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A purist's guide to Pennsylvania's misfit pizzas

Plus, tips for making Pa.'s most polarizing pizza at home.

March 25, 2022
Inside this edition: Land of misfit pizzas, weekend plans, road to nowhere, 'magic' book belt, and how to make Pa.'s most controversial food at home.

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True or False: Philadelphia's Liberty Bell is not the original. 

(We'll have a real stumper in this space each week. You'll find the answer at the bottom, but don't miss all the good stuff in between.) 
A Peepza in the making. (Courtesy of Lehigh Pizza)

It’s Peepza season in Pennsylvania, that time of year when the marshmallow birds made in Bethlehem get dropped on pizzas, mostly, one assumes, to set the internet alight. 

Some swear by it. Others swear at it. It’s a different kind of Easter pie.

Bethlehem’s own Lehigh Pizza, an early adopter, is out of the game, owner George Lioudis explains, telling PA Local that while they’ve kept a Peepza-inspired dessert, the original — shredded mozzarella, tomato sauce, and peeps — is not on the menu.

Asked how it tasted, his voice rose an octave: “We have a Hawaiian pizza with pineapple on it. It was that kind of a deal. It wasn’t bad.”

But there are other unconventional pizzas (with staying power) where that came from. In that sense, Pennsylvania — home to the “Pizza Capital of the World” — is a land of plenty. Even pizza purists vouch for them. Well, most of them. Here’s a quick roadmap:

Ohio Valley-style pizza

Pizzaz pizza 

  • What is it? A sauceless pizza normally topped with American cheese, sliced tomatoes, and banana peppers. Not to be confused with Philly's cheeseless — and very famous — tomato pies.

  • Where is it? Cacia's Bakery in South Philly; Celebre's Pizza, also in South Philly.

  • Why try it? Billy Penn says: “Like a grilled cheese with a kick, this pie is all about childhood nostalgia.” 

Red-top pizza

  • What is it? A Freaky Friday pizza with the sauce on top and the cheese below.

  • Where is it? Armando’s Pizza in Monessen; Anthony's Italiano in Donora.

  • Why try it? “It’s like three different Italian-American favorites combined: a pizza, a calzone, and a pepperoni roll all in one treat,” Pittsburgh City Paper raves.

Altoona-style pizza

  • What is it? A Sicilian-style crust unapologetically topped with tomato sauce, salami, green pepper, and yellow American cheese.

  • Where is it? 29th Street Pizza Subs & More, Family Pizza & Pub, and Joe's Pizza & 6 Pack, all in Altoona. Joe's also has a stromboli version.

  • Why try it? Altoona pizza has officially risen to the level of cultural flashpoint. We all need to know where we stand. *Keep scrolling for expert tips on making your own Altoona pizza at home. 

Tell us what we missed. For example: Is scrapple pizza still a thing? 

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

» Friday, March 25: CMU's International Film Festival is underway in Pittsburgh through April 9. A few miles away in Lawrenceville, Row House Cinema's Japanese Film Festival is open through March 31.

» Saturday, March 26: Name! That! Tree! And do it accurately with help from DCNR staff and a McConnells Mill Tree Identification Walk.

» Saturday, March 26: Art-ish is a new, after-hours, 21-and-up party at Philadelphia's Museum of Art with live demos and music. Tickets are $75.

» Saturday, March 26: Learn how people have used maple through the ages at the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania's Maple Madness

» Sunday, March 27: Harrisburg Record Riot! returns with 40 tables of LPs, CDs, 45s, and more. Tickets are $10 before 10 a.m. and $3 after.

» Sunday, March 27: See 75 years of original artworks from Little Golden Books, those staples of childhood, in Williamsport. Admission is free.
The Capitol in Harrisburg, via Robert N. It's Pennsylvania's third and its design was inspired by a doppelgänger in Vatican City. The dome is 272 feet tall and weighs 52 million pounds. Send us your pics by email here, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania

» One thing we learned this week: A 70-mile strip of "tourist road" was proposed in 1941 as The Poconos' answer to Virginia's Skyline Drive. But U.S. involvement in World War II kept it from happening.

» One thing that made us say 'cool': Four million books pass through the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh‘s Support Center each year. NEXTPittsburgh has a look at the "magic conveyor belt" that makes it possible.

» One thing worth making: If you're a young person living in Appalachia, which covers most of Pennsylvania, the Rural Digital Youth Resiliency Project wants videos about your life for a documentary on the region.

» One thing to know: Tipped employees in Pennsylvania will soon have to make more money in tips before they can be paid a base rate lower than the state’s $7.25-an-hour minimum wage, the AP reports.

» One place to visit: The Bunkers of Alvira are all that remain of a "Pennsylvanian village seized by the U.S. government," via Atlas Obscura. 

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

» What's a 'fair' map? Here’s what this redistricting round revealed.

» Fringe legal theory could reshape state election laws

» Rare lawsuit seeks State Police pipeline protest chats

» Former Pa. Attorney General Kane formally charged with DUI

» Election 2022: Tell Spotlight PA what coverage matters to you
Altoona Pizza, aka Altoona Hotel Pizza, aka Altoona Sicilian. (Courtesy of Family Pizza & Pub)

Following in the footsteps of Uproxx and The Takeaway, we wanted to make our own Altoona-style pizza at home. It seemed simple enough. 

But first we consulted the experts, specifically Steve Corklic, owner of 29th Street Pizza Subs & More, and Justin Ruggiero of Family Pizza & Pub.

Ruggiero said the order of the toppings is important if you're striving for authenticity: sauce, then salami, then the peppers, then the cheese. 

Corklic, who refined his recipe with help from a former employee of the long-gone Altoona Hotel, where the pizza originated, said the brand of cheese is up for debate: "Some people like Velveeta, or yellow American singles. Some have even said government cheese is the secret."

Asked to gauge Altoona pizza's popularity, Corklic chose a single anecdote: "We had a lady who would buy 100 slices of it, have them saran-wrapped two at a time, then take them back to Harrisburg to freeze them."  

What you'll need to make your own: 

  • Frozen Sicilian-style dough (for bagged fresh pizza dough, just follow those directions and adjust accordingly)
  • Bell peppers (green only)
  • Sliced Genoa or peppercorn salami 
  • Processed American cheese singles or sliced Velveeta
  • Pizza sauce 

What to do: 

  • Parbake the frozen or bagged dough with no toppings, cooking for ~80% of the total time called for in the instructions 
  • Take it out and add the toppings (the cheese will scorch otherwise)
  • Spread the sauce evenly on the dough 
  • Spread salami slices (Corklic says don't skimp)
  • Spread pepper slices evenly 
  • Layer with American cheese singles or Velveeta
  • Put the pizza back in the oven for up to five minutes to finish; keep an eye on it and pull it out when the cheese is fully melted 
  • Let it cool, cut, and eat
  • Tell your friends; tell us
True. The Liberty Bell is indeed a replica. Author Gary Nash told NPR the copy was created after the original from London cracked upon testing. Nash also confirms the relic was not purchased by Taco Bell, despite what the fast-food chain told everyone on April 1, 1996

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? What do you want to see more of? Or, tell us your secret recipes!
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