One of the things I love about traveling around Pennsylvania is the local foods that can be found in various corners of the state.
While you can find them elsewhere, everyone knows that the best cheesesteaks are in Philly (or the best pizza in Philly), the best pierogies can be found in Pittsburgh, and the best shoofly pie is from Lancaster County. To this list, you might want to add Old Forge pizza. After all, Old Forge is the “Pizza Capital of the World.”
Located just a few miles outside of Scranton, the borough of Old Forge has just 8,000 residents within its three-square miles. However, with more than 15 pizza cafes located within the borough’s borders, it is truly a pizza lovers dream.
To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t heard of Old Forge pizza before being invited to try it out. However, never one to turn down pizza, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about.
With so many pizza cafes within walking distance of each other, a pizza crawl is a great way to explore the many tastes of Old Forge. My guide for this foray into Old Forge was Bob Mulkerin, the mayor of Old Forge. Mulkerin started off by explaining one major difference between Old Forge pizza and regular pizza: terminology.
There are two main types of Old Forge pizza: red and white. Red pizza is more like your traditional pizza, though with a crispy and airy crust and a light amount of sauce. White pizza on the other hand is like a calzone and garlic bread got together and stuffed themselves with cheese.
When ordering pizza, you don’t order a slice, you order a cut (just like Altoona-Style Pizza in Blair County or Beto’s Pizza in Pittsburgh). And, instead of a pie, you order a tray. To do otherwise is a surefire giveaway that you aren’t a local.
Our first stop of the evening was at Salerno’s. As we did at all four of our stops during the pizza crawl, we ordered several cuts of both red and white.
To be perfectly honest, the red pizza looked a bit like the pizza I remember from my high school cafeteria. However, it only took one bite to tell me that it tasted nothing like my high school pizza. In fact, it tasted quite different from the type of pizza you’d find at the borough’s lone Dominos Pizza.
Next, I tried the white pizza. The garlicy bread that encrusted the cheesy interior was much more dense than the red pizza, and not at all what you think of when you think “pizza.” Nevertheless, it was quite delicious, and I was excited to see what the rest of our stops had in store.
As we moved through Old Forge, Mayor Mulkerin told me a bit more about the history of Old Forge and its famous pizza. Old Forge was once a booming coal town, and many of the families in the town had all immigrated from Felitto, Italy, a small town near Naples.
In the 1930s, Ms. Ghigiarelli would make pizza for the mine workers who played cards in her home, but had no round baking dishes. Instead, she used a rectangular tray, along with the ingredients she had available, and Old Forge pizza was born.
Our next stop on the tour was Cusumano, a more upscale restaurant along Main Street.
Here, we once again ordered cuts of both red and white. While waiting for our pizza, Mulkerin casually mentioned that, according to local lore, the hit on Jimmy Hoffa was approved from inside this restaurant. I was surprised how different the pizza tasted here. My cut of red was crunchier, with a sweeter sauce, while the white had onions on top, which added a nice bit of flavor.
Our next stop, Arcaro and Genell, had a cheesier red, and their white had a pleasant pepper and rosemary flavor added to the crust. Like Cusumano, Arcaro & Genell restaurant in Old Forge, PA felt like the kind of place you might go for a nice night on the town.
Our final stop of the evening was across the street to Revello’s, the number one ranked pizza cafe in town.
While waiting for our pizza, I learned a bit about the community of Old Forge.
Despite there being so many pizza cafes in such a small area, they don’t really compete against each other. While locals do have their favorites, you won’t see restaurants competing on their taste. In fact, they’ve even been known to share ingredients when another restaurant is in need.
And, truthfully, they don’t need to compete against each other. Come to Old Forge on a Friday or a Saturday night, and you’ll be lucky to find a parking spot, let alone a table. It’s not uncommon to see people walking from restaurant to restaurant trying to see if anyone has somewhere for them to eat.
However, that doesn’t mean that when people come back to the area, they don’t have their chosen restaurant. Back in 2008, while competing for the Democratic nomination, Hilary Clinton, who had spent part of her childhood in the Scranton area, came for a few cuts of pizza at Revello’s Cafe Pizza in Old Forge, PA.
Unlike the other pizza cafes we had visited, Revello’s felt like a 50s diner and the walls were plastered with local photos, some of which even featured the owners of other local pizza cafes. The red pizza here was saltier than the others that I had tried, and had a very thin, crunchy crust, while the white tasted just as delicious as it had at the previous three stops.
On the side of Revello’s is a small mural that proclaims Old Forge to be not only the pizza capital of the U.S., but the “Pizza Capital of the World.” Sure, it might be a self-declared title, but the spirit of togetherness in the town, combined with their delicious and unique pizza, left me no doubt that this was a very fitting title.
If you find yourself looking for a unique place to eat while in the Scranton area, there’s no doubt that you should take the time to visit the fantastic borough of Old Forge for a few cuts of the famous Old Forge pizza.
Note: My dining experience in Old Forge was courtesy of the Lackawanna County Visitor Bureau. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Need a drink after all that pizza? Check out the Susquehanna Brewing Company. Or walk it off at the Steamtown National Historic Site, Falling Springs Falls, or a Lackawanna Coal Mine tour.
22 thoughts on “Pizza Crawling Through the Pizza Capital of the World: Old Forge, Pennsylvania”
Can not believe no one suggested “Victory Pig” which is the best pizza in all Wyoming Valley. Was born and raised there, speaking from experience.
It’s not in Old Forge, but I’ll definitely keep it in mind for the next time I’m up that way. Thanks for the suggestion, Len.
OK, now I know where I got the “cut” from, instead of slice. Ordered a cut at a shop along the boardwalk in Wildwood this past summer and a whole conversation evolved from my order of a cut of pizza. Seems the owner never heard of this before. I plan on doing the Old Forge Pizza crawl soon. Thanks Jim, love your site.
Jim, you missed Rinaldi’s and Club 17. You need to come back to Old Forge and run a companion story. How did the Mayor let you get away without really stuffing you?
I was pretty stuffed, Frank. We went on a Sunday night, so there were a few places that were closed that evening.
There is a new documentary being made about NEPA pizza. It is called Tray: A Cut of Culture and it focuses on the history and tradition of the area’s style of pizza. Family, religion, and politics play a large role in the film. Check out it out here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/tray-a-cut-of-culture#/ or on Facebook under Tray. They are having a fundraiser for the film at the Backyard Alehouse in Scranton February 21st from 6-8pm. It will be the largest pizza party Scranton have seen with pizza from all over the area to try!
Why does no one ever mention ghigiarelli’s. They probably have the best pizza in Old Forge. Not to mention their Sofrito and antipastos they do.
I’ve heard very good things about Ghigiarelli’s. Unfortunately, they were closed the evening that I went to Old Forge, so I didn’t have a chance to try them. Maybe next time.
Briefly, when I was a kid, I lived outside of Hazleton. They used to call pizza “pitz.” What was that all about?
Pitz is a style of pizza that’s only found in Hazleton. It’s a cold pizza. I tried it and can’t say that I was a huge fan, personally.
Of course, in 2008, Hillary visited Revello’s! In the ’50’s the place was called Pelosi’s!! Go figure! Great pizza, great memories!
You skipped Ghigiarellis. That is by far the best pizza in Old Forge!!
I would have liked to have gone. Unfortunately, they were closed on the day that I visited town.
There is a tiny pizza place on Dunn St. In Old Forge called Mary Lou’s. It’s only open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. She opens at 11 am and closes when the dough runs out. If you’re lucky and it’s a slow day, she gives you a free loaf of bread made from the pizza dough. The pizza is so darn good. If you are ever here when she’s open, do yourself a favor. ?
I’ve actually heard of her restaurant before. Would love to check it out someday.
She is GREAT! i deliver printed materials to her and she is just a nice lady!
Try Colarusso’s pizza on Main St in Avoca. I was a Revello’s fan until I tried Colarusso’s. Absolutely the best. Born and raised in Taylor (neighboring town) now live in Florida. Whenever I visit I bring back 10 or more “trays”. No other pizza even compares.
Is it possible to walk from place to place and just order slices?? Asking because I don’t see that option on any of their menus..
Oh, this brings me back. I was born in Old Forge 77 years ago. My dad’s parents were from Felitto, Italy though he was born in America. Dad worked in the mines before moving us all to NJ. Its been over 40 years since I’ve had a cut from Salerno’s…which I consider to be the very finest pizza in the world. As a teen I remember stopping there for just one slice as I walked the main street back to Pine st. where my grandparents lived. (Back then, most of the streets in Old Forge were not paved.) I have not had really good pizza since…
In my humble opinion, Arcaro & Genell’s has the best white pizza in town! Whenever in town I bring back hone a tray or two and freeze it and enjoy all year long.
The best cheesesteak sandwiches in PA are in a town outside Williamsport called Forksville their rolls are imported from Philadelphia however
The Forksville General Store does have some fantastic cheesesteaks. One of the best places outside of the area to get one, in my opinion.