Sal Cenicola knows that when it comes to good food, simplicity is the key. In fact, he says his favorite pizza is a simple cheese variety, as long as it’s made with fresh, quality ingredients. At his joint on St. Simons Island, Georgia, Sal’s Neighborhood Pizzeria, he wows islanders and visitors alike with his simple yet superb pies.

While his pizza may be simple, Sal is anything but. A chat with Sal is the equivalent of a lightning bolt of energy. His excitement over tomatoes, mozzarella, the South, and boxing (or, really anything for that matter) is contagious.

A Boxing Legend

SalCenicola-YoungBoxerAs a child, this native Jersey boy would tie kite strings to trees in his backyard to create a boxing ring in which to go to toe to toe with his friends. It was only a matter of time before Sal found his way into the real-deal boxing ring, where he became one of the Who’s Who of Atlantic City Boxing and was managed for a time by Sylvester Stallone. Sal spent over 18 years in the ring during which he was one of the “Bruise Brothers” with Vinnie Pazienza.

In 1982, Sal went pro and befriended Rocky Graziano, the “real” Rocky. Rocky asked Sal to carry on the “Rocky” ring name, so in the ring, Sal became known as “Rocky Cenicola.”

After taking 25 years off, Sal returned to the ring and proceeded to be inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records with the longest interval between professional boxing matches.

Southern Migration

Between his turns in the ring, Sal has proven that he packs a one-two punch in the Southern food industry, quite the feat for an Italian boy from Jersey.

SalCenicola-Story“After 9/11, I was ready for a change and set out to move from the tri-state area,” explains Sal. “I always had my eyes on the South after spending time in the military stationed here. I had two infant sons and knew that the South was where I wanted to raise a family.”

Sal thought he wanted to go to Hilton Head, but he had a friend that was living on St. Simons Island. “He told me that it was like a Norman Rockwell painting and that I just had to check it out,” says Sal.

Soon, he and his family had set up shop in St. Simons. “I thought, if my family could come from Italy with nothing, I can come from Jersey with something.”

Southern Hospitality

Sals-PizzariaWhile Sal fell in love with the island, the one thing he missed was the pizza he grew up eating. “I was spoiled by the food I ate as a kid. In big Italian families, the younger siblings stay home and help mama cook for the family and that’s how I learned to cook.”

In 2009, Sal opened Sal’s Neighborhood Pizzeria, where he set out to make people feel at home around his table – a mission that resonates in this Georgia town. With one visit to Sal’s, you’ll know he’s accomplished just that. Sal talks and sings his way through his work, tossing pizza dough into the air like it’s a walk in the park. Tables are situated closely together, and you can’t help but compare notes and swap stories with other diners.

New York Pizza

“It’s all about the ingredients,” says Sal, whose New York style pizza uses tomatoes, Buffalo’s milk and cheeses flown in direct from Italy. “I pay a premium for cheese. So many restaurateurs get caught up in food costs, but if you’re making a quality product from quality ingredients, people will keep coming.”

We recommend the Neapolitan pizza with mozzarella, tomatoes, capers, basil, drizzled with olive oil and served crispy with a soft center and the Caprese salad. Both pack quite a punch.

And don’t forget, before you leave, grab a photo and autograph from this Yankee who serves up a big serving of Southern hospitality and New York style pizza daily.

Visit Sal’s Neighborhood Pizzeria at Plantation Place, 3415 Frederica Road, Suite E, St. Simons Island, Georgia.

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