The 101: Pizzylvania


Bill Thomas, A&E Editor

Every issue, the staff of The Beacon’s Arts & Entertainment sectionn indulge their vanity and give a thoroughly biased crash-course in whatever madness happens to be dwelling in their warped minds. Their views do not reflect those of The Beacon, its staff or Wilkes University. Blah blah blah. This week, Bill Thomas cutting himself a gooey red slice of…


There is one school in the small town of Old Forge, Pa. One school, but on Main Street alone there are at least seven pizzerias.

Old Forge, ya see, is the self-proclaimed “Pizza Capital of the World” (seriously, they’ve got signs and everything).

Now, obviously that’s a pretty ballsy claim. What about New York City? Or even Chicago, as some (the most insane among us) might claim? Heck, what about the holier-than-holy motherland, the boot-shaped country known as Italy that we all know and love? Where the hell does Old Forge get off in calling itself the Pizza Capital of the World?

Maybe it’s because that whole pizzerias-to-schools ration thing I mentioned earlier. Maybe it’s because there are at least seven pizzerias on Main Street, but Main Street ain’t the only road that’s got pizzerias there.

Whether you’re new to Northeastern Pennsylvania or you’ve lived here your whole life, you’ve probably noticed that NEPA folk love their pizza. In many of the small towns that dot the Wyoming Valley, the only things that outnumber pizzerias may be bars and churches. Even with that in mind, Old Forge sure does take the cake where having a metric crap-load of pizzerias is concerned. Or “takes the pie,” I should say. Hyuk, hyuk.

Actually, don’t ask for a pizza “pie” in Old Forge. And don’t use the word “slice” either. See, Old Forge isn’t just the Pizza Capital of the World because it has a lot of pizzerias. It also has its own unique pizza culture and, yes, a style of pizza all its own.

“Old Forge’s pizza is completely different than anywhere else,” Sam Semenza, a baker at Revello’s, one of the Old Forge’s best-known pizzerias (located at 502 S. Main St.), said. “It’s not New York-style, it’s not Chicago-style. It’s not anything like what you’d find in California. First of all, everyone knows our pizzas aren’t round, they’re square. The dough is different, we use a sharper cheese, the sauce is tangier.”

Ingredients aren’t the only thing setting Old Forge pizza apart. There’s also the lingo. In Old Forge, there are no slices. Instead, there are “cuts.” And the only pies are for dessert. Rather, you order a “tray” and, sure enough, your pizza comes out on a red plastic tray, not unlike the one you carried your lunch around on in the cafeteria back in high school.

But wait! There’s more!

See, there are two styles of signature pizzas in Old Forge, “red” and “white.” Doesn’t seem that revolutionary, does it? Well, as different as Old Forge’s red pizza is from what most people know, white is even more unique. Red is your standard tomato sauce-and-cheese pizza, although different in its use of creamy, American-esque “brick cheese” and its thick ‘n’ crispy but surprisingly light ‘n’ airy crust, which some places fry in peanut oil. A few Old Forge pizzerias, such as Ghigiarelli’s (511 S. Main St.) include diced onions in their sauce, so if you’re a picky eater, watch out.

On the other end of the spectrum is white pizza, which is just crust, cheese, more cheese, still more cheese, even more cheese, then another layer of crust and a whole lot of seasoning. Several reviewers have compared it to a grilled cheese sandwich. Others would decry such a minor comparison as heresy. My advice? Taste it yourself and let your taste buds decide.

That’s been the option chosen by pizza lovers from all over America for years, with Semenza noting that pizza tourism is a common element of daily life in Old Forge. Old Forge’s famous foodstuffs has received national attention and was even spotlighted as one of the best regional pizza styles in America by Parade magazine. When asked how newcomers react to their first taste of Old Forge-style pizza, Semenza said the majority of responses are positive. With, of course, one particularly noteworthy exceptions.

“New Yorkers tend to not like it,” Semenza admitted with a laugh. “But, still, there are people who come from all over and rave about it. You either love it or you hate it. That’s it.”


Old Forge is just one regional offshoot of the global pizzasystem. Everybody loves pizza, but some people really, really, really love pizza. Want to take your own pizza passion to the next level? Learn and love these key terms in The Beacon’s own “Pizza Connoisseur’s Glossary” and you’ll be well on your way. This is just a taste, though. The pizzasystem is bigger than you’d ever imagine, so stay hungry…

Pizza Cognition Theory

Put forth by Sam Sifton, author of the book “Pizza: A Slice of Heaven,” Pizza Cognition Theory states “The first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes (and somehow appreciates on something more than a childlike, mmmgoood, thanks-mom level), becomes, for him, pizza. He relegates all subsequent slices, if they are different in some manner from that first triangle of dough and cheese and tomato and oil and herbs and spices, to a status that we can characterize as not pizza.”

Probably explains why New Yorkers and Chicagoans are so obsessed with dismissing each other’s idea of what pizza “really” is.


The “lip” of a slice of pizza. Most normal folks just refer to it as the “crust,” but true-blue pizzaficionados differentiate between the crust that forms the bottom/body of a pizza and the stuff on the end that so many of us like to dip in whatever extra sauce we’ve got lying around.

Pizza Bones

A sad thing indeed, “pizza bones” are the uneaten corniciones that lay lonely inside the empty pizza box after everyone has had their fill. A truly great pizza should leave you wanting to eat every last piece, even the cornicione. Pizza bones, then, are a sign of unexceptional crust.


The pattern of darkened circular areas on the bottom of a pizza crust, as well as the black blisters of charred dough on the cornicione. So name for the resemblance to a leopard’s spots. Considered evidence of a well-made crust and well-maintained oven. A fixture of “food porn.”


Denominazione de Origine Controllate. The result of an Italian law meant to protect the names, origins and standards of the country’s signature foods. Ingredients marked D.O.C. are guaranteed to come from strictly defined regions of Italy and that the production of which has been undertaken with meticulous attention to detail. In other words, it guarantees that you’re getting the best of the best, authentic elements of classical Italian pizza.

Similar is D.O.P. (Denominazione de Origine Prottata), which is guaranteed by the European Union.


Vera Pizza Naptoletana. A designation awarded by Associazione Verace Pizza Naptoletana which guarantees that a pizzeria has been certified and guarantees to make its pizza with certain high-quality Neapolitan standards in mind, including ingredients, equipment methodology, cooking time, oven temperature and even size, shape and thickness.

Neopolitan Pizza

The classic, authentic Italian pizza. Made with finely ground “00” wheat flour, juicy San Marzano tomatoes grown in the volcanic soil near of Mount Vesuvius and mozzarella made from the milk of water buffalo.

Pizza Margherita

Before the Margherita, pizza originated as a simple Italian flatbread with few distinctive, defining variations. When Neapolitan pizzamaker Raffaele Esposito was commissioned to create a special version in honor of Queen Marherita, he used red tomato sauce, white mozzarella and green basil leaves to mimic the colors of the Italian flag. The result was a hit, and the birth of the archetypal pizza.