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Pizza: A slice of life that comes in all shapes, sizes and styles

June 15, 2018

My parents loved pizza. It was a rare weekend night when mom wouldn't make that fateful call to the Villa Rosa in Silver Spring or the Capri in Wheaton, and order a large with pepperoni and sausage. Dad would cleave through the night in the big Buick. It wasn't unusual for a slice to be missing by the time he and the partial pie returned home. I was scarred for life: To this day I can't share the front seat with a flat square box without testing its steaming contents. But, beware! Driving with your knees while incinerating your lips and dribbling sauce all over yourself (not to mention endangering everyone on the road) is thoroughly frowned upon. Do not try that at home. I am a professional.

Pizzas tend to gather near boardwalks and oceans. The sheer availability of the stuff makes it easy to pick and choose. So I thought a little roundup of our plethora of pies might be fun, if not downright educational. 

Here in Rehoboth, it all started with Grotto. In 1960, Dominick Pulieri introduced a thin-crusted pie that shares a trait with many Chicago deep-dish versions: The sauce is applied on top of the secret blend of cheeses. The delicate crunch when it's properly cooked is testimony to "that legendary taste." 

In 1971, Nick and Joan Caggiano founded Nicola Pizza. Nicola's crust is smooth and softer than Grotto, and their slightly sweeter sauce is topped with the cheese. Now: Don a HazMat suit, grab a whole pizza, fold it over like a big hot turnover, and you have Nicola's signature Nic-O-Boli, a cross between a calzone and a stromboli. Forget the details. It's tasty. 

Three years later, Louie Gouvas opened Louie's Pizza. His sons, Tim and Tony, have been running the Rehoboth Avenue storefront since they could see over the counter. Louie's thin and yeasty crust has an appetizing "pull" that takes center stage without hogging the spotlight. The boys are well known for pilin' on the pepperoni. A few fistfuls of quality cheese, spiced sauce and the oven-seared pepp are widely considered to be greater than the sum of the parts. 

Mr. P's Pizza in Lewes is built around an Italian wood-burning oven. Glowing oak bakes the pies quickly, creating slightly charred crust bubbles and a puffy perimeter. Owner Rick Thomas takes pride in their exclusive dough recipe. After all, yeast is a living thing, and like many living things, it can be persnickety. But these guys know how to coax Mr. P's pies out of the oven for a smoky bite that never disappoints. 

Though Mr. P's is arguably the first in the area to cook pizzas with oak, wood-fired ovens are popping up here and there. Three of the busiest glow brightly at the Touch of Italy restaurants in Lewes, Rehoboth and Ocean City. TOI is so serious about its Neapolitan-style pies that they sent their lead pizzaioli to the world-wide pizza competition in Las Vegas - and they made a very respectable showing as third best out of over 200 competitors! 

The minute you walk into Crust & Craft in Midway Galleria you can see the flickering flames adding their toasty char to pizzas and C&C's particularly good side dishes. At the very west end of Rehoboth Avenue is Johnny DiLeo's New York-style pizza at his longtime Italian joint Casa DiLeo. Petru Cornescu's Pete's Steak Shop in Rehoboth Marketplace (near Michy's) - in spite of the name - whomps up a fine pizza. Get the thin and crispy. Another place where you would not immediately expect good pizza is Dogfish Head Brewpub. But this busy spot also toasts its pies with wood. I suggest pairing the "The End of Something" pie with a frosty Namaste White. Just sayin'. 

You can't talk pizza in Lewes without invoking the name of Alex Kotanides. His family's Pat's Pizzeria in Mariner Plaza dishes up two entirely different kinds of pizza: a traditional round pie, and then Alex's favorite, the very cheesy Greek-style pizza. It's served in squares, and though it is quite large, it reheats perfectly on a 500-degree preheated pizza stone in your oven. Ask me how I know. 

So, hop into the big Buick and seek out your favorite. And just think: If you have kids, 60 (or so) years from now, one of them might even write an article about it.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at byesbek@capegazette.com.