History Lesson

Period Pies: A Look Back at New York Pizza Journalism

Food photography in 1970 was not what it is today.
Food photography in 1970 was not what it is today. Photo: New York Magazine

Slice has a fun story today about a 1970 pizza roundup in our very own New York that “might be the city’s first ‘Best Pizza in NYC’ article ever.” As the blog notes, the layout is very similar to what you might see today (although, yeesh, we’ve come a long way with regard to food photography!), though the methodology is a bit different (it rates the pizzerias’ fanciest pies rather than just going for plain). New York is often credited with inventing service journalism — believe it or not, there was a time not long ago when it simply didn’t occur to anybody to bestow upon the public lists like these — but we were still curious to see whether this was in fact the city’s first pizza roundup. So we spent a little time this morning deep in the New York Times archive searching for anything similar. The results were rather illuminating.

The first mention of pizza in the Times is from 1944: “One of the most popular dishes in southern Italy, especially in the vicinity of Naples, is pizza — a pie made from a yeast dough and filled with any number of different centers, each one containing tomatoes,” the article helpfully explains. It goes on to mention one source for such exotic fare: Luigino’s Pizzeria All Napoletana at 147 West 48th Street. There the author describes the pizzaiolo spinning the dough around on his finger, then topping it with tomato sauce and mozzarella (“an Italian goat’s milk cheese”) and sliding it into the oven “without benefit of a pie tin” (gasp!).

A few years later, in 1947, readers are invited to “convert your kitchen into an Italian pizzeria,” which seems to be the first time the paper published a pizza recipe. Also from 1947 is a recipe for skillet pizza, with a crust made out of biscuit mix. In 1953, in an article about store-bought pizza mix hitting shelves, the writer declares that pizza “is such a gastronomical craze that the open pie threatens the preeminence of the hot dog and the hamburger.” Fighting words, surely, but where are the pizza roundups?

Answer: Not in the Times. We searched all the way from 1851 through 1975 and turned up nary a guide to New York City pizza — the only thing that came at all close was Craig Claiborne’s 1956 profile of Lombardi’s (in the sixties, Claiborne also penned a few proto-service-journalism features about finding Italian food in New York, a few of which mentioned pizza in passing). One intriguing tidbit was the story about Larry Goldberg, who founded Goldberg’s Pizza (known for its lox-and-onions-topped Goldielox Pizza), and whose now-defunct shop is included in the New York article. If we were truly academic rather than time-pressed bloggers, we’d do a similar search in the Post and Daily News archives, but as it stands, it seems a safe to bet to say that New York did indeed likely have the first “best pizza in NYC” roundup, and we haven’t stopped since.

Is This the First-Ever ‘Best Pizza in NYC’ Article?

The Underground Gourmet’s First Annual Pizzarama
[Google Books]

Period Pies: A Look Back at New York Pizza Journalism