My friends and I hosted our fourth annual Feast of St. Pizza event back in May (almost a year ago), which has become a major yearly event. (In fact, I’m in the thick of planning this year’s feast.) If you’ve been following along you know that the first year was in Lebanon, PA (my hometown and current place of residence), the second year was in Philadelphia (my second home, aka where I went to college), last year was in Lancaster, PA (About 45 minutes from Lebanon and where many of my friends live), and this year we went to Old Forge, PA (outside Scranton). Check out the post from year one for a refresher on how this tradition got started. But the gist of the event is that we eat at 10 pizza places in a single city in one day. It usually takes 12-13 hours from start to finish and it’s a blast.
After the success of our Lancaster feast, we opted for another small city that would be highly walkable. We were intrigued by Old Forge, PA, which has dubbed itself the “Pizza Capital of the World.” They have their own style of pizza there, and it’s all rectangular instead of circular. Rather than a “pie” it’s called a “tray,” and instead of a “slice” it’s called a “cut.” They’re also known for two kinds of pizza: a red and a white. The “red” is what you would consider a “normal” pizza, and the white is more like a stuffed-crust pizza … but if the entire pizza was just the stuffed crust. It’s a bunch of pizza dough with gooey cheese in the middle, and it’s often sprinkled with herbs or onions on top. (It’s basically like a huge calzone.) We tried to sample both reds and whites at as many of the places as we could.
It was an interesting year for us, and honestly overall it was the worst pizza we’ve had compared to other years (which is hilarious, considering their title of “pizza capital”). Usually all of the pizza during our feasts is generally pretty good, but in Old Forge there were some polarizing spots where some people hated the pizza and others loved it. It was a real mixed bag. Some of it was absolutely delicious, but we also had some pizza that was straight-up bad. But I will say this: our time in Old Forge was probably more fun than any other year so far, and the people of Old Forge welcomed us so warmly and were some of the best people we’ve come across in our pizza travels. These people love pizza and they love their town. (Just check out this fun video feature for proof.)
To be honest, their pizza style is a bit unique and I bet if you grew up with it, you would love it. Not being from there, it didn’t speak to us the same way as it would to a local, so please take our criticisms with a grain of salt. Also, the general spirit of the #feastofstpizza is to find your personal favorite pizza spot, which is almost never the same as someone else’s. We’re just trying all of them in the hopes of leading you to your best option.
The cool thing about Old Forge is that it has a lot of family-owned pizza shops, and they’re all right near each other. (Like, basically right next to each other … it’s a very small town.) From what we learned, everyone eats at all of them, and even the pizza shop owners eat at the other pizza spots. The town is like a big pizza family, which really warmed our hearts. Apparently it’s customary for families there to eat pizza together on Saturday nights (take-out), and they often order their pizzas ahead of time, like on a Wednesday. “I need a tray of red and a tray of white for Saturday at 3pm!”
We caused a bit of a stir walking through town all day with our matching pizza shirts. One pizza shop owner said he had seen us walking around and was wondering when we would stop by. At the end of the night, some ladies outside a bar yelled to us, “Are you the pizza people?!” It was a super fun day and we made some great memories.
As always, I’ll walk you through our day of pizza, sharing our thoughts and our overall takeaways. Like I said, Old Forge was a real mixed bag, but sampling their main pizza shops with friends is a great way to spend a sunny Saturday if you’re up for it. Here we go:
Our order: 5 flatbreads: (2 bacon, 1 hot wing, 1 BBQ chicken, 1 with green peppers and salami)
Thoughts: Our first stops on our pizza tours tend to be crowd pleasers, and this one was no exception. Since Althea’s is more of a sandwich shop, their pizzas were technically flatbreads and not the traditional rectangular pizza of Old Forge fame. We’re no strangers to flatbread pizzas from previous feasts, and this ended up being one of our favorite stops of the day. It had a fantastic crispy crust, plus an interesting cheese blend (mozzarella, “brick” cheese …?, cooper sharp). The BBQ chicken was the crowd favorite; the sauce was nicely sweet and not overpowering. We kept talking about that one throughout the day. (Fun fact: this great lunch spot has a heavy Grateful Dead decorating theme, if you’re into that sort of thing.)
Our order: one red, one white
Thoughts: Mary Lou’s is takeout only, so we did our classic eat-pizza-on-the-sidewalk move here. Mary Lou is the grandma everybody wants, and she makes the pizzas herself, with some help from her grandson. I had ordered ahead from her, so she kind of knew what was going on with our pizza crawl. When I tried to pay she said it was “on her.” For two huge pizzas! I asked if I could tip her and she said “Well my grandson is coming in later …” so we left her a decent tip for her grandson. Then as we were eating the pizza on the sidewalk, she kept coming out with free bread she was trying to get us all to take home with us. I’m telling you: THE GRANDMA EVERYBODY WANTS.
Overall we had some mixed reviews here: some loved the white pizza, others didn’t. I thought it was very nice and her crust was buttery, plus it was our first true taste of Old Forge pizza. I feel like I’d have to try her pizza again sometime to form a better opinion on it, but I guess it ended up kind of in the middle of the road for us. It also did truly feel like a pizza your grandma made for you (in a good way). But Mary Lou’s holds a special place in my heart because after a great time at stop #1, Mary Lou just solidified for us that we were about to have a great day and that there was something special about the people of Old Forge.
Our order: “12 cut” tomato basil
Thoughts: Here’s where things started to get dicey. I might go so far as to say that I hated this pizza. It was very garlicky and I think it had a lot of American cheese on it. (NO THANK YOU.) Someone described it as an “open faced grilled cheese.” While plenty of people (like myself) were not fans, a few people loved this pizza. It’s entirely possible that we made a bad choice with what kind we ordered, and maybe if I had eaten a plain pizza from them I would have loved it. But the tomato basil one? Hated it.
Our order: ricotta caramelized onion, Grandma Jenny’s (both “12 cuts”)
Thoughts: Cusumano is a nicer Italian restaurant, but they have a “cellar bar” open for lunch, which is where we ate. We basically had the run of the place and were chatting a lot with the bartender/server. He was giving us a lot of gossip about the town, and helped steer us to a new pizza shop since one of the places we were planning to visit, Ghigiarelli’s, was closed due to the mysterious disappearance of the owner. Crazy stuff! The bartender was great and felt like your favorite Italian cousin, if you’re the kind of person who has Italian cousins. (I’m not.) I really liked this pizza and it had that homemade quality to it. The crust was crispy and airy and reminded me of a Pizza Hut crust, which is definitely a compliment.
Our order: one red, one white
Thoughts: Here was another fantastic place with character. It was kind of a hole-in-the-wall take-out place, but there were picnic tables outside, which is where we ate. Their dough actually comes from Agostini’s Bakery, which is common for a lot of the pizza shops in town (although I’m not sure exactly which ones). True to Old Forge hospitality, one of the owners brought out some homemade red wine for all of us to sample, so that was a lot of fun. This place won the Stretchiest Cheese Award after my brother-in-law had a piece of cheese connecting his “cut” (slice) to the rest of the “tray” (pie) that was at least 6 feet long. Their white pizza was a big hit with our crowd, and some people named this their favorite stop overall.
Our order: One thin crust red pizza with sausage
Thoughts: We ended up here as a replacement for Ghigiarelli’s at the recommendation of our buddy from Cusumano. It was a bit of a fancier restaurant, and we opted to try their thin crust since we were starting to hit our mid-day wall. I personally wasn’t crazy about this pizza. I thought it was just decent and the sauce was a bit too tomato-heavy, without much complexity. I think some people enjoyed the sausage a lot, but it just wasn’t for me in that moment. This is another place where I feel like I’d have to try it again with a different pizza topping.
Our order: red pizza with onions
Thoughts: I don’t think anyone had any profound thoughts about this one. Later in the day is where you start to feel that pizza fatigue, so unless the pizza is spectacularly good or bad, you often feel pretty “meh” about it. This falls into the “meh” category. I enjoyed the sweet sauce which was enhanced by the onions, but it had a creamy cheese blended in (possibly American again – that’s common in Old Forge) that would stick to the back of my teeth, which I didn’t like.
Our order: red pizza with pepperoni
Thoughts: There was a lightness to this pizza and the bottom of the crust had a nice, subtle crunch. They went lighter on the cheese here, which was a welcome change after the previous stop. Overall this one was pretty good, although I don’t think it soared to the top of anyone’s lists. (Pizza fatigue is a real thing.)
Our order: thin crust red, double crust white, mini cannolis
Thoughts: Here’s where things picked up again. I’m not sure what it is about the number 9 slot of our feasts, but they’re always a sleeper hit. A&G is one of the original pizza shops in town and one of the most beloved, and I can see why. The owners took extremely good care of us, bringing out a double crusted white to make sure we tasted theirs, plus some mini cannolis for dessert. (This was not a small place and it was around dinner time on a Saturday – so they definitely went out of their way to make sure we had a good time.) The red pizza was my favorite of the entire day, the white pizza was great and similarly stretchy to the one at stop #5 (Elio G’s), and I loved their cannolis even though I’m not normally a cannoli fan. The crust was REALLY good and the cheese seemed to be of higher quality compared to other stops of the day. The red pizza in particular seemed more like the pizza we know and love, but in a different shape. This spot easily rose to the top tiers for a lot of people in the group.
Our order: BBQ chicken pizza
Thoughts: Oh boy. Since we started our day with a bbq chicken pizza and we all loved it so much, we figured we’d order another one to compare. Sadly, that was probably the worst decision we had made all day. By the time we got there (around 9:30 at night), Augustine’s had become a bar/nightclub, so it was dark, loud, and it took forever for our pizza to arrive at our table. The pizza seemed to be slathered with generic bbq sauce and then topped with some cheese. There was WAY too much bbq sauce (it was completely lacking the perfect balance of our bbq chicken pizza at Althea’s), and it was so bad that a few of us described it as “garbage.” BUT – once we left and got outside, our friend Ryan confessed that he really liked it. Hah! Once again, another polarizing spot. It all depends on what you like. I honestly think I probably would have been totally fine with a different pizza from there, but that bbq chicken one gives me nightmares. We do like to switch up our pizza orders throughout the day so we’re not eating plain the entire time, but this is the risk you take. Order with caution.
MY PERSONAL FAVORITE
Arcaro & Genell – This place was for sure my favorite. It is a well-established mom & pop restaurant, it feels like the heart of the town, and the pizza seemed special to me. If you can wow me like that at a #9 stop during a Feast of St. Pizza, there’s something extraordinary about you. Their hospitality was just the cherry on top of this pizza sundae. If you’re going through Old Forge and can only eat pizza from one place, this should be it.
Althea’s – Even though this wasn’t traditional Old Forge-style pizza, it was fantastic and everyone seemed to agree that it was one of the best spots of the day. If you want to get a personal-sized flatbread pizza for yourself for lunch some day, Althea’s would be great for a “treat yo-self” moment.
Elio G’s – This was a classic Old Forge pizza shop, much like A&G. The owners are real friendly characters and the pizza is top-notch. A great stop.
In the next tier I’d probably put Mary Lou’s and Cusumano. They both have that great homemade grandma quality to them, and they’re just lovely people.
We truly had such a wonderful time in Old Forge, walking around, getting sunburnt and eating way too much pizza. May will be here again before I know it so it’s already time for me to start brainstorming where we’ll be feasting for 2019. I can’t wait!
Illustration at top created with marker and Photoshop.
Prints of my illustrations (plus other products with my work on them) are available in my Society6 shop.