Brian Murray and Matt Biondi have revived a beloved neighborhood restaurant in Morris Cove. They’ve brought back the pizza. Now, to complete their own vision for what their restaurant can be, they just need a smoker.
In December, there was an unsettling rumor in the Cove, and it was spreading fast: Was neighborhood pizza place Joey D’s closed for good? It was just before the holidays, when the business’s phone started going to voicemail, with a message stating the restaurant staff was taking a two-week vacation. It seemed unusual, but the restaurant — located on Townsend Avenue and serving a range of items including pizza, sandwiches and hand-filled cannolis — was often bustling, and perhaps the staff needed time to recharge.
On the social network and messaging site Nextdoor (specifically on a popular thread titled “pizza”), neighbors expressed worries. Some had heard from employees that Joey D’s wouldn’t reopen, which came as a surprise to fans.
“I’m in shock,” wrote Patricia Garcia, a Morris Cove resident who ordered from the restaurant frequently; always a pepperoni, mushroom and mozzarella pie, plus the occasional chicken Caesar salad, grinder or hot entrée.
“We were stunned when it became apparent that they were not coming back,” she wrote later in an email, once the closing was confirmed. “I couldn’t believe they would just leave! I’m positive it was not for a lack of business … sometimes you would be on hold for a few minutes, because they were so swamped!”
She was right. Shutting the doors wasn’t due to lack of business, Joey D’s owner Joey DeMatteo said about the decision. It was due to the day-to-day hassle of running a restaurant.
“I had no time for it,” he said in an interview. “We own multiple businesses, and it was too much aggravation.”
DeMatteo, who owns DeMatteo & Sons garage in the Annex as well as an environmental cleaning business, said the reason for the abrupt closure was that he had “too much stuff going on.” Would he ever consider opening another restaurant?
“Not in a thousand years,” he said, without hesitation.
Lucky for residents who missed their regular fix, Brian Murray and Matt Biondi were up for the challenge. In March they opened Fire & Slice, a pizza and hopefully soon-to-be barbecue restaurant, in Joey D’s old spot.
The co-owners, who previously worked together in the kitchen at Chow Food and Beverage in Clinton, said they understood why a local restaurant that’s open for dinner was important to Morris Cove residents. DelMonaco’s, another Cove business, is an Italian market and deli that also serves pizza, but it closes earlier, usually by 6 p.m. While downtown New Haven and East Haven aren’t too far away, there’s something to be said for a neighborhood joint.
“It’s almost like this area is one big Sunday dinner,” said Biondi. He and Murray talk to the neighbors “on a daily basis” and are excited about serving a tight-knit neighborhood with a good amount of foot traffic. They also offer online ordering and delivery in addition to eating in and taking out.
They’re less excited about their barbecue situation, which is currently nonexistent. The plan was to use an outdoor smoker to make ribs, jerk chicken, brisket and smoked bacon. But state health regulations have put their plans on hold. Recently updated FDA rules prohibit the use of an outdoor smoker. Until the two can budget enough to purchase and install indoor equipment, they’ll be able to offer only half their menu. (In a recent update on their Facebook page, they said their goal for indoor barbecue smoking is “ASAP!”)
Biondi, a.k.a. “Matty Slice” — the pizza expert of the duo — said the menu currently features “specialty craft pies with different combos than you’re used to.” They offer traditional toppings as well, and use local ingredients when possible.
“It’s your neighborhood pizza shop with a twist,” he said.
Once they get the barbecue up and running, with “Pitmaster Murray” at the helm, they’ll smoke some of their own toppings. “That cross utilization is what separates us from a classic pizza shop,” Murray said. They’ve updated the space, too, including an attractive eat-in section and new signage.
Bob Trotta, a Morris Cove resident, wrote in an email that he was sad to see Joey D’s go because he liked their menu, but he hopes Biondi and Murphy do well in the new spot. He’s already been to Fire & Slice twice (although, to him, there’s also “nothing like Wooster Street pizza.”)
“I think a local restaurant like that is great for the Cove because we have nothing else,” he said. “It’s close and they have done a beautiful job redecorating it.”
He added a bit of general wisdom: “You have to eat pizza while it’s hot because no matter how good it is, it never tastes the same if you have to take it home and heat it up.”
Fire & Slice’s arrival is good news for Morris Cove residents who agree with this sentiment; their pies will still be hot by the time they get home.