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The Strange Pizza of Old Forge & Beyond

July 14, 2014

Pizza comes in many forms. Some dispute this and say New York thin crust is the one true pizza style. But that’s ridiculous.

That would leave the blistered pizza napoletana of Napoli, the coal fired apizza of New Haven, the red streaked tomato pies of Trenton, and the cheese stuffed deep dish of Chicago out in the cold. And what about Old Forge, Pennsylvania, which proclaims itself to be the pizza capital of the world?

I had been to Old Forge once to try their rectangular pizza with its sweet tomato sauce and unique cheese-blend topping. But it was many years ago, and I can’t even remember which of the town’s many pizza joints we visited.

The time had come to finally commit to a broad tasting of Old Forge style pizza. So with the guidance of NEPA Pizza Review and the iron stomach of Albany Jane, I think I now have a solid sense of the style. All it took was nine slices of pizza from five different places. And then of course we stopped at two other pizza joints in New York for dessert on the way home.

Here’s a bit of background. There are two main styles of pizza found in Old Forge and while they are different, both are rectangular.

The red has a baked, doughy crust, covered with a chunky, onion laced tomato sauce, and topped with a melty cheese blend that is said to stick to the roof of your mouth. And it does. This is a blend that includes processed cheese, so its meltability is high. It is almost runny when hot, but it congeals into a thick mass as it cools.

The white is almost like a toasted cheese sandwich. It’s simply the Old Forge cheese blend stuffed into a double crusted pie. But the top crust is sprinkled with herbs, and this can be a lot more delicious than it sounds.

A rectangular pie is called a tray. But the pizza is also available by the slice, except in Old Forge it’s called a “cut”.  As in, “I’d like two cuts of white and a cut of red, please.”

Anyhow, some places make better red. Other places make better white. Thankfully, we had a pizza sherpa in the form of NEPA pizza review, and got a few suggestions of how to proceed. Here’s how it all went down.

Pre Game

Colarusso’s isn’t in Old Forge. It’s a bit south of pizza central. But on their placemats the restaurant boldly declared that this is where Old Forgers go for pizza. NEPAPR said the thing to get here was their white pizza with fresh tomato and garlic. It was a great way to warm up to this new and mysterious melty-cheese concoction.

This was the only stop where we had to order a whole pie. Six cuts. Being beyond the Old Forge limits, this white pizza was not a stuffed double crust. Rather, it had a remarkably tender and light dough, topped with this molten melted cheese, sliced fresh tomatoes, garlic and herbs.P1050752

That sticky cheese was really helped along by the acidity of the tomatoes and the punch of flavor from the garlic. And even though I knew I had a full day of eating ahead of me, I couldn’t help but take a second slice. It’s not because the pizza was so delicious, but it’s oddly addictive.

The Main Event

Salerno’s was our first stop in town. It’s right next door to a funeral home, so you can just curl up and die after you’ve eaten a heart-stopping quantity of cheese. More than anything else, Salerno’s is a bar. But we were told that their white pizza was pretty special.

And it was. Maybe it wasn’t the favorite of the day, but the top crust of their white was remarkable. It had a crispness similar to great pastry, and was decorated with herbs and a thin curl of toasted onion. The cheese was a bit waxier and heavier than the molten goodness at our first stop. But this was a remarkable top crust.

P1050761At Arcaro & Genell we veered from the plan. Here we were just supposed to try the white, but Albany Jane and I decided to split a cut of white broccoli and a cut of the red, in addition to the recommended white. That’s what you call living on the edge.

Holy rosemary. The white stuffed crust pizzas were seasoned with a sprinkle of this aromatic dried herb, and it contributed some great flavor. But perhaps even better was the presence of actual mozzarella in the cheese blend. Instead of being preternaturally melty and waxy, the cheese actually had some body and a tender toothsomeness. The white broccoli, which also contained garlic, slightly edged out the plain white with its firm bright green bites.

P1050765The red was fine, but not terribly remarkable. But in its defense, we were not advised to try the red on this stop.

Catty-corner from A&G is Revello’s. For some reason or another, it’s the mothership of Old Forge Pizza. If you ask people who makes the best cheesesteak in Philly, they’ll most likely tell you Pat’s or Geno’s. Similarly, if you ask who makes the best pizza in Old Forge, they’ll most likely tell you Revello’s.

People almost always get this wrong. Sometimes they get it right, like with DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, for example.

P1050773Anyhow, these were the most disappointing cuts on our tour. The white was bland, seasoned with just black pepper, and the cheese blend had almost a slimy character about it. The bottom crust of the red had some nice crunch to it, but was sandy in texture. Of all the cuts, the broccoli was the best of the bunch, because at least it had a bit more seasoning and flavor. But the broccoli itself was mushy, so even that was no great shakes.

Ghigiarelli’s across the street is so much better for red it’s not even funny. The secret is the sauce. And the sauce isn’t such a secret since right out in the recycling bins are a million food service sized cans of Valoroso whole peeled pear tomatoes. Albany Jane at first said that this red cut reminded her of Trenton Tomato Pie. While it is nothing of the sort, I did concur that the tomato flavor of the sauce did remind me of Gennaro’s in Hamilton, NJ. Except at Ghigiarelli, the bright fresh tomato flavor is punctuated with a few toothsome pieces of cooked diced onion.

P1050783It’s all about the tomatoes. The melty cheese is still an acquired taste. But unlike the goo that topped Revello’s pizza, this one didn’t get stuck into my teeth. And by far, Ghigiarelli, made my favorite cut of red for the day.

As we were paying, our waitress mentioned that it was a shame we didn’t try their white, because she thought it was amazing. Maybe I’ll have to go back and give it a go. But most likely, should I find myself back in town, I’ll head to Arcaro & Genell for their white broccoli.

My bottom line is that these styles of pizza are a fun diversion if you happen to be in the region. But I can’t say that it’s worth the drive.

The Post Game

Two hours is just about enough time to start thinking about eating again after leaving Old Forge. Coincidentally, that’s just how long it takes to drive to Oneonta. And that town if famous for its cold-cheese pizza. Tino’s claims to be the originator of the form, topping a hot slice of NY style cheese pizza with cold thick shreds of additional mozzarella. But we found their cheese topping is just so thick and so bland, that it takes an otherwise respectable slice and just turns it into a burden to eat instead of a joy.

P1050794At least at Sal’s down the road, their shredded cold mozzarella is a bit thinner and more flavorful.

P1050796Yes, we topped off a day eating at five different pizza places with stops at two more pizza places. It’s a good thing neither of us is lactose intolerant or sensitive to gluten. It was a fantastic day out. Now I need to eat nothing but Grape Nuts, flax seeds, yogurt and prunes for the next two weeks to try and reverse the damage.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. buffsoulja permalink
    July 14, 2014 1:03 pm

    So glad you made it here. I completely agree that Ghigarelli’s is superior to Revello’s – which I found a waste of calories. However, I did enjoy the great craft brews on tap at Revello’s – Troeg’s Nugget Nectar being one of them – thus making the environment at Revello’s more appealing overall.

    Did you also find that the old forge white pizza was more similar to cheesy garlic bread then pizza and the Red sauce pizza more similar (especially at Revello’s) to frozen pizza (the childhood memories of Elio’s comes to mind)?

    Do you also still contend that The Orchard’s pizza is similar?

    In any case, the pizza tour makes a good pit stop on a long drive across Pennsylvania.

  2. WCF permalink
    July 14, 2014 1:04 pm

    Daniel:

    Great post.

    I’m an Albany native married for 13 years to an Old Forge girl. Needless to say i’m in Old Forge 5 or 6 times a year and agree almost totally with your findings. If you’re in Old Forge and can have only one white pizza Colarusso’s is the place followed by Arcaro & Genell. i have never developed a taste for their red pizza however.

    Of course next time you’re in that area you have to stop at Komensky’s Market for the best Kieilbasi you’ll ever have. It is a religious experience!!
    . http://www.komenskyskielbasi.com/

  3. buffsoulja permalink
    July 14, 2014 6:07 pm

    Yeah, I reckon the Old Forge area (although self-named Pizza capital of the world) is better for the Polish fare. My brother in law married a polish NEPA girl who had Revello’s delivered to her wedding ceremony and kielbasi and pierogies during the appetizer hour.

  4. July 15, 2014 9:52 pm

    Fantastic Post, and amazing accuracy on ALL accounts! I find that people here in NEPA sometimes just like a certain pizza because they grew up on it, are used to it, or because they don’t branch out and try a wide variety of different pizzas. That doesn’t mean that a given pizza is bad or good, but I appreciated your point on what is generally accepted as the best isn’t always the reality. It’s not easy to sort out the Old Forge Pizza scene because people have such strong feelings for their favorites, but I think you have done a fantastic job of doing so. I hope you recover from the cheese overload soon!

  5. July 17, 2014 9:02 am

    SEE?! I’m not the only one who says “Elio’s” when it comes to Old Forge pizza!!! (props to you, Buffsoulja)

    And correction: Colarusso’s is where “Old Forger’s” go for pizza.

    It’s weird when we pretty much agree on everything on an entire trip. Maybe next time you’ll let me get dessert.

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