"Hot, very hot," murmurs a server, handing a stack of pizza boxes to a waiting customer. On a gray weekday in March, the parking lot at Star Tavern is full, and cars are waiting. Inside, every table is taken. Diners include nearby office workers, a painting crew, parents with small children and several tables of patrons who describe themselves as "the happily retired." Near the open kitchen, a line of people wait for takeout.
"This is nothing," says Janelle Lewis, a South Orange resident. Working in sales, she admits to scheduling her midday calls around the Star. She also comes on the weekends when, she says, "That line is out the door."
Maybe locals heard the news; New Jersey Monthly dubbed Star Tavern a runner-up -- along with another local fave, Arturo's -- runner-up for Best Pizza in the state.
"Oh my God, this pizza is good," says Maria, eating lunch with friends from work. The pizzeria—just across the South Orange border—serves between 7,000 and 10,000 pizzas each month, though the menu also includes entrees and appetizers. There's a full bar and TVs tuned to sports, but that may not be the appeal. "The martinis are off the charts," says Lewis. "Off the charts."
Star Tavern is a quick ride from South Orange. Scotland Road becomes High Street, and the restaurant is at the intersection of Washington Street. In addition to the lot, there is street parking in front of the restaurant. The restaurant is on one floor, and is fully accessible. Besides the bar, patrons can sit at tables or booths that line one wall. Take-out orders and pick-up are at the back of the restaurant, near the cash registers.
The Star opened in 1945. Aristotelis Vayianos bought it in 1980, and son Gary is the current owner. Servers and regulars at the restaurant alike wear "Star Wear," hats and shirts with the name and logo. Many diners have been loyal for years, even decades.
What brings them back is, in many cases, the thin crust of the pizza, as recognized by the Star-Ledger Pizza Patrol. The Patrollers suggest that, "The secret to the great thin-crust pizzas at Star... might be the round steel pans, the sides of which are cut out halfway around to allow quick removal of the pizza. The pies are taken from the pans and finished off directly on the oven surface; in all, pizzas take 12 to 15 minutes to cook in the 650-degree oven."
Maybe so, though this Patch writer was impressed by the sauce, which is more savory and less sweet than at many local pizzerias. The combinations of pies—no slices are served—might also explain Star's popularity. The portabello mushroom, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts pie was tasty at lunchtime, and eggplant and roasted garlic just as tempting. Leftovers? As the locals say, "Fuhgeddabout it."