Defining Pittsburgh-style pizza: Saucy, strong, and potent enough for our rusty palates | Just Jaggin' | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Defining Pittsburgh-style pizza: Saucy, strong, and potent enough for our rusty palates

Pittsburghers take a lot of pride in the authenticity of our region. Whether it’s local mythology or something deservedly unique, we celebrate our foods, culture, and sports teams as if no one else in America can match our fervor — a not uncommon trait for a city. It’s great to revere the unique aspects of your hometown.

But there’s a cultural distinction in Pittsburgh that is rarely discussed the same way we publicize our Appalachian drawl and blind loyalty to the Rooneys. And that’s Pittsburgh-style pizza.

What’s Pittsburgh-style pizza, you ask? I’d ask you the same, because I’m not exactly sure. But if there’s a Detroit-style pizza (Little Caesars?!?!), there sure as hell is a Pittsburgh style. I’m not talking about Ohio Valley pizza, with its cold toppings or your favorite boutiquey brick-oven place. I’m talking about pizza that lies somewhere between the 25th and 75th percentile in quality. Your pizza-night pizza. The local Yinzer Hut your parents ordered for your family and you order from today. It’s your go-to, but nothing you’d give an out-of-town guest to eat. It’s the Sandra Bullock’s acting of pizza — you’re always very satisfied but never blown away.

Trying to pinpoint a specific style to attribute to Pittsburgh, you begin with its flavor components. A Pittsburgh-style pizza is definitely saucy. And that sauce is strong. It can be sweet or it can be spicy, but there has to be a larger-than-average quantity and an almost aggressive flavor profile.

While I’m no anthropologist, my guess is this technique originated from our fond history of working mills and sucking down Marlboros. Potency is required to penetrate our rusty palates. The cheese is probably a mix of styles, comparable to the rest of America, but like our sauce, I’m sure we use more of it and crank the flavor to 11.

Pittsburgh-style pizza crust can’t be too thin or too thick. We’re not the svelte, self-absorbed thin crust of New York City. We’re not the bombastic, masochistic crust of Chicago (that’s not even a crust, that’s a lasagna). It’s tedious at its best and nauseating at its worst.

Our crust, like our people, is hedging its bets right down the center. We’re not looking for attention like other pizzas. Pittsburgh pizza just wants to get the job done as efficiently as possible with little bombast. That’s why we love Heath Miller. That’s why we vote for Democrats but will probably pick Joe Biden in the primaries.

While pizza can and has been analyzed to death, there’s only one truth: Papa John’s is repulsive. Everything else is fair game. So, get out there, take a knee, and grab yourself a slice of your favorite Pittsburgh-style pizza, whatever the hell that means.

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