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The True Watermark of Success for a City is Pizza - Pittsburgh is Swimming in Delicious Grease

Pizza EssayDan Tallarico3 Comments

That’s not humidity clinging to your body. Those aren’t beads of sweat forming on the bridge of your sweat. Those are droplets of grease; our atmosphere is ever-changing but right now the climate is stunningly pro-pizza. Staggeringly so. There was a time where the best pizza in Pittsburgh was locked in a 50 year old pizza house that hasn’t changed their formula in years. Now, you need a Pizza Tour Guide to help you scout out and find every pizza gem in the city. You could spend an entire day eating pizza and barely scratch Pittsburgh’s doughy surface.

Pittsburgh swells with innovation, health, bike lanes and great food. Bakery Square is becoming its own personal pan pizza with every amenity and topping to keep residents from venturing outside its crusty walls.

Luxury apartments are going up in Lawrenceville, The Strip and any place where water is nearby, like a family of sea monkeys brought to life with some of earth’s water. Where once you could see a bright yellow bridge you instead see a new PNC building or a hotel. Contractors can hardly finish their Primanti’s sandwich between having to tear down old warehouses and build rows of apartments. Whatever yeast has been sitting dormant in Pittsburgh is now beginning to proof.

It’s all exciting stuff and there’s no doubt that Pittsburgh is growing fast. But to me the true testament of growth for a city is the wealth of pizza options. Whereas a few years ago answering “Best Pizza in Pittsburgh?” took a moment. It was a dry question, easy to swallow and easier to spit back up.

Just a stack of Pizza al Taglio

Just a stack of Pizza al Taglio

 

But answering that question today? Man, you have to narrow it down. Do you mean neapolitan pizza? Roman? New York style pizza? Wood-fired oven? Brick oven? Vegan? Gluten free? Which neighborhood? Delivery? Sit down?  The age-old pizza question is impossible to answer without specifying what pizza breed you’re talking about.

Because the secret is that the best Pizza in Pittsburgh is everywhere, and most of it didn't exist five years ago.

Some of Pittsburgh’s best pizza comes from Bread and Salt, a bread shop in Bloomfield. They’ve received nation attention for their pizza al taglio, which is the second place in Pittsburgh that is bringing that Roman delight to Pittsburgh. The second being Pizza Taglio in East Liberty, and both are thriving.

Then of course you have your utility pizza. This is the kind of pizza crave after a night of drinking, after a hard day of work, and when it’s too hot or too cold outside. It’s pizza you convince yourself you need when life is tossing a few sucker punches your way. These days, every neighborhood has easy access to one or two of these shops. I can actually walk outside my door in Lawrenceville be outside The Pizza Company, Fazio’s or Graziano’s in two minutes.

Slice on Broadway keeps Beechview flowing with pizza.

Grab your dead cat and swing it around your head. I’m confident your cat corpse will graze against a building that contains bags of cheese, a dough mixer and pumps out pizzas frantically on Sunday and feeds the masses Friday and Saturday night.

The delicious grease can be found in any neighborhood no matter the price of real estate. Can you believe the author of The Pizza Bible, Tony Gemignani, chose Caliente (Yeah, Caliente in Bloomfield) spent his one day making pizza in Pittsburgh. Caliente doesn’t have a steep legacy of feeding the Steelers. They aren’t written about in the New York Times. But the folks at Caliente care and they put their heart into the pies they make. And every pizza that they make perks Bloomfield up just a little bit more.

Beyond pizzerias there is a wave of mobile pizza units sprouting around Pittsburgh. Like the seeds of a dandelion plant blowing through town, you never quite know when you’ll stumble into a mobile pizza unit. A cart, a truck, a table with a quaint tent and an oven is all anyone needs. Pow - you got pizza in your zipcode.

Pizza Boat, one of the first Pittsburgh mobile units, served up some of the best pizza in Pittsburgh. They're now at home at Slice Island at Spirit Lodge in Lawrenceville.

I try to eat at as many mobile units that I can, mostly because the reaction from natives is always new. “Where did yinz come from?” they’ll ask, their tattered Polamalu jersey flowing in the wind. With each question they come to terms with the idea that there’s pizza available a block from their house today, but tomorrow they’ll be gone. Those that give in are rewarded with fresh ingredients, most are sourced locally, and an investment in a unit that could become a weekly staple in their neighborhood.

Between Driftwood Oven, Flatbread Pizza, and The Brownstone, you have a Ringling Bros. Pizza Circus forming.

Spak Brothers organized a pizza eating contest at this year's Pizza Fest.

Spak Brothers organized a pizza eating contest at this year's Pizza Fest.

Most of the pizzerias I listed here didn’t exist five years ago. And no one is showing signs of slowing down. Pittsburgh never got too fancy with their pizza. It was a Friday night thing for a long time. Slowly and surely, Pizza is evolving in Pittsburgh. Its tentacles are finding its way into all aspects of the city, integrating itself with the steel core.

Pizza is so personal to every citizen because it’s introduced to us at such a young age and so often. Fridays after school you’d get pizza. Sleepovers you’d have pizza. If you read a book you got pizza. Kid’s love it and it’s affordable. As we develop pizza binds itself to our DNA. Whether we realize it or not pizza is a dish that has made a tremendous impact on us all. It’s a food for everyone.

When I delivered pizzas it wasn’t uncommon to take two pies out for delivery, one to a house that looked like could have been a half-way house and the other being a tiny mansion in the city. The only difference being the amount of 2-Litre Pepsi bottles I had to carry up their steps.

Before long Pittsburgh won’t be heralded for its medical advancements or sports teams. Or its education institutions or livability. Or whatever criteria someone decides to use to rank cities. Pittsburgh will be known far and wide for its illustrious pizza eco-system. And the fact that this basic food is thriving in Pizza is all you need to see to see that Pittsburgh is doing better than ever. 


Pizza is a food of the people. As Pittsburgh grows and thrives it only makes sense that more pizza shops open up to meet the demand of every Pittsburgher.