I had such experiences at:
- Wiseguy NY Pizza in Washington DC for the pre-opening tasting party
- Norma's Pizza, the one-day-a-week farm market pizza stand in Mannheim PA
- Binge House Pizza, the still-in-beta-mode NEPA/Detroit hybrid pizzeria
On a Saturday tour of Old Forge pizza places, I had another such experience, quite by accident.
Main Street in Old Forge is lined with Italian restaurants and pizza joints, and there are several more on the side streets. Census stats say that more than 40% of Old Forge residents have Italian roots, so perhaps that ties in to the ratio of pizzerias to the population.
Most Old Forge pizzerias offer two basic styles of pizza. The red pie is a conventional rectangular pizza with red sauce, topped with mild white cheese that could be American, mozzarella, or a blend. The white pizza is typically made with a layer of dough on top, dusted with herbs, so it really is like a funky grilled cheese sandwich.
|The white pie I wish I had tried. Next time!|
Before leaving town, I had time (and belly space) for one more stop, and Elio G's was just a few blocks away. While my previous stops were full-service restaurants, I was unaware that Elio G's is primarily a take-out operation; there is one tiny counter and a few chairs for dine-in. I had come to order two cuts, but I found that the pie is sold by the full tray (12 cuts) or half trays of six cuts. I settled on a half tray of their red pie, topped with mushrooms.
|Philomena "Nonna" Ghigiarelli|
|Signs on the wall|
|Joe works the oven|
Michelle warned me that I might be disappointed if I wanted a sweet tomato sauce, which seems to be the rule in most other Old Forge pies. I'm pretty agnostic about sauce, though. I like sweet, or salty, or spicy, or tangy -- as long as it's packed with a flavor that enhances the pie.
|Michelle with my half tray|
|My mushroom half tray, next to a plain red half tray|
I watched many happy customers stop by to pick up their take-out orders while I waited. When my half-tray was ready, Michelle got me a paper plate and some napkins so I could sit at the counter and sample a slice with my cup of red wine. Each cut had substantial weight to it, likely due to the olive oil and the generous amount of red sauce; Joe told me the precise amount he uses for a whole pie, and it's more than double what most other Old Forge piemakers use.
When Elio was slicing the pie, the crunch of the crust was distinctly audible. And indeed, every bite of this crust was delectable, crunchy on the bottom, and al dente chewy above. Moreover, the crust had a full rich flavor of its own.
The dark red sauce was rich and dense, providing another layer of deep flavor. I didn't detect as much onion as I had in my other Old Forge stops.
|Beautiful golden crunch underneath|
I typically choose a meat topping, pepperoni or Italian sausage. But because the meat toppings don't cook on the pie in Old Forge, I had chosen mushrooms as my topping (and I was congratulated by Michelle for that selection). Like all the other vegetables, they had arrived fresh that day. On the pie, they were plump, moist (but not wet), and they gave an added earthy dimension to the swirl of flavors on this pie. I've eaten a countless number of pizzas, never was there a better mushroom topping.
I meant to eat just one cut so that I'd have room for some pan-fried NEPA pizza at Pizza Perfect in Shavertown (near Wilkes-Barre) on my way home, but this pizza was so wonderful that I rapidly scarfed down two slices. This dense-yet-light crunchy crust reminded me of the first-rate thick square pies from Norma's Pizza (Detroit style) and Binge House Pizza (Detroit/NEPA hybrid).
|I was much happier than I look!|
Did you ever wonder "What is all the fuss about Old Forge pizza?" Elio G's answers that question. The grandson of the woman who made the first Old Forge style pizza is keeping a grand tradition alive. This was one of my best lifetime pizza experiences. Get there!
Many thanks to our friends at NEPA Pizza Review; please visit www.nepapizzareview.com for a wealth of reviews of pizza in Old Forge and all over the NEPA region. Also, check out the coming documentary on Old Forge and NEPA styles of pizza at: