The Rise of the Slice:
A Story of New York-Style Pizza
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Origins of Pizza
Chapter 2: Pizza's Journey to America
Chapter 3: The Birth of New York-Style Pizza
Chapter 4: The Lombardi Legacy and Beyond
Chapter 5: Neapolitan Pizza: The Root of It All
Chapter 6: The Margherita: A Pizza Fit for a Queen
Chapter 7: Pizza's Expansion Across America
Chapter 8: The Influence of Immigrant Communities
Chapter 9: The Craft of Pizza Making
Chapter 10: Pizza Styles Across America
Chapter 11: The Rise of Artisanal Pizzas
Chapter 12: Pizza Around the Globe
Chapter 13: The Pizza Industry Today
Chapter 14: The Future of Pizza
Chapter 15: Festivals, Competitions & Records
Chapter 1: The Birth of Pizza
Pizza, a dish adored worldwide today, has humble beginnings rooted in Naples, Italy, in the late 18th century. In this bustling, chaotic port city, the common man needed an affordable, quick meal during their short breaks. This necessity was the mother of invention for pizza. Early pizzas were simple, flatbreads topped with anything from tomatoes to cheese, garlic, lard, and anchovies. They were sold not in shops, but on the streets and in open-air markets by vendors who carried huge boxes under their arms. These crude pizzas, baked in wood-fired masonry ovens, were a far cry from the pizza we know today, but their purpose was the same: to provide a cheap, filling meal quickly.
Significant moments in pizza history: the birth of the Margherita pizza. In 1889, Queen Margherita, the queen consort of Italy, visited Naples with her husband, King Umberto I. A local baker named Raffaele Esposito was asked to prepare a special dish in honor of the queen's visit. Esposito and his wife ran a well-known pizzeria, "Pietro... e basta così." To honor the queen and showcase his culinary skill, Esposito prepared three different kinds of pizzas, one of which was garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil, to represent the colors of the new Italian flag: red, white, and green. The queen adored this pizza so much that Esposito named it after her - the Margherita pizza. This event marked a turning point in pizza history, elevating it from street food to a dish fit for royalty.
Chapter 2: Key Figures of Italian Pizza
The lives and contributions of the key figures who shaped the early pizza landscape in Italy. Central to this narrative is Raffaele Esposito, the creator of the Margherita pizza. Esposito wasn't just a baker; he was a craftsman who took immense pride in his creations. His pizzeria, "Pietro... e basta così," was a beloved institution in Naples, attracting locals and visitors alike with its delicious pizzas. Even today, it continues to operate under the name "Pizzeria Brandi," serving pizzas using Esposito's traditional recipes.
However, the story of Italian pizza is not just about Esposito. Other figures played a significant role in shaping the pizza culture in Italy. One such person was Antonio Pero, known as the "father of Neapolitan pizza." Pero worked at "Pizzeria Brandi," where he championed the use of high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. He was a firm believer in the principle that the quality of a pizza is determined by the quality of its ingredients. This belief became a defining feature of Neapolitan pizza and continues to guide the pizzaiolos of Naples today.
The role of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza Association), an organization established in 1984 to protect and promote authentic Neapolitan pizza. The association set strict guidelines regarding the ingredients, preparation method, and even the baking style for Neapolitan pizza. These rules have played a crucial role in preserving the traditional craft of pizza making in Naples.
These individuals and institutions set the standards that continue to define Italian pizza. Their legacy is a testament to the timeless appeal of a well-made pizza, a dish that has managed to conquer the world without losing its soul.
Chapter 3: The Great Migration
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a significant wave of Italian immigrants to the United States. Fleeing poverty and seeking better opportunities, over four million Italians relocated to America, with many settling in the bustling city of New York. They brought with them their culture, traditions, and, most importantly for our narrative, their cuisine. Among these culinary traditions was the Neapolitan pizza, a dish that had already cemented its place in the heart of Italian street food.
The arrival of pizza in America was not immediately met with widespread acclaim. Initially, it remained a niche culinary item within the Italian-American communities. Early pizzerias were small operations, often run out of the front rooms of tenement apartments. They were gathering places for the community, spaces where the newly arrived immigrants could find a taste of home in a foreign land.
One of the first documented pizzerias was opened by Gennaro Lombardi in 1905 in the heart of Manhattan. Originally a grocery store, Lombardi's started selling pizza to cater to the growing demand among Italian immigrants. It was a simple operation, with the pizzas cooked in a coal-fired oven and sold by the piece, wrapped in paper and tied with a string.
These first pizzerias played a crucial role not just in feeding the Italian-American communities, but also in fostering a sense of community and continuity with the homeland. They also served as the launching pad for the eventual spread of pizza to the broader American population, paving the way for the transformation of pizza from an ethnic food to a universally beloved dish.
Chapter 4: The American Adaptation
As pizza began to gain a foothold among the Italian-American communities, it also started to pique the interest of the broader American population. The first American adaptation of pizza took place in these early pizzerias, as the pizzaiolos started to cater to their non-Italian customers' tastes. The Neapolitan pizza, which typically featured a thin, soft, and chewy crust, began to evolve into a new style that was better suited to the American palate.
The American adaptation of pizza centered around the crust. The crust of the New York-style pizza, as it would come to be known, was thinner and crispier than its Neapolitan counterpart. It was also larger in diameter, allowing for the pizza to be sold in slices, a format that was more compatible with the fast-paced lifestyle of New York City.
The toppings, too, started to change. While the Neapolitan pizza was topped with simple ingredients like tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, the American pizza began to feature a wider variety of toppings. Pepperoni, a type of American salami, became one of the most popular toppings and remains a staple of American pizza to this day.
But perhaps the most significant adaptation was the introduction of gas-fired brick ovens. Unlike the traditional wood-fired ovens used in Naples, these ovens allowed for more control over the baking process and enabled pizzaiolos to cook the larger, thinner pizzas more evenly.
The American adaptation of pizza was a gradual process, shaped by the interactions between the Italian immigrants and their new home. The result was a dish that retained its core identity as a pizza, but was distinctly American in its characteristics. This new style of pizza would ultimately become one of America's most beloved dishes, laying the foundation for the rise of the New York-style pizza.
Chapter 5: New York City: The Pizza Melting Pot
New York City has always been a melting pot of cultures, a characteristic reflected in its food scene. The city's culinary landscape is a vibrant mix of cuisines from all over the world, and pizza is no exception. As Italian immigrants settled in New York, they brought their traditional food with them, including pizza. The pizzerias they opened were initially small, intended to serve the immigrant community with familiar food from their homeland. However, as pizza gained popularity, the city became a hub for this delicious dish's evolution and growth.
The first known pizzeria in the United States, Lombardi's, opened in New York City in 1905. This establishment, originally a grocery store, began selling pizza by the slice to accommodate factory workers looking for a quick, cheap lunch. Lombardi's was a hit and soon inspired others, leading to the opening of numerous pizzerias in New York City, each adding their unique touch to their pizzas.
These early pizzerias were mainly located in Italian neighborhoods, like Little Italy and East Harlem. They became community centers, places where Italian immigrants could connect with their roots while navigating their new American lives. The pizzerias were also places of innovation, where the classic Neapolitan pizza began to transform into something uniquely suited to the American palate.
As the popularity of pizza spread beyond the Italian community, New York City found itself at the heart of this culinary revolution. By the mid-20th century, the New York-style pizza was born, setting the stage for the pizza craze that would sweep across the nation.
Chapter 6: The New York Style
New York-style pizza is a distinct variety that has become synonymous with the city. It's characterized by a thin, crisp yet flexible crust that allows it to be folded, a necessity for on-the-go eating in the fast-paced life of New York City. But what exactly led to the creation of this particular style of pizza?
The evolution of the Neapolitan pizza into the New York-style pizza was a process shaped by the city's unique social and cultural context. One crucial factor was the shift from the wood-fired ovens used in Naples to the coal-fired, and eventually, gas-fired brick ovens in New York. These ovens allowed for more control over the temperature and cooking process, enabling the pizza crust to become larger, thinner, and crispier.
The use of ingredients also changed. While Neapolitan pizza used fresh mozzarella, New York-style pizza typically used a dry, grated form of the cheese. Tomatoes were replaced with a seasoned tomato sauce, and the range of toppings expanded to include various meats, vegetables, and even pineapple.
Another defining feature of the New York-style pizza is its size. The pizzas are typically large, with slices sold individually. This format was a perfect fit for New York's fast-paced lifestyle, where food often had to be consumed on the go.
As this style of pizza became more popular, it started to be replicated in other parts of the country, establishing New York-style pizza as one of the most recognized pizza styles in the United States and around the world. In essence, the New York-style pizza is not just a style of pizza; it's a testament to the city's ability to take something traditional and reinvent it in its unique way.
Chapter 7: The Pizza Pioneers of America
The stories of the pioneering figures who popularized pizza across the United States. It begins with the figure of Gennaro Lombardi, who opened the first documented pizzeria in America in New York City in 1905. An Italian immigrant, Lombardi brought the traditional Neapolitan pizza to America and set the stage for the pizza revolution that was to come.
Anthony "Totonno" Pero, who worked at Lombardi's before opening his own pizzeria, Totonno's, in Coney Island in 1924. Totonno's is known for its coal-fired brick oven pizzas, a distinct departure from the wood-fired ovens of Naples. This innovation allowed for a larger, crispier crust, marking the early development of what would become the New York-style pizza.
In the mid-20th century, pizza began to spread beyond New York City, driven by returning World War II soldiers who had developed a taste for pizza during their time in Italy. Frank Pepe in New Haven, Connecticut, a former bread baker, opened Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, known for its "white clam" pizza, a deviation from the traditional tomato and cheese topping.
Finally, we meet the Sewell brothers, Ric Riccardo and Ike Sewell, who created the deep-dish pizza in Chicago in 1943, marking another significant shift in the evolution of American pizza. Their pizzeria, Pizzeria Uno, offered a hearty, thick-crusted pizza loaded with cheese and chunky tomato sauce, a stark contrast to the thin, crispy New York-style pizza.
These pioneers were instrumental in popularizing pizza in the United States and contributing to its evolution. Their innovation and entrepreneurial spirit helped transform pizza from a niche ethnic food into a staple of American cuisine.
Chapter 8: The Birth of Pizza Chains
Pizza's popularity in America paved the way for the birth of pizza chains. This chapter discusses how the concept of franchising led to the rapid expansion of pizza across the country and later, around the globe.
One of the first pizza chains was Pizza Hut, founded in 1958 by brothers Dan and Frank Carney in Wichita, Kansas. Their business model was simple: provide good food at a reasonable price, served in a clean, pleasant environment. Pizza Hut's growth was rapid, and by 1971, it was the largest pizza chain in the world.
At around the same time, Tom Monaghan started Domino's Pizza in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Domino's focused on delivering hot pizza to customers' homes, a new concept at the time. This delivery model was a game-changer, making pizza even more accessible to the American public.
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the first Round Table Pizza opened in Menlo Park, California, in 1959. Round Table offered a more gourmet pizza experience, with unique and high-quality toppings.
These chains, and others that followed, played a pivotal role in making pizza a staple of American fast food. They developed innovative business models, marketing strategies, and even pizza styles that catered to the American taste and lifestyle. Despite their mass-market approach, these chains also understood the importance of quality, ensuring that their pizzas, while standardized, were still delicious and satisfying. As a result, pizza moved out of the big cities and into the heartland of America, becoming a beloved dish in every corner of the country.
Chapter 9: The Craft of Pizza Making
Pizza making is more than just a culinary process; it is an art form that requires skill, precision, and a deep understanding of ingredients. The craft of pizza making, highlighting the different stages involved in the process.
Firstly, the dough. Pizza begins with the simple combination of flour, water, yeast, and salt. Yet, the process of creating the perfect dough is anything but simple. Factors such as the type of flour used, the temperature of the water, the fermentation time, and the kneading technique all play a crucial role in determining the dough's texture and flavor.
Next is the sauce. The traditional Neapolitan pizza uses a simple sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes, which are grown in the volcanic soil around Mount Vesuvius. However, variations abound, with some pizzaiolos adding herbs, garlic, or onions for additional flavor. In New York-style pizza, the sauce is often cooked to concentrate the flavors and reduce the moisture content.
Cheese is another crucial component. Mozzarella is the traditional choice, but the type of mozzarella can vary. Fresh mozzarella, which is soft and creamy, is used in Neapolitan pizza. In contrast, New York-style pizza often uses a low-moisture, aged mozzarella that has a firmer texture and melts well.
The toppings are where pizza makers can truly showcase their creativity. From classic pepperoni to exotic pineapple, the possibilities are endless. However, the key is balance. Each ingredient should complement, not overpower, the others.
Finally, the baking process. Traditional Neapolitan pizzas are baked in a wood-fired oven, which imparts a distinct smoky flavor and creates a blistered, slightly charred crust. New York-style pizzas, on the other hand, are typically baked in a gas-fired brick oven that ensures a crisp, evenly cooked crust.
Pizza making is a craft that takes time and skill to master. Yet, the effort is well worth it, resulting in a dish that is as delicious as it is versatile.
Chapter 10: Pizza Styles Across America
Just as America is a melting pot of cultures, it is also a melting pot of pizza styles. While New York-style pizza may be the most famous, it is far from the only style of pizza found in the country.
In Chicago, the deep-dish pizza reigns supreme. This style of pizza features a thick, buttery crust that is baked in a round, steel pan, similar to a cake or pie pan. The crust is layered with cheese, toppings, and finally, a chunky tomato sauce.
In contrast, the Detroit-style pizza is rectangular, with a thick, crispy crust that is light and airy on the inside. It's topped with brick cheese, which is melted to the edges of the pan to create a delicious, caramelized cheese rim.
In California, the focus is on fresh, local ingredients. The California-style pizza, popularized by chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Alice Waters, features a thin crust and gourmet toppings like smoked salmon, goat cheese, and truffle oil.
St. Louis-style pizza, on the other hand, features a thin, cracker-like crust and is topped with Provel cheese, a processed cheese product that is a combination of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone cheeses.
These regional styles, each with their unique characteristics, reflect the diversity and creativity of American pizza. They showcase how a simple dish, brought over by immigrants, can be transformed and adapted to fit the local tastes and preferences.
Chapter 11: The Rise of Artisanal Pizzas
In the late 20th century, America saw the rise of artisanal pizzas, a movement that celebrated high-quality ingredients, traditional techniques, and innovative flavors. This trend was a reaction to the standardized, fast-food approach of the big pizza chains, offering a more gourmet, personalized pizza experience.
One of the key figures in this movement was Ed LaDou, a pizza chef in California. LaDou worked at the famous Spago restaurant in Los Angeles, where he was known for his creative, gourmet pizzas. His creations caught the attention of the founders of California Pizza Kitchen, who hired him to develop their initial pizza menu.
The artisanal pizza movement was also influenced by the Slow Food movement, which originated in Italy in the 1980s. The Slow Food movement emphasized the use of local, seasonal ingredients and traditional cooking techniques, values that aligned perfectly with the ethos of artisanal pizza.
Exploreing different artisanal pizza styles, from the Neapolitan-style pizzas of Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, Arizona, to the unique, locally-inspired pizzas of Roberta's in Brooklyn, New York. We also discuss the role of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, which certifies pizzerias that adhere to the traditional Neapolitan pizza-making method.
The artisanal pizza movement reflects a broader trend in American food culture: the desire for authenticity, quality, and a connection to the source of our food. It's a reminder that pizza, at its heart, is a simple dish that shines when high-quality ingredients are prepared with care and skill.
Chapter 12: Pizza Around the Globe
Pizza may have originated in Italy, but it has become a global phenomenon, with unique styles and flavors emerging in different parts of the world.
In Japan, for example, you can find "Neapolitan" pizzas that adhere strictly to the traditional Italian method, as well as unique creations like the "mayo jaga" pizza, topped with mayonnaise, potato, and bacon.
In Brazil, pizza is a popular dish, with São Paulo known as the "Pizza Capital of the World." Brazilian pizzas often feature toppings like fresh corn, hard-boiled eggs, and even banana and cinnamon for dessert pizzas.
In Sweden, the "kebab pizza," topped with doner kebab meat, lettuce, tomato, onions, and kebab sauce, is a popular choice. Meanwhile, in India, pizza has been adapted to suit local tastes, with toppings like paneer (Indian cheese), tandoori chicken, and spicy pickles.
Australia is known for its "Aussie" pizza, topped with bacon and egg, while in South Korea, the "Bulgogi" pizza, topped with the popular marinated beef, is a common choice.
Even within Italy, regional variations exist. In Rome, the pizza is often thin and crisp, in contrast to the soft, chewy Neapolitan pizza. Toppings can vary widely, from the seafood pizzas of coastal regions to the hearty meat and cheese pizzas of the interior.
Global pizza styles, highlighting the versatility of this beloved dish and its ability to adapt to different cultures and tastes. From its humble beginnings in Naples, pizza has truly become a global food, loved and enjoyed by people all over the world.
Chapter 13: The Pizza Industry Today
The pizza industry today is a multi-billion dollar industry, with a presence in virtually every corner of the world. It is a vibrant, dynamic industry that continues to evolve and adapt to changing consumer tastes and lifestyles.
One of the most significant trends in recent years has been the growth of the fast-casual pizza segment. Companies like Blaze Pizza and MOD Pizza have capitalized on consumers' desire for fast, customizable, high-quality pizzas. These fast-casual pizza chains offer a "build your own" model, where customers can choose from a variety of toppings and watch their pizza being built and baked in front of them. This trend reflects the broader shift in the food industry towards customization and transparency.
Another key trend is the increasing focus on sustainability and social responsibility. From sourcing local, organic ingredients to implementing eco-friendly packaging and delivery methods, pizza companies are finding ways to reduce their environmental impact and contribute positively to their communities.
Technology has also played a crucial role in shaping the pizza industry. Online ordering and delivery apps have made it easier than ever for consumers to order their favorite pizza from the comfort of their home. At the same time, pizza companies are using technology to improve their operations, from using AI to predict order volumes to implementing robotics and automation in the pizza-making process.
Despite these changes, the core appeal of pizza remains the same: it's a delicious, convenient, and affordable meal that brings people together. Whether it's a family gathering, a party with friends, or a quick weekday dinner, pizza is a go-to choice for people of all ages and backgrounds.
Chapter 14: The Future of Pizza
As we look to the future, it's clear that pizza will continue to be a beloved food for many around the world. However, the ways in which we make, sell, and consume pizza will continue to evolve.
One area of innovation is in the realm of alternative ingredients. As consumers become more health-conscious and aware of dietary restrictions, the demand for gluten-free, vegan, and low-carb pizzas is on the rise. Pizza makers are experimenting with alternative flours, plant-based cheeses, and a range of innovative toppings to cater to these needs.
Sustainability will also continue to be a major focus. From farm-to-table pizza restaurants that source their ingredients locally, to efforts to reduce waste and energy use in the pizza-making process, the industry will continue to find ways to be more environmentally friendly.
Finally, technology will continue to shape the future of pizza. From drone delivery to 3D printed pizzas, the possibilities are endless. At the same time, the importance of human craftsmanship and tradition in pizza making will remain, striking a balance between innovation and tradition.
The future of pizza is bright, full of potential and exciting possibilities. As we continue to innovate and adapt, one thing remains certain: our love for pizza is here to stay.
Chapter 15: Celebrating Pizza: Festivals, Competitions, and World Records
Pizza, in its essence, is a dish that brings people together. It's no surprise, then, that pizza is celebrated in numerous ways around the globe, from festivals and competitions to the pursuit of world records.
Pizza festivals are popular events in many countries, bringing together pizza lovers to enjoy a slice or two, witness live pizza-making demonstrations, and participate in pizza-themed activities. One of the most famous pizza festivals is the Napoli Pizza Village festival in Naples, Italy, which draws over a million visitors each year. In the United States, cities like New York and Chicago host their own pizza festivals, celebrating their unique pizza styles.
Pizza competitions are another way pizza is celebrated. These events allow pizzaiolos to showcase their skills and creativity, with categories often including best traditional pizza, best gourmet pizza, fastest pizza maker, and even acrobatic pizza tossing. The World Pizza Championship, held annually in Parma, Italy, is the most prestigious pizza competition, attracting competitors from around the world.
Aside from festivals and competitions, pizza also holds a place in the Guinness World Records. Records have been set for the largest pizza, the longest pizza, and the most expensive pizza, among others. One notable record is the largest pizza commercially available, a title held by Moontower Pizza Bar in Texas, USA, for their 8 ft x 2 ft 8 in pizza.
The chapter also touches on the cultural impact of pizza in popular media, from its appearance in movies and TV shows, like the iconic pizza toss on the roof in Breaking Bad, to video games like the Pizza Delivery Boy.
Lastly, we explore the influence of pizza in the digital realm, from viral pizza-related memes and social media trends, to the ubiquitous pizza emoji. The Bitcoin Pizza Day, celebrated annually on May 22nd, commemorates the first recorded transaction using Bitcoin, where a man in Florida paid 10,000 Bitcoins for two pizzas.
Through these celebrations, competitions, and records, we see how pizza has gone beyond being just a food item and has become a cultural phenomenon. Its universal appeal and versatility have made it a beloved symbol of community and celebration, transcending borders and bringing joy to people around the world. Pizza, in all its delicious forms and interpretations, is truly a food worth celebrating.