Does Pittsburgh Have Its Own Style Of Pizza? An Exploration Of The City's Pies

Feb 7, 2019

When it comes to pizza, everyone knows Chicago has deep dish and New York has a thin, foldable crust.

But one WESA listener wanted to know if Pittsburgh has its own distinct style, asking:

“Given that Pittsburgh has the second most pizzerias per capita of any major U.S. city, does Pittsburgh have a distinct Pizza style identity?”

While it’s hard to say for certain, Pittsburgh pizzas seem to have a couple of things in common.

“There is often way more cheese on a Pittsburgh pizza than there are in most pizzas almost anywhere else I've ever been,” said Rico Gagliano, a freelance journalist and podcast host. Gagliano is a native Pittsburgher who also wrote a 2017 Daily Beast article called “The Case for Pittsburgh Pizza.”

Two pizzas cook in Vincent's decades-old electric ovens. Owner Lisa Zollner says years of baked-in flavors adds to their pizzas.
Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

“The other thing I would say is the crust, which tends to be pretty hearty -- and it depends of course on the pizza joint -- but I think the standard Pittsburgh pizza crust is very ... dense, it's very chewy and it kind of needs to be.”

Gagliano credits Pittsburgh’s sturdy pizza to its steel roots.

“You've got these guys coming out of the steel mills after working there, you know, 18 or whatever insane number of hour shifts it was. You don't want the Neapolitan pie,” he said. “You want a big honking pile of cheese on top something, like, really hearty and doughy to get you through.”

That kind of hearty pie is something Vincent’s Pizza Park in North Braddock has excelled at for nearly 70 years.

While it was first opened in 1950 by Vincent Chianese, it closed in 2012 amidst a lawsuit. It reopened in 2013 and is currently run by the late Vincent’s granddaughter, Lisa Zollner.

“It’s Pittsburgh pizza,” Zollner says of Vincent’s signature oblong pizzas, known for mountains of toppings and “lake Vincent’s,” the pool of grease that can only be formed on a pizza with that much cheese.

Vincent’s also took first place in the Incline’s 2017 pizza bracket, which featured 32 pizzerias.

“They don't skimp. They got tons of stuff on it,” says Jim Rhoades, who has been going to Vincent’s since he was a kid.

Of course, Vincent’s isn’t the only local pie shop with a heavy hand.

“We're not afraid to put the cheese on the pizza. We put a lot of cheese on our pizza,” says Dominic Mineo, owner of Mineo’s in Squirrel Hill. He describes Pittsburgh style pizza as closer to a New York style, but still with a substantial crust.

Kevin Seibert, a longtime employee of Fiori’s in Brookline, also says you have to have a hefty crust and lots of cheese.

But, Seibert says you can really find good pizza anywhere you go in Pittsburgh. And it’s true there’s a lot of it. Gagliano points out in his article that Pittsburgh has one of the highest number of pizzerias per capita in the country:

… according to a 2014 data crunch by consultancy Targeting Solutions, Pittsburgh—which by the way has one of the largest Italian-American populations in the United States—also has the highest pizzeria density of any American city except Orlando, Florida. Ten pizza joints per 10,000 people.

And there are so many kinds of pizza in the Pittsburgh region; Beto’s is famous for topping theirs with cold cheese, while Slice on Broadway has a thin, chewy crust. So, what might make it unique is that diners can really find whatever they’re looking for -- even if it’s grease.

“I’ve actually had people … this is so Pittsburgh,” Zollner says, “that will ask, after they’re done …. ask us to put the remainder of their grease in a little to-go cup.”

*This story has been updated to reflect that Vincent's is in North Braddock.

_