If there is one thing those from Youngstown love to talk about whenever they meet up it is where to find good pizza, particularly pizza made the “Youngstown way.” That was sure made clear to me in the response to a recent post on visiting the Wedgewood Pizza in Grove City. One woman just commented on the post that she drives from Granville, Ohio to Grove City (about a 50 mile drive each way) just to get Wedgewood pizza. Those of us who don’t live in Youngstown are that desperate!
Growing up in Youngstown, pizza seems to have been a Saturday night thing for many of our families. In the days when the men went to the factories and expected dinner when they got home, this was the day mom got a break. Even though my wife and I grew up on different sides of town, both of us have early memories of Saturday night pizza’s from Petrillo’s pizza, either from the Struthers area one for my wife, or the west side one for me. Our memories were of sheet pizzas cut in squares, usually pretty basic–cheese, lots of sauce, and pepperoni. I suspect both of our families opted for it because it was cheap and you got a lot for the money.
Later on, when I was in high school, I discovered Molly O’Day’s (or O’Dea’s, not sure of the spelling) pizza, made in a kitchen of the bar by that name on Salt Springs Road not too far from the mills. This was thanks to a girl I was dating at the time who lived near there. I put my family on to it, and from then on it was the standard until the cook left, after which it was never the same.
I think that pizza represented for me the “Youngstown way” for making good pizza–although I wouldn’t be surprised to get a few arguments here! It had a thick, but light and not doughy crust. The sauce was rich, not thin like so many pizzas elsewhere, and this great mix of sweet and spicy. It was not slathered with cheese, but well covered without forming a “cheese mat”. The ingredients (we often just got pepperoni and green pepper) were generous without being overwhelming.
It seems that the favorite “date night” pizza place for many of us was the Pizza Oven just off of Market Street on Southern Boulevard near the old Sears Roebuck store and not far from the Uptown Theater. On a Friday or Saturday night the place would be packed and I don’t think anyone was over 22. We were students on campus when Inner Circle Pizza came to Youngstown and that tended to be our go-to place if my girlfriend and I (now my wife!) wanted to grab a pizza between classes or before an evening event on campus. Later on they opened a store on Mahoning Ave not far from my folks and that became their favorite.
Of course there were lots of great places to get pizza in Youngstown. Wedgewood and Belleria get mentioned a lot by Youngstowners in Columbus because they have stores here. But there is the Elmton in Struthers, Cornersburg Pizza (we’ve had some great pizza’s out of their Boardman store when we’ve been back to Youngstown). St Anthony’s Church (link is to a YouTube video of how they make pizza) has been mentioned by many for the best Brier Hill pizzas. When my parents moved up to the North side and lived at Park Vista, we’d run up to the Avalon Gardens to get Brier Hill pizza (I gather they have now moved to downtown Youngstown). I don’t doubt I am probably overlooking at least twenty-five other good places to get pizza in Youngstown and the surrounding areas like Girard (I hear Pizza Joe’s is good), Campbell, Lowellville, and others.
No doubt that so much of the good pizza in Youngstown is attributable to the strong Italian-American community in Youngstown. I suspect that so many of the pizza places took grandma’s recipe and just kept perfecting it in this competition for Youngstown’s pizza dollars spent by people who knew good pizza. Pizza was one of the ways you kicked back and celebrated what was good about life, ideally accompanied with a cold beer. Pizza was a break from the everyday — for husbands, wives, and kids alike.
When did your family have pizza growing up? What were your favorite places? And what should we try the next time we are in Youngstown?
Want to read other posts in the Growing Up in Youngstown series? Just go to the “Growing Up in Youngstown” category on my homepage.