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Regional pizza variations

(article, Kristen Kuchar)

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The saying “as American as apple pie” should probably be changed to “as American as pizza pie.”


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No disrespect to apple pie, but Americans are obsessed with pizza. More than three billion pizza pies are sold in America each year, and 350 slices are eaten each second. There are more than 70,000 pizzerias across the country, and 93 percent of Americans eat at least one piece of pizza per month.

Given our great love of this Italian import, it’s not surprising that, over the decades, regional influences have inspired several completely different styles of pizza production. Here are eight distinct American pizza types.


#(clear n1). Philadelphia. Pizza in America usually consists of three main components: crust, sauce, and cheese. But in Philly, they abandon the cheese and make something known as a tomato pie, in which a chewy, bready dough is baked into a square or rectangular shape and covered in rich, slightly sweet, chunky tomato sauce. It’s sometimes topped with a light sprinkle of grated Romano or Parmesan cheese. 

#(clear n2). Chicago. [%image pizzacutter float=right width=400 caption="No matter how you slice it, pizza is an American favorite."] The Windy City is famous for its deep-dish pizza, which can easily measure four inches high and require a knife and fork to consume. You’ll need to be patient for this pie; a freshly made Chicago-style pizza can take up to 45 minutes to make, depending on the size. 

Baked in a round steel pan, it's layered with cheese and then tomato sauce. It can be filled with any typical American pizza toppings, but the most popular choices are chunks of juicy Italian sausage, green peppers, and mushrooms. 

#(clear n3). Detroit. Detroit-style pizza is similar to Chicago's deep-dish variety. Both are made with sauce on top of the cheese, but the Detroit version features a thick crust and a square baking pan. The results are crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Traditional toppings adorn the pizza; some of the most popular are pepperoni and olives. 

#(clear n4). California. Made popular by Wolfgang Puck more than 30 years ago, California-style pizza is now served at restaurants across the nation, including at the chain California Pizza Kitchen. Unlike other pizzas that are characterized by a cooking method, a topping, or the crust, California-style is known for leaving off the traditional toppings and instead using fresh or unexpected ingredients, such as barbecued chicken, arugula, shredded carrots, and goat cheese. 

#(clear n5). New York. There are an estimated 1,600 pizza places dotting New York City, including dozens of places under the Ray's moniker. New York's pizza is a thin-crust style; it's rumored to have a one-of-a-kind flavor originating from the city's water. As befits the fast-paced city it calls home, New York pizza is often served as a slice, folded lengthwise, and eaten on the go.  

#(clear n6). New Haven. This Connecticut pizza is even thinner than New York City’s. It's cooked at ultra-high heat in a brick oven, taking only a few minutes to reach crispy perfection. Toppings are simple and typical of the rest of the country, except for the white clam pie; that crust is drizzled with olive oil, then topped with oregano, chopped garlic, and juicy littleneck clams, and served with grated Parmesan cheese. 

Credit for the New Haven style usually goes to Frank Pepe, who first made it in 1925. Pepe’s pizzeria is still in business today, but battles continuously with Sally’s Apizza for the title of Best Pizza in New Haven. 

#(clear n7). St. Louis. [%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="A homemade pizza that borrows from several styles."] The St. Louis pizza crust is so thin and crisp, it's often compared to a cracker. Atop this wafer-like crust, you’ll find an oregano-filled sauce. Next, the cheese is unlike that of any other region: a mixture of Cheddar, Swiss, and provolone. 

The supposed creator of this dish is Imo’s Pizza, which in 1964 started the first pizza-delivery chain in the state of Missouri.

#(clear n8). Quad Cities. This pizza doesn’t originate from just one city, but from four Midwestern cities along the Mississippi River on the Iowa-Illinois border: Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa, Rock Island and Moline in Illinois. 

Here, the pizza dough is seasoned and malt-heavy, giving it a toasty, nutty taste. Ground cayenne and red chile flakes give the sauce a kick. A thin layer of sauce and toppings — usually ground sausage spiked with fennel — are embellished with a mixture of Italian cheeses. Finally, these pizzas are thin-crusted, meaning Quad Cities pies are relatively fast to make fresh: 20 minutes or less, start to finish. Not counting eating time, of course.


p(bio). Chicago-based Kristen Kuchar is a culinary travel writer. She is the author of Mac 'n Cheese to the Rescue._

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