Salad pizza. Two seemingly simple words that when combined catapulted Mezza Luna in Manalapan into stardom nearly 20 years ago. Now known for not only their unique and classic pizzas (over 100 of them) and Italian dishes, Mezza Luna may have roots in tradition, but they’re full of young talent focusing on bringing new life to traditional Italian cuisine.
Originally established by Salvatore “Sal” Imperiale, who emigrated from Napoli, Italy, son Anthony Imperiale has taken over the reigns, keeping the family’s strong line of pizza burning (in a very hot oven).
“I grew up in the business,” said Anthony who remembers constructing pizza boxes for the restaurant when he was just eight years old. “We’re really one of the busiest pizzerias and Italian restaurants in the area. On a weekend, we have ten delivery drivers and ten waiters working.”
Twenty years ago, Mezza Luna made a name for itself after Sal added his famous house dressing directly into the pizza crust. The rest is history and according to Anthony, it’s not a surprise to find people from New York City waiting at the door for salad pizza. “Walk in the restaurant at any moment and there’s always someone eating it,” said Anthony who also shared that Weight Watchers even came in ten years ago to distinguish the amount of points in the dish.
Although the staff may appear to be from a younger generation, the team brings decades of combined restaurant experience to their restaurant. Anthony said they may be young, but there’s absolutely no shortage of experience. Anthony runs Mezza Luna with his wife Melissa, who has been working there for 9 years and his 2 best friends, Scott (13 years) and Tyler (8 years).
“The experience here is different,” said Anthony. “We don’t have the old Italian mentality. We have all the basics, but we’re always bringing in new ideas like our dessert pizzas.” (S’mores Pizza anyone?)
Each weekend, Mezza Luna is a hub of activity, packing in their 200-seat semi-formal dining room featuring rustic Italian décor, as thousands of people come in and out. The only way in is a reservation on the weekend, so book early. Anthony keeps all your Italian basics on the dining room menu, but spices it up with 10-15 seasonal specials that combine the traditional, outside-the-box creativity, and the flavors of the season.
Along with the infamous Salad Pizza, two of the most popular dishes are the Crab Cake Meatballs and the White Clam Flatbread appetizer. However, no matter what you order, you can guarantee that you’ll enjoy every bite of it (why else would they run a packed house almost every day of the week?)
“We have a strong history of pizzerias in my family,” said Anthony who shared that his family is related to “pretty much every pizzeria in New Jersey.” Those are big shoes to fill and a heck of a family pizza party, luckily one that you’re always invited to.