Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio would like this place. Talk about local, organic, sustainable food consumption. Nomad Pizza in Hopewell is the latest brainchild from Tom Grim, who’s been baking pizza for two years the way Italians do, out of a wood-fired brick oven — only Grim’s oven (imported from Italy) is in the back of a 1949 REO Speedwagon truck (U.S. 1, June 27, 2007). Grim, the former co-owner of Thomas Sweet ice cream shop (with Tom Block, now of Naked Chocolate in Philadelphia) has already made a name for himself — and his pizza — in this town by driving his truck around and catering private events. (He did 100 events this summer alone, including two at Donald Trump’s golf course in northern New Jersey — and yes, the Donald enjoyed Grim’s pizza.)
Now, after two long years of planning, Grim has finally opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Hopewell, on the site where Soup du Jour used to be. Grim and his business partner, Stalin Bedon, purchased the wood-fired brick oven from a family in Naples. He had it shipped back home along with a giant fork mixer for dough only available in Italy.
The restaurant’s cozy 600- square-foot interior sports wooden tables, including a long communal table, and an open kitchen, so you can watch your individually sized pizza being flash-baked at 800 degrees in a mere two minutes (the way the best pizzerias in Italy do), which cooks the outside of the crust but keeps the inside doughy. The result is best described by the quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” that appears on the inside of the menu: “The dough, it takes me half my meal to figure out, tastes more like Indian nan than like any pizza dough I ever tried. It’s soft and chewy and yielding, but incredibly thin.”
The organically grown basil, chives, peppers, and oregano for the pizzas come directly from the 10 raised beds in the bucolic garden designed by Princeton’s uber-gardener Peter Soderman, adjacent to a slate wraparound patio, creating a molto bene al fresco ambience. The sauce is made from San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy. Roughly the size of a dinner plate, the pizzas range from $12 to $15.
Two salads are available: a blue cheese salad, made with caramelized pecans, organic greens, and local organic cherry tomatoes ($10) and a house salad ($7).
About that garden: Nomad Pizza’s property actually stops right along the edge of the patio. The 6,000-square-foot piece of land the garden sits on actually belongs to Dana Communications next door. It was just a lawn before Grim came along. Grim knew someone who worked at Dana, who introduced him to owner Bob Prewitt. Dana represents a number of “green” hotels, so Prewitt readily agreed to let Grim build the garden, literally for a handshake. Grim paid for the materials and installation (by Dave Robinson of the Natural Edge).
According to Grim, “this town is in turmoil” about the garden, which includes a high, rough-hewn trellis (on which Grim plans to grow grapevines, wisteria, and morning glory), a large open space, pebbled, with a fountain designed by local sculptor Robert Cannon, and the 10 raised beds for vegetables and edible nasturtiums for salad. Some of the NIMBYs say the trellis design doesn’t “fit” the town’s historic character. It’s actually built, Grim says, the way the colonials did, so it even pre-dates the history of Hopewell.
Others object to there being a garden there at all, despite Grim’s mission to make it “a space for social and cultural activities, a public space for borough residents to enjoy” (according to a sign posted in the garden). Grim also intends the garden to be a showcase for sculptors, and on the night we visited Brady Warner, a sculptor who works at the atelier at Grounds For Sculpture, delivered a long garden bench he had made from 200 feet of steel and cherry wood from Willard Bros. in Lawrenceville.
At the outset of the garden’s installation, Grim called the town building inspector and asked if he needed a permit for the trellis and was told no. Then after the installation was complete the town engineer, Dennis O’Neal, didn’t like it a bit, according to Grim, and Grim received a letter from the zoning office citing the trellis and raised beds as structures requiring special zoning. O’Neal told Grim he would have to go to the planning board with a full site plan review and tell them everything he is going to do with the space.
But the planning board has a little tricky problem, says Grim. They can’t figure out who to cite: Dana owns the land, but Grim is growing vegetables on it. Grim, who grew up in Appalachia with no electricity and only outdoor plumbing, and comes across as the ultimate ’60s throwback, simply strokes his salt-and-pepper beard anda rests his arms on his Hawaiian-print shirt, in a gesture that says, “I just don’t understand them,” and pronounces, “It seems like a human right to grow food.”
Since the board meets just once a month, Grim figures he won’t get in until November. In the meantime, he’s cranking out more pizzas than he can count. At 7 p.m. on a Thursday night there was a one-hour wait, and the place was packed, including plenty of families whose kids romped in the garden while the parents leisurely ate, talked, and sipped their BYOB. One older gentleman, says Grim, has come in every single night to eat pizza and told Grim, “I don’t even like restaurants.” So what’s Grim’s secret? “We make good pizza,” he says simply.
Our favorite touch: Your check comes with chocolates from Tom Block’s shop in Philadelphia, Naked Chocolate.