Not Cold Pizza, It's Cold Cheese Pizza
I’m the type of guy that walks into a pizzeria and orders a slice room temperature, “don’t heat it, no bag. Just on a plate is good.” It’s not that I think an unheated slice tastes better than a hot one, it’s just quicker. Same thing with leftovers. I am pretty sure that warmed sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy tastes really great on Black Friday. I wouldn’t know, because I can't wait the 3 minutes for the microwave to heat up my food. I grab the Tupperware from the fridge, plop it on a plate and dig in. Insert meme of Garfield the Cat throwing lasagna in his mouth, NOM NOM NOM!! That’s me. I am Garfield! So, when I learned about Cold Cheese Pizza, I knew I had to try it.
The Laziest Pizza Style
Pizza was introduced to America in the late 1800’s but It wasn’t really until after World War II that popularity grew outside of the Northeast. Returning GIs shared their stories of the Neapolitan classic with their hometown cooks and ever since, innovative pizzaiolos, sous chefs and even barkeeps have been tweaking the recipe to incorporate their own local culture and signature. Sometimes these nuances are subtle, like the burnt laced edges on Boston’s South Shore bar pies. Other times the differences can be extreme a la the hearty meat and cheese casserole otherwise known as a Chicago Deep Dish. And then there’s cold cheese pizza, that’s more like a convenience than a bona fide genre in my opinion. But to be clear, I’m not talking about the Ohio Valley cold cheese pizza style made famous by DiCarlo’s in 1945. That’s a legit regional favorite and worthy of its own future post! I am talking about cold cheese slices.
In the mid 1980’s, Tino’s Pizza, located at the back of the Black Oak Tavern, was the go-to afterparty spot in the college town of Oneonta New York. As the bar emptied, overserved SUNY and Hartwick College kids would stagger over for some late-night slices. One day a student, probably an engineer major or maybe just an idiot savant that knows how to make a bong out of a box of Tic Tacs and a stick gum, asked owner Agatino Garufi to throw a handful of cold mozzarella on top of his steaming hot slice so as not to scorch his mouth. Hesitant at first, Agatino acquiesced not realizing how popular this new item would quickly become. He didn't just make a safe-to-eat-drunk-food, he created an iconic bite with a complexity that might get overlooked when you're shit faced. But sober, the textural dichotomy of the crispy crust and semi-melted low moisture cheese combined with the contrasting hot and cold temps makes for a sensory overload. Each chew is unmistakable. That ingenious kid went on to tell his friend, who told their friends and before they knew it, Tino’s was getting so many requests they put it on their menu. According to a post in the Daily Meal, in their heyday, 95% of Tino’s slices sold between midnight and 3 am were cold cheese and nearly 40 years later it continues to be a top seller.
I don't think we can call this a "pizza style" yet, but thanks to alumni returning home from upstate, this food has spread to a few other towns. In addition to Tino's expansion into Copperstown, Little Vincent’s in Huntington Long Island has been serving their own version since 1985 and shares a cult like devotion just as large as Tino’s. And though predominately sold for the late-night crowd, stop by anytime of the day and chances are you will hear someone ordering it. Town Pizza on Fire Island (ask for it with their boom boom sauce), ZA Late Night Pizzeria in Seaford and DC’s Pizza in Albany, all have it on their menus as well. If you can’t make it to one of these locations, ask your local pizzeria, maybe you can start a trend in your town.