The Stella pizza at Pizza Rita in Mattituck.

The Stella pizza at Pizza Rita in Mattituck. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

After nearly four years of turning out some of Long Island’s very best wood-fired pies, Mattituck’s Pizza Rita has closed. Owner Jeff Marrone said that he decided not to renew his lease so he could “refocus on catering and on my family.”

“I was in my 20s when I opened the shop.” he said, “Now I’m getting married in May, planning to start a family, and I need the freedom and flexibility.”

Marrone, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, cooked around New York and Long Island before launching a pizza truck in 2015. By the time he opened the storefront in a Mattituck strip mall four years later, he was one of the Island’s most accomplished pizzaiolo, landing on Newsday’s Top Pizza list. 

Jeff Marrone cuts a "Cannolo" pie topped with mozzarella, ricotta,...

Jeff Marrone cuts a "Cannolo" pie topped with mozzarella, ricotta, sausage, oyster and button mushrooms at Pizza Rita in Mattituck. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

His pies, with their chewy, leopard-spotted rims, always displayed balance — whether the topping was tomatoes and anchovies or, as in the “Cannolo,” a harmonious symphony of mozzarella (his own), ricotta, sausage, oyster and button mushrooms, finished with pecorino, and extra-virgin olive oil. (Let us not forget the “Carmen,” with her broccoli rabe pesto, fennel sausage and buffalo mozzarella.)

Marrone built his oven himself, covering the wet cement with broken pottery. And Pizza Rita, named for his grandmother, was close to a one-man operation for most of its run.For the last 13 months, he was a one-man band, making pizza, answering the phone, fulfilling takeout orders and doing the dishes by himself.

“It’s been like pushing a boulder up a mountain,” he said. “I just couldn’t sign up for another five years knowing I might not have a staff.”

Marrone sold his oven and most of his equipment to the new operators. The one thing he regrets is not having a chance to say a proper goodbye to his customers.

The store may be gone, but the truck lives on. Marrone will be available for private parties, and his 1947 Chevy truck makes not only wood-fired pizza but full meals as well. He said he would be posting any public events on his Instagram, @pizza.rita.

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