Think you know pizza? These regional varieties may make you reconsider crowning yourself a connoisseur of this Italian-American staple. Even those who believe (as we do) that pizza deserves to be its own food group may not recognize St. Louis pizza, sfincione, or Trenton tomato pies—or, may not fully understand the unique nuances that go into each pizza variety. Click through for the full lowdown on everyone’s favorite cheesy treat.
While it may sound like this pizza variation would be dependent on Greek toppings like kalamata olives or Feta cheese, the name actually refers to the type of dough and cook commonly found in New England pizzerias. The traditional pizza dough is enriched with olive oil and then cooked in a heavily oiled pan or skillet, creating a heavy crust that is then topped with a thick, tomato-paste-and-oregano heavy sauce.
This distinctly Chicagoan pizza is incredibly divisive: while locals love its saucy, thick qualities, tourists from other parts of the country tend to miss the more traditional or thin crust slice. Cooked in a deep pan, the crust itself is actually thin-to-medium, and the toppings take on the job of filling the depth. While most traditional pizzas layer the crust with tomato sauce, then cheese, and then other toppings (in that order), deep dish actually puts the cheese and various “toppings” underneath the tomato sauce, directly onto the crust. This is necessary due to the long cooking time, and it helps ensure that no part of the deep pie is left raw; Furthermore, if the cheese was on top, it would burn, while the tomato sauce is more resilient.
Stuffed pizza, also originating in Chicago, is similar to deep dish and is often difficult to differentiate from its slightly-better-known cousin. Stuffed pizzas are more dense (and actually thicker) than deep dish, and also have a second layer of crust added between the cheese and toppings and tomato sauce.
St. Louis pizza toppings are not necessarily different from more traditional styles; the real difference is in the crust. With a flat, unleavened, cracker-like crust made without yeast, many would argue that this “pizza” isn’t actually a pizza at all—but, hey, we’re not here to judge. You do you, Midwest. The rigid crust is usually topped with Provel processed cheese and then cut into small rectangles instead of the more common pie-shaped slices.
If there’s one place to try St. Louis pizza, it’s local chain Imo’s—the very place where this regional cuisine was originally created.
New Haven’s pizza is so unique and iconic that they renamed it altogether: apizza. A descendent from what is perhaps the most common pizza, Neopolitan, the differences start with the dough. Apizza dough is left to ferment—and thus rise—for a longer time than traditional crusts, usually over an entire night in the refrigerator. The dough is then brought back up to room temperature before being covered in what the locals call “mootz,” a whole milk aged mozzarella and/or tomato sauce. Another common topping in New Haven, and one that immediately signifies the regional style, is white clams.
Frank Pepe’s invented it, while places like Modern Apizza and Bar have added contemporary touches.
A true lesson in appreciating simplicity, a real Neapolitan pie doesn’t incorporate any toppings besides tomato sauce (usually made from San Marzano tomatoes), Mozzarella or Mozzarella di Bufala cheese, and herbs and spices. The dough is made from wheat flour and the pizza is only baked for a minute or so in a super-hot (think, 900-degrees-Fahrenheit hot) wood-fire oven. The result is a chewy, thick crust with spots of char on the bottom and a slightly soupy middle. The pizza can be prepared either with cheese (pizza Margherita) or without (pizza marinara), and must adhere to a strict set of standards to be deemed “authentic” (seriously, the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana hands out certificates).
A distinctly Sicilian pizza, sfincione is unique both in shape and in crust. Sfincione pizzas are constructed from a focaccia-like base topped with onions caramelized in olive oil, a thin layer of sharp cheese—traditionally caciocavallo, an aged sheep's milk cheese—and often breadcrumbs. The pizza is baked in a pan, resulting in a large rectangle shape, which is then cut into smaller rectangles instead of slices.
Many street vendors pump out pie after pie of sfincione to tourists and locals alike, but old-school bakeries like Spinnato bakery in Palermo are still the best bet for an authentic taste.
While most pizzas are sold either by the slice or by the pie, Roman Pizza al Taglio is served “by the cut.” When you enter a shop selling this type of pizza, the first step is to take a look at your options—whatever is fresh and available will be displayed in large rectangles on the countertops so you know exactly what you’re getting before you commit. The worker will then cut out (usually with scissors) a section of the pizza, according to your direction—the great part about this is that you’re not limited by slices and can easily get a custom portion. Your “cut” of pizza is then weighed for price and warmed up in the oven.
Most often associated with Rome, you have to cross the pond to truly get an authentic pizza al taglio: Da Pasquale, Pizzarium, and La Renella are all regional favorites.
Walk down any block in New York, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find an above-average slice of pizza—and an Italian-American behind the counter, proud to be serving up his or her pies. Perhaps the most common pizza type found in the U.S., the thin crust pizza is characterized by (surprise) a thin, hand-tossed crust and wide slices. To get the full experience of a New York thin crust slice—and to fit right in with the locals—eat it folded in half.
New York shouldn’t get to have all the fun, which is why Trenton, New Jersey came up with their own regional pizza: the Trenton Tomato Pie. While the name may imply a variation of pizza marinara, the tomato pie is actually more similar in topping construction to deep dish pizza. While this pie doesn’t have the same depth that gives the Chicago pizza its name, it does apply the save reverse-order for toppings: cheese, veggies, meats and other toppings are covered in tomato sauce. The style was developed to highlight the beauty of a well-done tomato sauce (and, simply, perfectly ripe Jersey tomatoes), and does that both in appearance and in taste.
Though similar to a Sicilian pie, this American twist has one major difference: the proof time of the dough. As pizza connoisseur Scott Weiner clarified to Bon Appétit, the dough for a grandma pie must be proofed for fewer than 40 minutes—if at all. The dough is then topped and baked in an olive-oil coated pan, so the result is a rectangular pie with a thin, crispy crust.
Let’s take a second and just appreciate the fact that there exists a pizza made of fried dough. Guys, FRIED PIZZA. The dough is flash-fried (for about a minute) in hot oil before being topped with sauce, cheese, toppings, and baked—making for a crispy and flavorful crust unlike pretty much anything else you’ve ever had. The technique originated in Naples, but has quickly gained popularity in the U.S., because of course it has, it’s fried pizza dough.
New York is the unofficial U.S. capital of the Montanara, and you can grab an authentic pie at spots like Don Antonio by Starita (pictured), whose sister restaurant, Pizzeria Starita (also a favorite pick for Neapolitan pies), is one of the top shops in Naples. Flickr.com/T.Tseng
Think you know pizza? These regional varieties may make you reconsider crowning yourself a connoisseur of this Italian-American cuisine. Even those who believe (as we do) that pizza deserves to be it’s own food group may not recognize St. Louis pizza, sfincione, or Trenton tomato pies—or, may not fully understand the unique nuances that go into each pizza variety. Click through for the full low-down on everyone’s favorite cheesy treat.