Seeking Out the "Pizza Capital of the World"
The GutterGourmet visits Old Forge, Penn., a small town making a big claim.
Arcaro & Genell’s “tray” ($12.50) with, in thirds from front: chopped clams, hot peppers and plain cheese (toppings $0.25/cut, 1-11 cuts).
We’ve all butted heads over which city deserves the moniker Pizza Capital of the World. Most (including me) would objectively say New York City. Others would look to the mother country’s famed city, Napoli. Those who like to invoke Wooster Street in New Haven, Connecticut (either Sally’s or Pepe’s) shouldn’t be considered insane. I’ll even tolerate the Chicago Deep Dish fringe weighing in and the Alice Waters/Wolfgang Puck/California Pizza contingent. So it was with a mild feeling of terror that I discovered a place which can only be properly described by the late, great Rod Serling, the creator and host of The Twilight Zone: cue theme music Doo Doo Doo Doo, Doo Doo Doo Doo.
“You’re traveling through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. There’s a signpost up ahead: your next stop: Old Forge, Pennsylvania, population 8,798, established 1899.
[cue Len Berman echo machine] Pizza Capital of the WOORRLLDDD!!!!”
Old Forge, just 15 minutes south of Scranton, home to 19th century blacksmiths, then a mining town, then the textile industry, then…Pizza Capital of the World? As you enter town you don’t immediately notice anything strange. There’s a bunch of nice houses, kids on bikes, American flags, even a 7-Eleven.
Then, as you turn onto Main Street you pass an Italian family/pizzeria/restaurant. Then another one next door. Then another one and another one and another until you realize there’s at least ten pizzerias in the small town alone and even more in the surrounding areas. Many have great Italian family names like Ghigiarelli’s, Arcaro & Genell, Revello’s, Salerno’s, Sachetti’s, Rocco’s, Calogero’s, Mancuso’s, well, you get the idea. And then those damn signposts. On the sides of buildings, in the parking lots, on sidewalk corners, they proclaim “Old Forge, PA-Pizza Capital of the World.”
As befitting a parallel universe, there was a foreign language associated with this pizza. Disoriented, I hesitantly ordered a slice at the take-out window of Arcaro & Genell’s, the first place I saw.
“You mean a cut?” said the nice woman behind the counter.
I nodded yes.
“Red or white?”
“Let me have a slice, er, cut of each.” This had to mean with or without tomato sauce.
“OK, but there are a few orders for trays ahead of you so the cuts might take awhile.”
Trays? It took a minute to realize a “tray” was a pie and that the pizzas were square, not round, hence “tray” in lieu of “pie.” OK, I was finally getting this.
Red ‘cuts’ from Arcaro & Genell’s ($1.10/each).
Not so fast. My red and white cuts were ready. The red (right, upskirt) looked normal enough. Crisp, oily crust, relatively thin, it reminded me of Adrienne’s, Lazzara’s, Maffei, Veloce, Artichoke and Di Fara’s Sicilian/grandma slices back home, wherever home was in this universe. I bit into it. Strong onion flavor in the sauce, but no discernible onions. But the cheese! It was white but neither mozzarella di bufala nor fior di latte. No, this was some strange blend of white cheeses that when combined and heated melted like a grilled cheese sandwich. I subsequently learned that the “blend” consisted (possibly) of cheddar, American, something called “brick” and God knows what else.
Three ‘cuts’ of Arcaro & Genell’s Double-Crust White ($1.75/each).
Next, the white. Same crust but WTF? There was crust on both the bottom and the top of the slice! Damn, I meant cut! And there was black pepper and rosemary baked into the upper crust. It looked like a flattened calzone. The creamy, melted, runny, white grilled cheese filling coated my teeth and tongue. The black pepper gave it a little kick, but strangely, I liked it. My 10 year old daughter (did I mention she was with me?) didn’t quite know what to make of all of this, but she too preferred white to red.
Was this style unique to Arcaro & Genell’s? I had to find out.
Over my daughter’s protests I ordered two more cuts (red and white) at Revello’s across the street, then the same at Ghigiarelli’s down the block. Slight differences. A little more onion here, a little less rosemary there, but essentially the same. And on a Saturday night each place was mobbed by people both in the dining rooms and at the take-out windows that they all seemed to have.
Double-Crust White ‘cut’ and White ‘cut’ with Broccoli from Revello’s (both $2.00/each).
“Can we go home now, daddy?” my daughter pleaded.
“I don’t know if we can ever go home honey.” I’ve watched one too many Twilight Zone episodes.
Red ‘cut’ from Revello’s ($1.25/each).
But would it be so bad to be trapped in a town where everyone eats pizza everyday for each meal? Then who knows how else this alternative universe is different from our universe? Perhaps in this universe Alan Richman’s GQ Top 25 Pizza List is actually considered to have some merit? Oh, God. Richman is from Pennsylvania after all. I had to try to get back home— for my daughter’s sake. We turned the car back onto the Main Street and just kept on driving in the pouring rain for what seemed like hours until…until…until we didn’t see any more pizzerias.
So long Pizza Capital of the World. I’ll be back. DOO DOO DOO DOO. DOO DOO DOO DOO.
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