The Birth of Pizza : From New York to Chicago

Revel Blog | Revel | March 7, 2014 |

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For a simple, satisfying meal on the go, nothing beats a delicious slice of pizza. Pizza’s also ideal for feeding large parties at a bargain price. The same was true of pizza 200 years ago. This versatile, ingredient-laden pie got its start for the exact reasons we love it today: to fill the need for convenient, affordable food that can satisfy everyone from the hungry workaday crowd on their lunch break to a large family sitting around the dinner table.

A Slice of Pizza Lore

While the concept of placing toppings on flatbread dates back to ancient times, modern-day pizza gained momentum in 18th century Naples. Around this time, people learned that tomatoes brought over from Mexico and Central America weren’t poisonous, as they once believed, and used it to top their bread, along with ingredients like cheese, oil, herbs, garlic, and anchovies. According to Discovery Communications, this savory street food became a hit within the crowded neighborhoods of the Naples’ peasant population.

Pizza Travels to the U.S.

Meanwhile, Neapolitans immigrating to U.S. cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis for factory work maintained their pizza-cooking traditions in the New World. Non-Italians developed a taste for the culinary staple, and the first documented U.S. pizzeria, G. Lombardi, opened on Manhattan’s Spring Street in 1905. By the 1930’s, pizzerias were a common sight in the Italian neighborhoods of eastern seaboard cities, which made use of regional ingredients, like clams, for toppings.

Evolution of the Deep Dish

In Chicago, entrepreneurs Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo served a deep dish version of pizza that noticeably strayed from the immigrant version. Pizza lovers did more than adapt to the knife-and-fork style of enjoying their favorite dish. Sewell and Riccardo’s enterprise, Pizzeria Uno, evolved into a global chain of over 200 restaurants known today as Uno Chicago Grill. However, the debate continues over who created the original deep dish recipe, with the staff at Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria and Pizano’s also taking credit.

Beyond Neighborhood Pizza

Pizza expanded beyond the cafes and parlors of Italian neighborhoods after World War II, when it was viewed in line with the hot dog as a fast-food treat. However, it would not be restricted to that image for long, with gourmet varieties and artisan pies adding depth and potential to the many possibilities of the well-loved pizza pie.

For more on pizza, be sure to stop by Revel’s booth at the International Pizza Expo March 24-27 in Las Vegas.