind. This particular feud dates all the way back to the late 50’s. Mack’s Pizza VS. Sam’s Pizza Palace. If you ask any 20 people who they prefer, I can almost guarantee you’ll get a 50/50 split. This preference is mostly due in part to tradition. Where you ate growing up. There were no other choices when you hit the Wildwood boards. You were either team Sam’s or team Mack’s. Today we set the record straight and let you know who makes a better shore pie.
3218 Boardwalk (between Pine and Wildwood) and 4200 Boardwalk (between Roberts and Baker)
I’ve been eating Mack’s just about as long as I could utter the word pizza. I’ve guzzled gallons of birch beer and housed hundreds of their sweet sauced, thin slices. I’ve always been semi-partial to the finshed product of Mack & Manco (R.I.P) over the pies of Wildwood Mack’s. Having said that, I’ll still always hold a special place in my clogged heart for Mack’s. As of recent, I’ll have to admit that they’ve been slacking big time. For example, my slice today was extremely greasy and wasn’t even piping hot. Under cooked and oversauced pizzas, shotty service and extremely long waits seem to be the norm nowadays here. I’ve done my research on these findings and I have a definitive answer as to why these trends are becoming more and more prominent with Mack’s. My theory is they’re stuck in the mindset that people are gonna eat their product regardless because they’ve already made a name for themselves. Just as long as the box is stamped with the purple “Mack’s” logo, people are gonna pay for it. Right? Wrong. If they would just put forth a little more effort into the way that they build their pizzas, like the Mack’s I remember eating as a kid, then this review would be singing an entirely different tune.
Sam’s Pizza Palace
2600 Boardwalk (Between 26th and Juniper)
I have to be honest. I’ve never eaten at Sam’s before today. I’ve only seen check in’s on facebook with the occassional argument over whether or not they have the best pizza on the b-walk. I was going in as a blind virgin, waiting to have my Sam’s cherry popped. I’ve been a Mack’s guy my entire life so this is a totally new experience for me. We were lucky enough to get in there before the crowds packed in. At first glance, the interior doesn’t look much different than that of Mack’s. A giant rotary oven. Countertop seating. Boardwalk walk up service. A staff of about a dozen people, each with their own specific job. However, what sets them apart from Mack’s is the attention and love they give to each pie that they churn out. I watched them make about 6 pies while I sat in there, and they treated each one like they were making it for their own mother. The sauce to cheese ratio on their plain pie was damn near perfect. The guy who was making them gently spread out the sauce with a ladle rather than squirting unproportionate amounts of sauce with a plastic hose like Mack’s. The crust was super light and crispy. I felt like I could’ve easily eaten 4 more. Sam’s service by far chumps Mack’s any day of the week. I felt like Sam’s actually wanted our business. Not the other way around. And that’s how it should be. I’d also like it to be known that Mack’s has the audacity to charge $18 for one of their mediocre T-shirts. Sam’s is humble enough to only charge $10. I would much rather rock a sleeveless Sam’s tee while we’re eating shitty local Philly pizza instead of an overpriced, cheaply made Mack’s shirt. Sam’s hasn’t forgotten their roots. No matter how big they are and continue to get, they’ll always put their customer first.
There’s an article from June 2006 Philadelphia magazine hanging on a corner wall in Sam’s, out of sight, that simply states “The best pizza in town is Sam’s on the boardwalk, not be confused with Mack’s which is famous; but darned if we know why.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. Sam’s pizza totally dropped Mack’s off the 30th floor of the Nakatomi tower and claimed victory as the BEST pizza on the Wildwood boards. Yippie Ki-yay, Motherfucker.
Contrary to Castro, I have to admit that my love affair with Wildwood has been rekindled during my most recent visits. Don’t get me wrong; Wildwood is still the #1 tourist destination for both the scum of the east coast and Quebec. (Every time I visit, I seem to encounter more and more license plates from Quebec. I don’t get it.) But the fact remains that some of my most memorable summers were spent there between the ages of 18 and 20 years old. Whether it be drinking wine from a Pepsi bottle on the boardwalk with Bill Quinn, jumping into a random convertible with Drew LeCompte, getting lost trying to find Tom Reamer’s short-lived shore house, or stealing a fire extinguisher with Greg Meyer at 5am, the memories are endless. I could seriously ramble on about these experiences and many more for hours on end, but I’ll save that for my Wildboys Debauchery Blog. We were forced to pin two pizzerias against each other until only one emerged victorious, and that’s exactly what happened that day. To be quite honest, the decision was a little bit easier than I anticipated.
Being to so many pizzerias in my lifetime, it’s gotten harder and harder for a place to really stick out in my mind. Case in point: I vaguely remembered eating Sam’s a few times in my life but couldn’t really pinpoint how good it was. After going roughly several years without their pizza, I can tell you that the memories of Sam’s came flooding back as their pizza flooded my taste buds. This was a great example of a traditional, thin sliced, east coast pizza. Simple, inexpensive and tasty, this pizzeria could easily be a go-to joint if I lived in the area. Not only was their pizza enjoyable, but the employees were very pleasant as well. Every once in a while, we get a little extra special treatment when people find out we’ll be reviewing their pizza. We left that part out until after our slices were done, but were still treated respectfully and courteously regardless. All in all, this was a great experience that set the bar pretty high.
I’ll never forget how excited I got when I heard they were opening up a Mack’s affiliate in South Philly. That location was opened by Joey Mack, a member of the Mack family who broke off and opened Joey Mack’s right off of 10th and Oregon. The details to this story are erroneous, but the point is I was super stoked for Mack’s to open up in South Philly. From what I remembered, Mack’s was the shit back in the day and would be a welcomed addition to the neighborhood. But after that subpar experience, I began to second-guess how good Mack’s actually was. “Dude, the Mack’s in Wildwood is way better than this. Right?” But the truth is, it’s not. I think Mack’s is totally overrated. The slices we got that day resembled something found on Frankford Ave; undercooked and stale looking. And I don’t mean at a pizzeria on Frankford Ave…I mean literally on Frankford Ave, behind a dumpster or next to a trashcan. They certainly didn’t taste any better than they looked either. But to top things off, their counter girl who served us was pretty rude. I don’t like being spoken to like a child, especially when I know what I want and have been to a thousand pizzerias in my lifetime. If ever there were a pleasant memory of Mack’s in my lifetime, it was erased from my brain forever on that day. This is just another example of a boardwalk pizzeria that has been unjustifiably hyped up over the years. Sorry Mack’s supporters, but you should reevaluate your allegiance because this pizza is mediocre at best.