izza with a fried egg on top? Pizza rolled into a cone shape and filled with honey mustard
chicken or cream cheese? A four-fish pizza served cold? Or the Grand Prix, a shrimp
and sweet potato pizza featuring a cookie-dough stuffed crust and accompanied by
blueberry dipping sauce.
A far cry from the classic Neapolitan pie, these are variations on pizza that can be found in
places ranging from Japan to Dubai to Moscow and back to South Korea. And they are hardly the
only unusual takes on pizza—there are scores of others, in the U.S. as well as around the world.
In Liverpool, England, there is even a deceptively named American Pizza Slice that is anything
but American. It starts out OK, with a few different meat toppings, but then adds black pudding
(blood sausage), baked beans and bacon.
If pizza were just a snack item verging on junk food, knowing how people accessorize it
might be dismissed as trivial. But pizza is big business, with $38 billion in annual sales in the
U.S. alone. There are some 70,000 pizza outlets in the nation, and pizza-eaters account for more
than 250 million pounds of pepperoni consumed each year.
Nor is pizza strictly a low-cost option for lunch or dinner. Until it closed recently, one New
York restaurant offered a 12-inch Luxury Pizza topped with six varieties of caviar, chives, fresh
lobster and creme fraiche, priced at $1,000 for a whole pie, $125 for a slice.
In a country as large as the U.S., whose population is based on 240 years of immigration, it’s
hardly surprising that we have developed some of the most distinctive regional pizza styles right here,
within our borders. Who doesn’t know Chicago deep-dish pizza? Often associated with Ike Sewell’s
Pizzeria Uno, it spawned a chain with franchises in more than 20 states and the District of Columbia.
Less well-known but possibly just as influential was Larry Aronson, whose My Pi pizzeria
started out in 1971 as a single location in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. “My father refined
deep-dish pizza, using the highest-quality ingredients and utilizing his background as a third-generation baker,” says Richard Aronson, who now runs the business, adding that Larry Aronson
was the first restaurateur to take Chicago-style pizza outside the Chicagoland area. By the early
1980s, he had opened 15 restaurants around the country in addition to his four local venues.
Richard Aronson says My Pi now also offers an alternative style, which has a cracker-thin
crust and features a red sauce topped with mozzarella. “It is different from New York style in
that it would fly apart if you attempted to toss it. It doesn’t have the high amounts of protein/
gluten that would make it tough and chewy, characteristics that Neapolitan pizza is known for.”
Two storied purveyors of the Neapolitan style are both in New York, and both are fiercely proud
of their heritage. At Totonno’s on Neptune Avenue in Brooklyn’s Coney Island beachfront community,
there have been just six pizzaiolos (pizza-makers) over the course of its 92-year history, says
Antoinette Balzano, co-owner and granddaughter of Anthony “Totonno” Pero, the founder.
Claiming that Totonno’s is “the oldest continuously run family-operated pizzeria in the world,”
Balzano says her grandfather, as a young immigrant from Italy, worked for Gennaro Lombardi, owner
of a restaurant on Spring Street in Manhattan where the first pizza was served on these shores.
Today, with a presence in numerous international tourist guidebooks, Totonno’s attracts a global
clientele that is almost unheard of for a seven-table, two-booth, single-location establishment—
especially one that is open only Thursday through Sunday, noon to 7: 30 p.m.
Balzano credits her sister Louise “Cookie” Ciminieri with being the operational genius behind
the store’s continued success. Noting that Totonno’s makes its own dough from a secret family
recipe, Ciminieri says the restaurant has always believed in keeping things simple. All pies are
thin-crust, toppings are limited to sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms and anchovies, and the only
oPPosi Te, CloCKwise From
TOP: 1) harris Pizza is famous for
making its sausage from a closely
guarded recipe. 2) my Pi’s thin-crust
pizza has a cracker-thin crust with
red sauce topped with shredded
mozzarella. 3) arcaro & Genell’s
double-crusted white pizza.