Mack and Manco's is kind of like the Starbucks of the Jersey Shore. You can't walk a block down the boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ without running into one. After they'd brought their fresh tomato pies from Trenton to the beach in 1956, the pizzas were in such high demand that before long there were 3 locations within a four block stretch of the boardwalk. Before any other pizza operation had moved into town, Mack and Manco's had already grown into a mini-empire. And as Mack and Manco's grew, so did the city.
Ocean City is a dry town. With no liquor licenses and the transient influx of summer population, Ocean City is by no means a food destination. Sure, you'll find funnel cake, caramel corn and some pretty impressive apple cider donuts at Oves, but the cuisine is not what brings the caravans down the Garden State Parkway. Maybe the lack of competition is what makes Mack and Manco's the beach town pizza empire that it has become. Or maybe it's the name that carries with it a shared nostalgia for generations of beach vacationers.
Take, for instance, my family. I've been coming to Ocean City since I was a baby. No matter how often I suggest vacationing elsewhere, there's no budge. For one week out of every year, the entire family gathers from various corners of the country to the beaches of Ocean City. And this tradition didn't just begin when I was a baby. It began when my parents were babies, growing up a short, hour-long drive away in Philadelphia. That means the Mack and Manco's tradition goes back to my parents' childhood and in spite of my attempts to prove otherwise, my father still claims it 'the best pizza in the world.'
The pies themselves are a distant cousin of the New York style pizza. The crust is thin, but falls into the undercooked portion of the spectrum instead of acquiring that high-temperature charring other pizzas are known for. As a result, the thin crust remains soft and doughy instead of becoming dry and crackly.
Simple, traditional, classic; all are words you could use to describe Mack and Manco's. The pizzas may not blow your socks off, and they make lack the complexity of slices you'll find in the big city up north, but there's something to be said for a brand that's still going strong after over 50 years. When you step into any Mack and Manco's location, you'll find them making your pizza like they did in the good ol' days. There may not be many modern updates, but it's also rare these days to walk into a pizzeria and see them tossing the pizza right in front of you.
Whether Mack and Manco's really is the 'best pizza in the world' is irrelevant. It's the years and years of tradition that come along with a slice of plain cheese pizza and a large, icy birch beer that make it something unique. I've had a lot of better pizza in my life, but when it comes to tradition, there's nothing better.