Can Old Forge Pennsylvania Really Be The Pizza Capital of the World?
I come from a land down under, where people take their food very seriously and men chunder. Nah I’m not Australian, I just thought it sounded like a cool intro. But seriously, I’m from a state that is so passionate about food, we can break into civil war depending on what you call our delicious breakfast meat. And with typical Jersey attitude, we are a population of pizza connoisseurs never shy to share an opinion. “That’s burnt!" "That’s too thick!" "Your mother! “
And why shouldn’t we all be experts? New Jersey lays claim to Papa’s Tomato Pie, the country’s longest continuously run family-owned pizzeria and we consistently take at least five spots on Daily Meals Top 101 Pizzas in America list not to mention some really high Portnoy scores. We know pizza and take pride in having the best.
There are Facebook pages created like Jersey Pizza Joints dedicated to defending the Garden State’s crown against strong opposition from Brooklyn, New Haven and even Naples. But when some start-up borough straight out of nowhere Pennsylvania decided to hang a sign in the middle of town that proclaimed Old Forge - Pizza Capital of the World, we take exception. Fuckouttahere with that!
Hold Up, Check the Facts!
Not so fast. It turns out that Old Forge is not some trendy new style of pizza like macaroni and cheese pie. In fact, history books claim that in the late 1920's, the Ghigiarelli Family, Nonna Filomena to be exact, started making her pizza recipe as a late-night snack for Italian coal miners who drank in her husband's tavern. Put that in perspective. The legendary Frank Pepe’s of New Haven started in 1925 and the meat and cheese casserole known as Chicago Deep Dish wasn’t invented by Ike Sewell (Uno’s) until 1943. Unlike Pepe's and Lombardi's in NYC that made a Neapolitan pizza i.e., the round one, the Ghigiarellis made a Roman Style (rectangle) popular in Perugia Italy.
There’s no denying, Old Forge, a tiny suburb of Scranton Pennsylvania, with just under 8,500 residents, is a pizza OG.
But is it really pizza?
Despite Old Forge’s indisputable historical relevance, is it really pizza? First off, they don’t sell pies in Old Forge, they sell trays, like on legit elementary school lunch trays. And they are not slices, they’re known as cuts. The pizzas are cooked in rectangular pans presumably due to the lack of round pans available a hundred years ago and consistent with the pizza al taglio style from the homeland. And unlike a “normal” pizza that uses mozzarella, Old Forge style uses a blend, specific to each pizza place, and can be a combination of mozzarella, American, provolone and brick cheeses. According to a current web search, there are 13 pizzerias in Old Forge Style, including old school favorites like Revello’s, Arcaro and Genell’s and Salerno’s Cafe.
Pizzas are prepared red or white, with the latter being a double crust version, with dough, cheese, toppings (like broccoli) and a final dough covering usually dusted with rosemary and oregano. In other parts of the country, this is might be considered a stuffed pizza. Old Forge style red pizza tends to have a sweeter sauce often times with diced onions mixed in and despite their rectangular shape, the crust is chewy and lighter than a Sicilian style pizza which shares a similar look. It also kinda looks like a frozen Ellio's slice to be honest with you. Any traditional pizza topping like pepperoni, mushroom or sausage can be added but I really enjoyed the thick cut homemade meatball from Revello's seen here.
Do I think that Old Forge is the Pizza Capital of the World? No and despite my undying love of Jersey pizza, I personally bestow that title to New Haven, Connecticut. But Old Forge is a unique style that is worthy of at least one road trip. Northeast Pennsylvania has a number of other unique styles of pizza like the pan-fried Sicilian style famous in the "back mountain" region of NEPA and the Lenten favorite pagash which I've previously posted. I suggest you check out NEPAPizzareview.com, the most thorough and up-to-date review site and properly plan your trip with an empty stomach and an open mind.