Pagash- The Reeeemixx!
You know that “Ohhh Shit!” feeling you get every time that one song comes on. Your Jam! No matter where you are or what you’re doing, you stop, crank up the volume and give your best American Idol performance. For me, that’s pretty much every early 1990’s hip hop song. Whenever I hear Mary J sing the first few bars of “All I Need” or listen to pre-billionaire Puffy spit out random ad libs in the background of every Biggie song, that’s my ISH! So as an homage to my favorite era of rap music and to justify the fact that I am writing about mashed potato, cheese and onion pizza for the second time, this isn’t me running out of material, this is my pagash remix!
you know I had to write another one,
Last year I learned of pagash pizza for the first time, a micro local seasonal variety whose recipe is based on the Eastern European dish of the same name. Despite the fact that most pizza places were either closed indefinitely or open sparsely due to employee availability, I needed to try it. I decided to grab my road dog aka mom and trek out to Ferri’s Pizza in Moscow, Pennsylvania, the presumed birthplace of NEPA potato pizza. The first recipes of pagash came over with the waves of immigrants that settled in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties in the late nineteenth century, but the idea of making it into a pizza is a relatively new thing. It wasn’t until 1990 when a long-time customer of Ferri's asked to have her homemade mashed potatoes added to her sauceless crust, thus creating the potato pizza. They obliged and have since perfected the recipe, adding a combination of cheeses and fried onion which is generously spread over their thick Old Forge style crust. It quickly developed the nickname pierogi pie and pagash, and other area pizzerias started to make their own recipe
uh huh, that’s right,
Thirty years later and this meatless ad hoc pizza topping has become a Lenten favorite at over 140 different bars, restaurants and bakeries throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania. There are Facebook groups like NEPA Pizza Review and Pagash Reviews dedicated to sharing pictures with tantalizing descriptions of this comfort food which has caused a recent popularity surge. Three decades ago, mashed potato pizza might have seemed super progressive for NEPA, but nowadays it’s as common to see mac & cheese, chicken fingers and dill pickle toppings on the menu as it is to find pepperoni, yet for some reason pagash continues to have a limited time only run. Personally I think this adds to the allure.
talk to ‘em,
Pagash is like a fingerprint, each establishment adds their own twist making it unique. Most pagash are sold in rectangular trays (the common shape of a NEPA pizza) although NY Style round pies topped with mounds of potatoes and various cheeses are also common. Fried onion is optional, though I will contend that if you try it without, you are missing part of the experience. This year I added two more notches to my belt.
Pizza L’Oven in Exeter PA was founded in 1975 and is credited for creating a local style of Pan Fried Sicilian crust. The 14 inch rectangular pan is generously oiled and cooked in such a high heat that the undercarriage fries resulting in a crispy crust that is surprisingly NOT oily. Their sturdy frame holds a layer of thinly mashed potato that is covered with melted cheese and later dusted with fresh chives. The pizza is served so that each cut (slice) has a crispy exterior crust, though I am a sucker for the corner pieces. (see pic above)
Gold Crown Pizza in the Dunmore section of Scranton is an old school neighborhood bar that has been around for over 50 years. Despite a recent management change, general manager Daniel Murphy and his team continue to crank out a deliciously loaded round crust pagash that easily weighs over 5 pounds each. The extra creamy potatoes are combined with a blend of cheddar and American cheeses and caramelized onion is mixed in giving it a very pierogi like taste. One slice is a meal but two slices warms the soul!
yeah, I like that!
It might take another 30 years but I am fairly certain that pagash will catch on with the mainstream, it’s too good not to be an Easter tradition enjoyed across the country. Until then however, add this to your culinary bucket list because I won’t be writing about it again. Third installments don’t really go over that well, if you don’t believe me take another look at that 3-D shark in Jaws or rewatch the Hangover 3. Yikes!