Jack’s Brick Oven Pizzeria in Norwich offers Mediterranean flavors
This week’s edition of The Local Flavor features Jack Djonbali from Jack’s Brick Oven Pizzeria. Born and raised in the heart of the Mediterranean, Jack came to the United States to live with his family in New York and to study. After graduating from high school in Brooklyn, he began working for his brother’s businesses in Manhattan.
With enough experience under his belt, he moved to Norwich, Connecticut and opened his first restaurant, La Stella Pizzeria. Finding success, his next location would give him the freedom to delve into his Mediterranean roots and serve his customers a plethora of cuisine. In 2010, Jack’s Brick Oven Pizzeria was open to the public, and Jack himself has not regretted it.
Blaine: To begin with, where did you grow up?
Jack: I was born in Montenegro. It was good, different from here. My parents cooked big meals for family reunions. I left the country at fifteen in 94′-95 ‘. I had family in New York, siblings. I came here to study. I started high school in New York and graduated in Brooklyn.
The whole family, we love to cook. My brother owns 5 restaurants in Manhattan. He’s been in Manhattan for 30 years. It was there that I started to cook and get involved in catering.
I moved to Connecticut in 98 and started working at a local restaurant. I opened La Stella Pizzeria in 2001. I was 24 at the time. I stayed there for about 9 years before opening Jack’s Brick Oven in 2010. This year I will also be opening a liquor store. It will be called West 82 Wine and Liquor.
Blaine: What made you want to make a pizzeria?
Jack: For Jack’s Brick Oven, I opted for a full Mediterranean menu. Pizzas, salads, steaks, other dishes. We had a kitchen large enough to expand the menu, compared to La Stella. I wanted to bring my experience and my experience to the menu.
Blaine: Is your restaurant only Italian cuisine or is it inspired by other regions of the Mediterranean?
Jack: There are other influences, yes. We serve gyroscopes, for example. It’s not Italian cuisine. We make food to make all of our customers happy. If you don’t like pizza, we want to have other options for you. We have a lot of specialties that rotate, like teriyaki chicken. We want to make sure there is something for everyone. It’s a lot of Italian food, but the menu as a whole is more Mediterranean and more varied.
Blaine: What can you tell me about the Vitello alla Francese?
Jack: It is a traditional Italian dish. We call it Scallopini. It is a cut of veal that is tenderized, pan-fried (never fried) and cooked in butter, lemon juice and wine with fresh herbs and served over pasta.
Blaine: How about Jack’s Brick Oven pasta?
Jack: It’s bow tie pasta. We use the best prosciutto. It is accompanied by peas, garlic, olive oil, white wine sauce and Pecorino cheese. It is accompanied by a side soup or a salad. I named it after the restaurant because it’s my own recipe. I like to use prosciutto. This gives the dish a very good taste. Its my specialty.
Blaine: Another dish that struck me was the Tortellini Zanfina.
Jack: This is my daughter’s name. I always told him that when I open my next restaurant, I would name a dish after him. The tortellini are stuffed with ricotta. It is a fine paste. We make the sauce on the side, a pink sauce. He has mushrooms, green peas. The flavors combine very well.
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Blaine: What style are the pizzas you serve?
Jack: I have worked in Italian restaurants all my life. The pizzas are a specialty. Every evening, we make the dough. He gets up and is ready for the next day. We throw each pizza by hand. No frozen dough. We prepare the sauce every day in the morning, with basil, garlic, other spices. In fact, we just won the 2021 award for best pizza in Norwich. They are fired in our brick oven.
Blaine: What made you want to move from New York to Connecticut to open a restaurant?
Jack: I’ve always been a food guy, starting with working with my brother in New York City. He worked in the food industry long before I came to the United States. It became my inspiration. I love food and I am a sociable person. I love to chat with my clients and make them happy, and serving them good food is what makes us both happy.
Prices were also much more affordable here than in New York. Connecticut is a good state. They talk about taxes and all that but it’s a very nice state. I live in Norwich and people have been very supportive of me. They helped us get through COVID, my regulars supported us. It was a difficult time and we managed to get through it thanks to them. We are completely open, we have rehired everyone. We are open and operate 100%. My bosses and my staff go all out. They are wonderful.
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Blaine: What challenges has the pandemic brought?
Jack: It was a nightmare. We didn’t know how long this would last or which direction we were going to end up going. We had to get by but it was not easy. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, luckily. I don’t care what business you do for a living or what area of ââwork you were in. It was difficult for everyone.
Blaine: What changes did you have to make during the pandemic?
Jack: When the governor decided to close the restaurant that week, we had a meeting. We had to close the dining room; we could only do pickups and deliveries. We had to let our servers go. It was horrible. We have also reduced our opening hours, cut them in half. It was not a good situation. But we had to survive. Fortunately, we managed to get to the other side. We are completely open again.
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Blaine: What would you like to say to your patrons who have supported you during the pandemic?
Jack: I can’t thank them enough, really. They were there for us. They made us happy. Pick up food, order delivery, leave extra tips. They would come back often and buy gift cards. I really can’t thank them enough for their support. They came and also donated masks and other goods. For an 85 year old lady who made us masks, it was remarkable. It shows support, shows love, shows concern for the community.
Blaine: Is there anything else you want readers to know?
Jack: We have outdoor seating, a full bar, and we are seated at full capacity. Masks are not mandatory but you are free to wear one if you wish. We are 100%.