The ride on the East End’s newest food truck is a little bumpy. It tops out at about 45 miles per hour and even if there was a radio, you probably wouldn’t be able to hear it over the roar of the rig’s original engine.
But that’s just the price owner Jeffrey Marrone of Orient pays for the rustic charm of serving traditional Neopolitan-style wood-fired pizzas out a fully restored mid-century pickup truck.
The vehicle, which Marrone named “Pizza Rita” after his late Italian grandmother, is the latest addition to the growing fleet of North Fork food trucks servicing vineyard crowds, wedding rehearsal dinners and more.
“I got it from a gentleman out in Nebraska in April. It was in his family for three generations,” Marrone, 26, said of the 1946 Chevrolet rack truck. “They took really good care of it.”
The truck was in running condition when Marrone purchased it, though it hadn’t been driven since 1999 and needed a considerable amount of work. He had it shipped to Long Island and he and his father, who is also named Jeffrey, spent the next few months replacing a few parts and tuning it up. North Fork Welding took over the project in July, retrofitting the back bed into a full-service pizza shop with a wood-fired oven, three sink compartments and a refrigerator.
Now it’s been serving traditional Neapolitan pies — made with Marrone’s homemade mozzarella and imported flour and tomatoes — across the North Fork since Labor Day weekend.
The seed to own his own pizza truck was first planted after Marrone and a half-dozen teammates won a cooking competition at his alma matter, the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park in 2011, using his pizza recipe and concepts.
“From that day forward I was like, ‘Hey, I can make pizzas for a living,’” Marrone said.
After graduating from the school that year, Marrone worked for Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, The 1770 House in East Hampton and The Quogue Club in Quogue before working at 1943 Pizza Bar in Greenport.
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Matt Michel, who owns the Greenport pizzeria as well as the mobile “Rolling in Dough” pizza truck, inspired Marrone to finally take his show on the road.
“When I was at culinary school, they really pushed us to believe that we didn’t all have to be executive chefs,” Marrone said. “They encouraged us to pursue passions outside the kitchen.”
Michel, who has found considerable success with his niche pizza companies, said Pizza Rita likely won’t impact his business.
“The North Fork being a tourist town the population triples in the summer. Any business that’s done right can succeed here. And we aren’t necessarily going to be covering the same market,” Michel said. “In that sense there is definitely room for both.”
Marrone plans to expand his offerings to pastas, salads and homemade desserts like cheesecake and cannolis. His services are available throughout Suffolk County and beyond.
“I want to be able to provide pizza to everyone on Long Island,” he said.
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“It’s the best pizza in the world,” said customer Adrian Cockerill, a part-time Orient resident. “It’s convenient, it’s fresh. He uses the right amount of garlic, he’s just an artist.”
Cockerill added that having the food truck in Orient on Friday nights is a great option for a hamlet with few nighttime dining options.
“When we drive out on Friday nights, it gives us a chance to catch up with people on the weekend and see what everyone is doing,” Cockerill said.
But for anyone who has been to a party catered by Rolling in Dough, Marrone stresses that his style is very different. Using imported Neopolitan flour and tomatoes, Marrone plans to stick to pies like margarita and fresh mozzarella rather than the mashed potato and bacon varieties Rolling in Dough owner Matt Michel is known for.
For Marrone, the venture has been a way to hone his mechanical skills with his father’s help and put his culinary talents to good use, all while honoring his grandmother.
“She inspired a lot of what I know about life and food and it keeps her spirit alive,” Marrone said. “It’s a dream for me that’s come true.”
For more information and to contact Marrone, visit pizzarita.org.
Top Photo: Jeff Marrone outside his pizza truck, which he named “Pizza Rita” after his late grandmother. (Credit: Vera Chinese)