When the moon hits your eye....
My husband and I jetted off to New York a weekend ago. The trip arose unexpectedly and was tragically short, so we didn’t have much time to plan an itinerary. Friends and family asked us what we planned to do there, expecting to hear a visit to the Statue of Liberty or a tour of Ground Zero. They were a bit taken back when I announced we wanted to visit the very first pizzeria in the United States.
What can I say? I’m a food culture historian and I love pizza.
Pizza was introduced in America in the late 19th century by Italian immigrants. Gennaro Lombardi lays the claim to the first United States pizzeria opened 1905 in New York City at 53 ½ Spring St., an establishment still open today. Originally a grocery, Lombardi originally sold what he called tomato pies, wrapped in paper and tied with a string, to Italian day workers. By 1930, the shop transformed into a sit-down restaurant with spaghetti added to the menu.
Still, pizza didn't catch on in the U.S. until after WWII, when returning American GIs raved about the pizza they ate in Italy. In 1943, Chicagoan Ike Sewell opened Pizzeria Uno, offering a classic twist on the traditional pizza recipe. Sewell's was a deep-dish style pizza baked in thick cast-iron pans in giant ovens, more casserole than pizza. The newly-christened Chicago-style pizza became so popular Sewell soon had to open another establishment, Pizzeria Due.
Cincinnati was a little slower to catch on to the pizza craze. When Buddy LaRosa announced his plan to open a pizzeria in Westwood, his Sicilian-born father told him he was crazy. "You gonna sell pizza? ‘Med-i-gans never gonna buy pizza from you," he said. Fortunately for the now legions of local fans, LaRosa opened his Boudinot Avenue pizzeria anyway in 1954. LaRosa's has since become the largest Italian chain in the Tristate.
Americans' love for pizza inspired others to follow suit, with the first frozen pizza introduced in 1957. And the rest, as they say, is history. According to The Pizza Joint.com, Americans now eat approximately 100 acres of pizza each day.
Sadly, we didn't get the chance to visit Lombardi's, but we did try another pizzeria that's garnered rave reviews. This was our second experience sampling authentic New York-style pizza and my husband and I can now definitively say, “Give us Chicago-style pizza any day!” For us, real pizza is meant to be eaten with a fork.
Another fabulous pizza gem we’ve discovered lies not in New York or Chicago, but in Nashville, Tenn. On a weekend trip there to celebrate my husband’s birthday several years ago, we set off in search of a high-end restaurant. But after an hour of fruitless searching and rumbling stomachs, we finally pulled in to a college dive near Vanderbilt University called Pizza Perfect.
The pizza there truly lived up to its name: the crust was crisp and thick, yet not too thick, and the toppings were fresh and piled on. In fact, for my husband’s birthday trip the next year, he chose to go back to Nashville, just for the pizza.
So, what do you prefer: Chicago-style or New York-style pizza? Do you have any other pizza finds to share?