Pizza has a biblical following in the Northeast. Thanks to robust Little Italy communities that rival the original, the region is a destination for its authentic Neapolitan, Sicilian and other pizza styles.
Thin or thick crust, round or square, cheese or no cheese, and toppings make or break a purist’s definition of the best. And perhaps no other food has been translated so often than our beloved pizza.
Luckily, the beauty of pizza preferences lies in the beholder and there are plenty of options to tempt your palate. Find your favorite as we look at the regional pizza styles of the Northeast and where you can find some of the most notable slices.
Originating in Naples, Italy, Neapolitan pizza was brought to the Northeast by Italian immigrants who began to settle in these parts around the late 19th century.
This traditional round, thin crust pie now boasts global fame, though it’s larger than the domestic Italian versions of past generations. Its simultaneously doughy yet crispy edge, abundant San Marzano tomato sauce and smattering of buffalo mozzarella cheese provide the simple foundation that allows chefs to craft unique variations, using secret family recipes and time-honored baking traditions to set their pies apart.
Artisan adaptations have morphed into their own official methods, including New York and New Haven styles, as well as New Jersey tomato pies and thin-crusted bar pies, which reign within their state borders.
Minor subtleties separate each pizza style, from length of dough fermentation (New York style is quick rise, while New Haven dough proofs overnight), to cooking methods (coal, wood or gas fire), to size (New Haven’s smaller pizzas counter New York’s larger pies that are often sold by the foldable slice) and cheese (tomato pie is often “senza formaggio” or without cheese.)
They also have their own lexicon: New Haven die-hards put a little “mootz” on their “apizza,” which is a vestige of their Italian dialect, while New York slices smothered in cheese are dubbed “Neapolitan American” but often simply referred to as “regular.”
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Legendary New Haven neighbors Frank Pepe’s Pizza Napoletana, Modern Apizza and Sally’s Apizza are the go-to for traditional eponymous pies since the 1920s and 1930s. Try the classic clam pizza at Frank Pepe’s (which it invented and others copied), the signature Italian Bomb pizza at Modern and Sally’s Garden Special.
For classic New York-style pies from legit Italian pizzaiolos, it’s Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn (since 1965) or Joe’s in Greenwich Village (since 1975). Both offer Neapolitan and Sicilian pizzas with little fanfare, just a classically delicious old-world vibe with old-world ingredients.
In Rhode Island, Pizza Marvin in Providence crafts a delicious New Haven pizza, while Fellini Pizzeria’s New York pie is as close to the original as you can get, but with a whole wheat crust.
Boston’s Regina Pizzeria is considered by many as the city’s best brick oven pizza, though Molinari’s in Dorchester offers considerable competition with its custom sauce and wood-burning oven.
For a personal, super thin-crust Neapolitan pie, head to Eddie’s Pizza on Long Island for their trademarked bar pie.
Cross the New Jersey border for tomato pies, which generally are Neapolitan, though variations abound. A dusting of parmesan instead of mozzarella scatters the top, though some chefs bury cheese beneath the sauce. De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies was one of the first to open outside Trenton, and that 86-year legacy means a mouth-watering, slightly charred crust.
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Originating in Sicily, Sicilian pizza (known as “sfincione” in Italian, which appropriately means “thick sponge”) was popular there until the 1860s, where translations included stuffed crust, a calzone-type pizza pocket and even a second layer of dough.
Its thicker, doughier crust resembles focaccia bread, and it’s baked in a pan, so its rectangular shape is a healthy canvas for toppings. Tomato sauce and flavorful cheese, as well as sardines, herbs and onion are common accompaniments, though heavier garnishes have been widely served across America for a nearly 100 years.
Regional variations make this pizza an epicurean adventure, from Chicago’s deep dish to Detroit’s hearty square and Rhode Island’s cheese-less pizza strips. Just like its Neapolitan cousin, Sicilian pies have their own vocabulary, so make sure to ask for a “square” rather than a slice, and don’t fret if you need cutlery for the first steaming bite.
L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn is a can’t-miss destination for the upside-down Sicilian pie, where four generations have layered sweet tomato sauce atop strands of mozzarella and parmesan to prevent it from saturating the dough.
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Emmy Squared in Brooklyn is known for their Detroit-style pie, a cheese-covered square pizza with a thick, fluffy crust, baked on a cooling rack embedded in a pan for maximum crisp factor on the cheese-crusted corner piece.
Alternately, Emmett’s in SoHo proffers round deep-dish pies that harken back to the founder’s upbringing in Chicago, with such a cavernous crust that they resemble a Thanksgiving dessert, except they’re bursting with copious tomato sauce and cheese versus apple or pumpkin.
Gino’s Ristorante in Belleville, New Jersey, serves up enchanting Sicilian pies, either plain or with everything.
In Dedham, Massachusetts, the potato pizza at Santoro’s Sicilian Trattoria is a delicacy, with its thick crust covered in creamy Bechamel sauce, instead of tomatoes, julienned potatoes, rosemary and sage seasoning and mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.
Rhode Island’s pizza strips are renowned as party pizzas because they’re ideal for large groups and are served at room temperature, without cheese but with an ample dose of sweet tomato sauce that’s almost like a paste. DePetrillo’s Pizza and Bakery in North Providence and The Original Italian Bakery in Johnston, both operated by members of the same family, offer bona fide pizza strips. For a fresh out of the oven meal. Hotline Pizza in Providence and A Guy and His Pie in Pawtucket offer authentic Detroit pizzas for pre-order take out only.
The Grandma pie is a lighter, fresher more rustic version of the traditional Sicilian, dotted with crushed plum tomatoes. It is thinner, denser, and crispier than traditional Sicilians, but just as delicious. Umberto’s Pizzeria of New Hyde Park, New York, is often credited with originating the Grandma-style pie and makes a shining example of this pizza style; try it any of their five locations across Long Island.
Whatever kind of pizza prefer, there’s no better place for a pizza tour than the Northeast. (In fact, if a guided tour of one of the most famous pizza destinations in the country sounds like something you’d like, AAA members can save on pizza tours with A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours).
What’s your favorite pizza? Tell us in the comments.