If you’re from Northeastern Pennsylvania (or have at least spent any amount of time eating in Lackawanna County), you already know that Old Forge is the Pizza Capital of the World. I mean, it’s on all the signs there, so it must be true.
Considering that the little borough is only 3.5 square miles big with a population only a little over 8,000 people, that’s a pretty bold statement. There are plenty of communities all across the globe with a thriving pizza culture (New York City and, oh, I don’t know, Italy?). So, what gives this little former mining town the audacity to claim such a crown?
Truthfully, I don’t know—besides the deliciousness of the pizza, that is.
What I do know is even though Old Forge’s worldly title is self-imposed and totally debatable, there’s one thing that’s for certain: Northeastern Pennsylvania is obsessed with pizza.
Having grown up here, my childhood—and adulthood, if we’re being honest—was fueled by pizza. There were Pizza Fridays in the elementary school cafeteria and sometimes Pizza and Wing Night at home. Growing up, we’d rotate through the favorite local pizza shops because there were just so many good places to choose from. Sometimes these decisions ended in arguments.
Why do we have to order from there?
Why can’t we get a topping this time?
No, pepperoni is gross!
I still refuse to eat pepperoni on my pizza, but I guess that’s beside the point.
Arguments over what kind of pizza we should get didn’t end when I graduated college, got a job, and could theoretically start picking my own pizza. Nope. Because just like back home, my friends and coworkers also take their pizza very seriously.
You should see us all now on Pizza Fridays. No matter where we order from, at least one person is very unhappy. We’re all very passionate pizza people when it comes to both locations and styles. But even when it’s not your favorite pizza, there is a silver lining: mediocre pizza is better than no pizza, right?
And this seeming obsessiveness with pizza isn’t limited to my social circle, I assure you. Move over, teenage turtles with ninja skills–there are some people who might like pizza even more than you.
There is evidence of our pizza obsession everywhere. The sheer number of local pizza places is one easy indication of this obsession. Between Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, there are more than 350 pizza shops. With a combined population over 531,000, that’s some 6.6 pizza places per 10,000 people. Not too shabby.
In fact, since pizza permeates so much of the local cuisine, we split up our Wilkes-Barre Public Square food options into “pizza” and “not pizza.”
Reverence for local pizza is so strong that two Scranton natives (now transplanted on the West Coast) have made a documentary film on pizza in Northeastern Pennsylvania and how the unique Old Forge-style is so ingrained within the local community. Tray is “a documentary about pizza, culture, and tradition. [It’s] A documentary about people.” For more information on the film, you can check out their website here. You can also check out Tray‘s feature and interview on NEPA Scene.
There’s also a website dedicated to building a library of reviews on pizza places in Northeastern Pennsylvania. NEPA Pizza Review reviews pizza in Lackawanna, Luzerne, Susquehanna, Wayne, and Wyoming counties, as well as some New York City experiences.
For those who have moved out of the area but still long for the pizza tastes of home, many local businesses actually ship their pizza, including Pizza Perfect in Trucksville, Victory Pig in Wyoming, and Revello’s in Old Forge. Now that’s some commitment to NEPA pizza.
Are we at obsession-levels yet? Or do we need to go bigger?
For fans of The Office, “Launch Party” (season 4, episodes 5 and 6) highlights Scranton’s local pizza–and the particular seriousness with which most locals take when ordering. In the episode, Michael Scott orders pizza for his employees. But instead of ordering from Alfredo’s Pizza Cafe (a real local restaurant with delicious pizza, by the way), Michael orders from a similarly-named rival, Pizza by Alfredo (a fictional restaurant). Everyone had an opinion about the rivals’ offerings. Oscar is particularly passionate regarding his opinion on Pizza by Alfredo. For Kevin, “It’s like eating a hot circle of garbage.” So much pizza passion. So much angst.
In short? No, Michael, they are not the same thing.
Speaking of the differences in pizza places, there’s no shortage of variation around here. Oh, you’re hungry for pizza? What are you craving?
Around here we have…
Round, square, New York-style, Old Forge-style, Sicilian, thick crust, thin crust, double crust, open face, sweet sauce, red, white, cold cut, Pagash, bar pie, brick oven/wood fired, Neopolitan…not to mention all the fancy toppings you can use to customize your delicious doughy, saucy, and cheesy goodness.
If you start doing a Tour de Pizza, you’ll soon see why the pizza is obsessed over around these parts. It’s just so. Darn. Good. And there’s something for everybody.
Why have so many different kinds of pizza? Why not! Different communities have their own styles, like Old Forge. The demographics of this area are primarily Italian, Polish, and Irish. When the Italians arrived, they brought with them their pizza making skills and taste buds. Inevitably, their recipes were touched by their own individual flair and flavor.
The area’s rich history as a coal mining community has probably largely contributed to pizza’s total domination. Old Forge pizza, for example, started during the coal mining days and hasn’t stopped in popularity.
Pizza was always a working-class food, so the Americanized (and Pennsylvanianized) versions were particularly popular with the regional miners and their families. The ingredients to make pizza were cheap, it traveled well, and tasted delicious. So is it really any wonder why we all grew up on trays and cuts or pies and slices of pizza?
For NEPA, pizza is more than just a delicious meal. It’s nostalgia.
Sarah is a content writer and social media assistant with a BA in literature/creative writing from Wilkes University. When she’s not spending her days at work writing, reading, and drinking coffee, she’s usually at home reading, writing, and drinking coffee. She also devotes a fair amount of time to HGTV, drawing, and doting on her dog. As a creator, Sarah believes in emphasizing personality through design and DIY projects.