It’s almost inconceivable to think of a New York without pizza–no dollar slices, no hitting up the latest wood/brick/coal-oven joint, no arguing over the city’s best slice. But until September 20, 1944, New Yorkers lived this deprived life. It was on this day that the New York Times first introduced the word “pizza.”
Around this time, American troops were plenty in Italy, and they were enjoying the saucy, cheesy delicacy of their host country. The article, titled “News of Food: Pizza, a Pie Popular in Southern Italy, Is Offered Here for Home Consumption,” describes the new food as “a pie made from a yeast dough and filled [their meaning for “topped”] with any number of different centers, each one containing tomatoes. Cheese, mushrooms, anchovies, capers, onions and so on may be used.”
The article centers on the restaurant Luigino’s Pizzeria Alla Napoletana at 147 West 48th Street. Here, customers favored the pizza with mozzarella, the equivalent of today’s standard New York pizza. They describe the pizza-making process–”as he spins it about, the circle of dough grows wider and wider and thinner and thinner”–and call out the specially made boxes for patrons to bring “pizze” (how they pluralize it) home with them. Similar to today, the pies were often served with wine or beer and a green salad. Dissimilarly, they also frequently came with tripe and cost from 50 cents to $2.
Three years later, another Times article, “Hot, Hearty Pizzas,” noted the gaining popularity of the food: “The pizza could be as popular a snack as the hamburger if only Americans knew more about it.” It then went on to provide a recipe for at-home pizza making, “good for the porch suppers and back yard parties in vogue during warm weather.” And by 1970, the first-ever “best pizza in New York” article came out in New York magazine, written by Jerome Snyder and Milton Glaser. The article, titled “The Underground Gourmet’s First Annual Pizzarama,” stated:
It wasn’t very long ago — 20 years, maybe — when that current gustatorial staple known as the pizza was regarded as an arcane specialty in the nature of the yak steak. It thrived, if at all, only in the depths of the more inbred of the city’s Italian neighborhoods. Even in Italy itself, the dish was pizza incognita in all regions except the deep south, from Calabria, say, down through Sicily….
Nevertheless, the pizza in America has become a way of life, a worthy competitor, both in popularity and ubiquity, to the hot dog and the hamburger. Naples may challenge the claim, but New York is now the pizza capital of the world.
And we think it’s safe to say, that nearly 40 years later, we still hold the title of pizza capital of the world.
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