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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

"The Pizza Capital of the World" - Old Forge, PA

For any self-respecting pizza lover, there are certain cities or regions that you hope to get to someday. Naples. New York. New Haven. Chicago. Anywhere in Sicily.
And Old Forge, Pennsylvania.
If you weren't expecting that last one, then you must be unaware that Old Forge, PA (not to be confused with Old Forge, NY, in the Adirondacks) is the self-proclaimed "Pizza Capital of the World." That's right. The World.
On what basis, you may ask, can a town of some 8300 people, just outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania, make such a bold claim?
You can read an account of the background here. I'm still not sure who came up with the slogan, but the gist of it is, Old Forge has an amazing concentration of pizzerias in a relatively small area. So it's not that the pizza is necessarily better than elsewhere, or that it's the birthplace of a style that's spread across the globe. It's just that there literally seems to be a pizzeria - sometimes more than one - on every block here. Apart from the actual pizzerias, other restaurants - diners, family restaurants, and the like - also seem to make a point of advertising that they offer pizza. I think the Chinese restaurant may be the only place in town that doesn't sell pizza (and for all I know, maybe they do).
So, I'd long wanted to visit Old Forge, but it's just far enough away (about 3 1/2 hours), that I'd never found much of an excuse to make the trip. A recent drive to and from New York City with my wife provided the opportunity, as Old Forge is just a short detour off I-81, near Scranton.
After doing some preliminary research, I settled on a few pizzerias I wanted to hit. We ended up stopping at three, getting one slice (or "cut" as it's typically called in Old Forge) each. Typically the choice is red or white. I stuck with red, the better to compare them.
All three were roughly similar, evidence of the fact that there is an Old Forge style of pizza. It's roughly what Rochesterians would call sheet pizza, but that doesn't quite capture it. It's rectangular, baked on a pan, with a thick but airy crust. Those are the basics. From there, each pizzeria has its own take on the style.
We started at Mary Lou's, which got the highest ratings online. I don't necessarily trust online ratings, but it seemed like as a good place to begin as any. Mary Lou's uses the term "slices," so I asked for two red slices.
A couple of observations, before I get into the details. At Mary Lou's, it took maybe five minutes for our slices to come up. I'm not complaining; they were worth the wait. It just struck me that at all three places we went to, the slices took a bit of time. Mary Lou's was probably the quickest but it still took a while. None of these places had slices ready to go. And I never witnessed the process. So I'm not sure if they had unbaked pizza sitting there, and baked the slices individually, or how they did it.
Also, though this was around the noon hour on a Friday, we were the only customers at each location. I was surprised not to see some other customers. I don't draw any particular conclusions from that, it's just something I noticed.
Anyway - when our Mary Lou's slices came up, I asked the counter person (who could've been Mary Lou herself - why don't I think of asking these things at the time?) if Mary Lou's is the best in town, and if so, why. The answer to the first question, of course, was yes, and the answer to the second was "Because Mary Lou bakes it with love." I'll accept that.

Mary Lou's slices were topped with well melted, smooth cheese, mozzarella, for sure, but perhaps a blend (Provolone?). The sauce had a  mild tomatoey flavor, neither too acidic nor sweet. The crust was thick but not dense, with a light, airy texture.
There was no seating at Mary Lou's, so we ate these in my car. From there,  we moved on to Arcaro & Genell, just around the block and down the street. Again, there was a wait, I'd say from five to ten minutes. They had a few tables inside and outside, and we ate our slices outside.
These were the same shape, but markedly different from Mary Lou's. Thinner, more oily underneath, with a  crunchier surface. The sauce was again mildly seasoned, but with a more noticeable flavor of oregano. The cheese was more thinly applied, appropriately to the thinner crust. So overall, thinner and more crunchy/crispy.
Kitty corner, or catty corner, or whichever you prefer (there are several variants) you'll find Revello. They have a full bar, where we sat while we waited for our cuts, which took maybe ten minutes.
The server was quite accommodating. She gave us free soft drinks while we waited for our cuts. As I was waiting, I took a photo of the "Peace Love Pizza" sign along the front wall. Then we took our slices outside and ate them on a bench, near the street corner.
Crustwise, these were similar to Mary Lou's; thick, crisp underneath, and airy on the inside. But the similarities ended there.
The cheese was the most noticeable component. It seemed to me that Revello's may use some American cheese. The cheese was well melted, very smooth, with that distinctive, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth texture of melted American cheese. My wife didn't like it at all. For me, well, I can't say I would want to eat this all the time, but I appreciated its uniqueness. It reminded me a bit of Brozzetti's in Johnson City, which I've reviewed before.
The sauce took a back seat to the cheese, but was a little more acidic than at the other two places we visited. A very interesting slice, overall.
After trying these three places, I cannot make any bold claims to being an expert on Old Forge pizza. But Old Forge itself is not shy about making bold claims. Pizza Capital of the World? I don't know about that. But hey,
if you're going to make a claim, go big. And who's to argue? You could spend a week here, and eat at a different pizzeria every day, without even having to drive. So I'm not going to quibble about their self-ascribed label.
What I can say for sure is that if you really love pizza - and are interested in trying different styles of pizza - you really should make the pilgrimage to Old Forge, someday. Next time I head down I-81, I plan to stop back, and continue my exploration.

Mary Lou's Pizza, 209 Dunn Ave., Old Forge, PA
Arcaro & Genell,  443 S. Main St., Old Forge, PA
Revello's Pizza, 502 S. Main St., Old Forge, PA