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The Curious World of Old Forge Pizza: Cuts, Trays and a Murder Mystery


Within the United States, there are many different distinct pizza styles classified by location. New York, Chicago, New Haven and Detroit are some of the most notable. But, there is another lesser-known style that hails from a small Northeast Pennsylvania town. Self-proclaimed as the “Pizza Capital of the World,” Old Forge is a former coal mining town of about 8,000. How did such a small town decide to boldly claim such a lofty status?

History of Old Forge Pizza

 

Immigrants from Italy flocked to this corner of Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines in the early 20th century. Bob Mulkerin, the mayor of the town, explained that the immigration mostly came from Felitto, a town near Naples. In fact, 41.3% of the population has Italian heritage, which is the 6th largest of any community in the country according to the 2010 Census.  Old Forge style pizza was created by Nonna Ghigiarelli, who made it for regulars of her and her husband’s bar back in 1926. A ride down Main Street shows the high density of pizzerias in a relatively small area.
Much like New Haven, there is a distinct lingo associated with the pizza here. Pies are called “trays,” as the pizza here is cooked in a square pan. Also, each slice is called a “cut.” There is more that makes this pizza unique. For example, the cheese is often a blend. Among the cheeses used include mozzarella, cheddar, provolone and even American cheese. The sauce often has a heavy onion flavor.

After watching an episode of The Pizza Show, it sparked a curiosity to visit the town. A few months later, I was off to this unfamiliar stretch of Pennsylvania a short distance from the New York state border. Up first, Mary Lou’s was scheduled to be the intro to Old Forge. Unfortunately, the small pizzeria just off of the main road was closed, even though we got there early in the day. Instead, our first taste would be from longtime staple Arcaro & Gennell’s just a few minutes south.

Arcaro & Gennell’s

Immediately after arriving, the large bocce court just outside of the building stands out. Sadly, the court was empty despite the warm weather. I could imagine that it adds a great touch to this spot with old school Italians playing bocce outside. Inside, the restaurant is spacious with a few separate dining areas and a bar. Clearly, pizza is not the only draw here as they have a full menu. But, we were solely focused on pizza, so we ordered a cut of red and a cut of white stuffed with spinach.

In Old Forge, a white slice is more like a sandwich as the cheese is tucked in between the dough. According to The Pizza Show, they use a blend of mozzarella, American and white cheddar. Spinach was a welcome addition to the gooey cheese and the top dusted in rosemary and other herbs. The highlight of this cut was the herb flavor and crisp texture of the crust. But, the cheese was a little heavy handed and gave it a much more dairy-heavy taste. The red cut had lightly baked dough and was covered in cheese. This was an average slice without standout flavors in the crust or sauce. The initial impression of the style was just alright.

Revello’s

Up next, a trip to another Old Forge staple, Revello’s. Located diagonally across from Arcaro & Gennell’s, it had a large red sign on the outside. Inside, it had the kitschy feel of a modernized retro diner. There were just a handful of people inside that afternoon.  On the agenda, a cut of each style once again to compare. Regrettably, the pizza here was entirely forgettable, generously speaking. The cut of red was reminiscent of school cafeteria lunch pizza. The pale crust had a gloopy cheese on top that stuck to the roof of my mouth and was unable to finish more than just a bite. After re-watching The Pizza Show, they use a blend of two types of cheddar and American cheese. This explains the unorthodox flavor.  Unfortunately, the cut of white was more of the same with the abysmal cheese.

The Mystery Behind Ghigiarelli’s

Before heading to the next spot, we noticed the closed Ghigiarelli’s directly across the street from Revello’s. First, the name harkens back to the creator of Old Forge style. Eventually, the pizzeria was sold and a man named Robert Baron became the new owner. Ghigiarelli’s had appeared on the Daily Meal’s Top 101 Pizza List back in 2013-2015. This was actually the first time Old Forge popped up on my pizza radar.
As for Robert Baron, January 26, 2017 was a fateful day. He failed to answer his phone and his car was missing. Also, the dough delivery was left at the front door, which was considered unusual. A few days later, his car was found with a large amount of blood inside. Cleaning products and a chemical used to clean blood was found inside the pizzeria. To this day, there have been no leads or further information on his disappearance. Seemingly, a dark cloud hangs over this pizzeria in the form of an ominous white sign offering a $10,000 reward. “Please help find Robert Baron. Someone here knows where he is!!” Hopefully, this mystery will be solved and the family will be able to gain closure in the near future.

Elio G’s

After two below average experiences, fatigue for the Old Forge style began to set in. One more stop was on the list, Elio G’s, located just south from the pizza epicenter of town. After we pulled up in front, we noticed the unique feel of the place. The building looked like a small cottage and a long wooden table with bench seating stood outside. Inside the shop, a husband and wife were busy preparing orders that were scrawled on a white dry-erase board. Each order had a pick-up time and a name to go with the styles of pizzas. The shop’s friendly resident dog strutted out from behind the counter to greet us. Right away, we could sense that this place was different than the first two stops.
Soon after, we were offered cups of homemade red wine as we decided on what to order. Patiently, the couple took the time to ensure the order of a deaf man who was already in the shop. One difference here is that they only offer half and whole trays, no cuts. Since we were already pretty full, we decided to order half a tray of red. The couple could not have been friendlier and explained how they make the dough from scratch. Remember that Ghigiarelli’s received dough deliveries each morning? Speaking of Ghigiarelli’s, the husband is Elio Ghigiarelli (Elio G), who is none other than the grandson of Nonna.
While we waited, we couldn’t help but enjoy the back and forth banter between Elio and his wife, Michelle. They have a certain dynamic between them that is charming, which adds a special element to this humble shop. Their appearance on “The Pizza Show,” is a taste of what you can experience here. We continued to drink more wine as we waited for our pizza. After the dough and sauce are baked together, the pie is taken out of the oven for the cheese to be added. Then, they squirt a generous amount of olive oil on top. Ten minutes later, our pie was ready to go and packed into a small cardboard box. It already looked much better than the first two places, although the cheese is only lightly melted.

 

After the first bite, two things really stood out about the sauce. One, the sauce had a gentle crunch thanks to thinly sliced onions. Two, the sauce had a heavy black pepper flavor, confirmed by the amount of peppercorns visible. We could taste the difference of the crust here, which was airy and slightly crisp. In spite of these positives, there was still a bit of a strange taste to the cheese. Although we asked what type of cheese they use, it is a guarded secret. We were able to find out that there was some provolone in the mix, but that’s as far as we got. In hindsight, this pizza may taste better with no cheese at all.

The Old Forge Experience

Overall, visiting Old Forge was an interesting experience. It is a far cry from other well-known pizza cities. Although we may not have loved the style, we respect the history and creativity that comes from this small town. Perhaps if raised eating this style of pizza first, this perspective would be entirely different. Maybe the cheese blend is a function of using what they had on hand at the time, or catering to the taste of the locals. Have you visited Old Forge before? What did you think of the pizza scene? We would like to hear your thoughts.

A Bonus Stop 30 Minutes South in Wilkes-Barre

While researching and planning the itinerary for this pizza pilgrimage, another spot came on the radar. As it turned out, there is a pizza scene in Northeast Pennsylvania outside of the Old Forge area. A few favorably rated places popped up on a quick Google search, mostly in Wilkes-Barre. In particular, one pizzeria stood out. Angelo’s Pizzeria looked promising and different in style from Old Forge, so I added it to Google Maps as a potential stop.
Check out our experience at Angelo’s Pizzeria to see how we finished the day in Northeast PA.
http://foodandfootprints.com/angelos-pizzeria-wilkes-barre-pa/

OLD FORGE PIZZA MAP

TitleCategoryAddressDescription
Elio G's Pizza 843 S Main St, Old Forge, PA, USA

Phone: (570) 457-4992

Open Wed-Sat, 3PM-8PM

Revello's 502 S Main St, Old Forge, PA, USA

Phone: (570) 457-9843

Arcaro & Genell 443 S Main St, Old Forge, PA, USA

Phone: (570) 457-5555

Mary Lou's Pizza 209 Dunn Avenue, Old Forge, PA, USA

Phone: (570) 562-2700

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