Just when you were thinking New York doesn’t really need yet another new-wave pizzeria, along comes the loveable neo-classical Decades Pizza in Ridgewood, Queens, from two self-professed pizza obsessives: Zach Hughes and Paul Cacici.
1. Co-owner Zach Hughes has serious pizza cred.
A native of Portland, Maine, who started slinging pizzas even as a teenager, Decades’ prodigy pizzaiolo and co-owner, Zach Hughes, came to New York nine years ago, landing his very first full-time job at Brooklyn’s cult artisanal pizzeria, Roberta’s. There he began as a line cook, and in three years, he was running the restaurant’s pizza program. “Which means a lot of wood fire to manage, high volume — and fast,” Hughes recalls, “like five pies a minute.”
Cacici’s New York experience, meanwhile, spans from Union Square Café and Chino Grande to Peruvian Llama Inn. But as someone with East Coast Italian American roots, he naturally gravitated toward red sauce, eventually opening Carmenta’s, a Bushwick pasta and sandwich spot for the new generation in 2018.
He and Hughes met in 2017 while both worked at Ops, a relaxed Bushwick restaurant beloved for its sourdough pizzas and natural wines. Absorbing the subtleties of slow-leavened dough, the two hatched a plan to open their own place in Ridgewood, a kind of pizzeria, they say, that would represent a delicious sum of their experiences.
2. Ridgewood is (already) the next Bushwick.
Over the past few years, Ridgewood, the long-unassuming southeast Queens neighbor of buzzy Bushwick in Brooklyn, has attracted young New Yorkers looking for affordable housing — and it’s also sparked some interesting conversations about gentrification, too. It was even dubbed by Time Out New York as “one of the world’s coolest neighborhoods” last year. Putting it on the gastronomic map were places like Rolo’s, says Cacici of the Italian(ish) spot from Gramercy Tavern alums that lured some serious foodie focus. Another spot adding to Ridgewood’s reputation for exceptional food is Porcelain, an Asian American(ish) restaurant featuring the cooking of Kate Telfeyan.
For both Cacici and Hughes, the neighborhood always seemed perfect, since the two live nearby and loved its homey community spirit and multicultural feel. “The stretch Decades sits on has a bookstore, a coffee shop, some good bars, and a playground,” notes Hughes. Fittingly, for their 1,200-square-foot storefront with 43 seats, the pair wanted a vibe that was cozy and neighborhoody — a kind of “no frills but feel-good” affair, as they put it. On a shoestring, they appointed the space with sage-green walls, warm walnut wood paneling, globe lights over bare wood tables, and dangling flower pots over the bar. Adding a touch of whimsy: their neon pizza mascot called Slicie. “Our idea,” Cacici explains, “was a laid-back pizzeria-slash-bar to make locals happy but distinguished enough to attract folks from other communities.”
3. Pizza is a crowded field but …
“Yeah, there’s a lot of concept pizza around,” Cacici admits with a laugh, quick to add that he and Hughes aren’t planning to reinvent the (pizza?) wheel or get into the gimmicky. Instead, they’ve always envisioned something classic, done better: a beloved familiar genre of New York pizzeria with sleeker toppings, precise execution, stellar ingredients (natch), and obsessive attention to detail. “The same way you’d make a taco or a burger rise above the crowd,” explains Hughes.
To arrive at this vision they decided to apply the care and sourcing of modern Neapolitan-style pizzerias to New York-style 16-inch pies baked in a deck oven used by most slice joints (as opposed to the one-chamber wood-burning type). And the all-crucial crust? It’s naturally leavened with a sourdough starter, composed of Hughes’ secret “cuve” of three different flours, and bulk-fermented for some 20 hours.
“Evolving the dough has been really fun,” Hughes declares, explaining that it draws on his experiences at Ops and Roberta’s, plus the pizza pop-ups he’s been doing over the last couple of years, and from talking to lots and lots of bread bakers and pizza-makers. The end result? “Breadier than your New York classic slice,” he elaborates, “but not as puffy-crusted and with less hydration than Neapolitan pies.” And it bakes in four minutes (as opposed to 90 seconds for Neapolitan pies) in Decades’ three-tiered electric PizzaMaster, the Rolls-Royce of deck ovens. “It makes pretty great pies,” affirms Cacici.
4. Toppings will be classic but …
“Sure, we’ll have pepperoni”, Cacici promises, “and onion and mushrooms — all the good stuff you love at your slice shop.” Then again, the “onion part” might be a spring leek just in season, adds Hughes, and the mushroom might be a noble king oyster specimen from boutique purveyor, Smallhold. As for pepperoni, Hughes and Cacici were still searching for the Platonic ideal when we talked.
Crowd-pleasing favorites will be supplemented by seasonal specials. Such as? Pizza Bianca, for instance, with mozzarella, ricotta, pecorino, Castelvetrano olives, and a featured seasonal green. And the salads, such as a sprightly Caesar, say, with winter chicories replacing the standard Romaine, won’t be an afterthought, says Cacici. Among a small handful of starters, expect crisp arancini (stuffed rice balls), a fish crudo, perhaps, and possibly an appetizer riff on clam pizza involving focaccia. As for the menu’s single dessert, the opener will be a cake version of tiramisu.
5. The drinks will be crowd-pleasing as well.
Cacici and Hughes love a good classic cocktail and at Decades, they promise mean Manhattans and Martinis “done right.” They’re also working on a list of affordable low-intervention wines of the “no pretense, just good quality” kind. And while the pair admit to enjoying a Bud or Coors Light with their pizza, the beer at Decades is likely to be a craft IPA.
6. So, what’s in a name?
The inspiration for the restaurant’s came from a 1980 song, “Decades,” by British rock band Joy Division, that the entire restaurant team loves. The name began to seem somewhat ironic given how long it took Hughes and Cacici to cut through the red tape and finally open their place, during which time Hughes was doing pop-ups at friends’ bars and different venues in Brooklyn. But now that Decades has finally become a reality, the duo are beyond excited to welcome customers to their new Ridgewood home. And they expect to be around for, well, just as the name says.
Decades is open only for dinner Tuesdays through Sundays from 5 to 11 p.m., but come spring, Cacici and Hughes plan to expand to lunch with a relaxed menu of pies, slices, and possibly subs featuring house-baked breads they’ve been experimenting with recently.