What’s round, comes in a square box, and served as a triangle?
Though the actual facts might be in dispute, I still believe my parents met over a slice of pizza. They loved the stuff. And they were particularly picky about their pies. It was a rare weekend night when mom wouldn’t make that fateful call to the Villa Rosa in Silver Spring, Md., or the Capri in Wheaton, Md., to order a large with pepperoni and sausage. “Extra crispy,” she would intone, with just a whisper of veiled threat if her instructions were not heeded.
Dad’s mission was to cleave through the night in the big Buick. A slice might - or might not - be missing by the time he and the pie made it home. Those were formative years for a budding Rehoboth Foodie, and to this day I can’t share the front seat with a square box without testing its cheesy contents. The small black cloud inside that big silver lining would be attempting to drive with your knees while incinerating your lips and dribbling sauce all over yourself. Do not try that at home. Leave it to the professionals.
Pizzas are known to flock near boardwalks and oceans. 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’s Pizza. Nicola’s crust is smooth and softer than Grotto, and their slightly sweeter sauce is topped with the cheese. But the Caggianos weren’t happy with the status quo: One fateful day, a loyal customer grabbed a whole pizza, folded it in half, and the Nic-o-Boli was born. I had the pleasure of hosting Nick Caggiano Jr. on my radio show a few weeks ago, and he told me that they sell literally thousands, frozen, to locals and vacationers alike who are hooked on this pie in a pocket. 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 crispy, oven-seared pepp are guaranteed 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. On my first visit to Mr. P’s I discovered owner Rick Thomas. Back in the late ‘90s, he was the manager of Il Forno restaurant in Bethesda, Md. On the rare times when I could escape from my own restaurant down the street, Rick used to slip me slices on the down-low. Small world. Big taste. Rick takes pride in his dough. After all, yeast is a living thing, and like many living things, it can be persnickety. But these guys coax Mr. P’s pies out of the oven with a crunchy bite that never disappoints.
Nowadays, wood-fired ovens are popping up here and there. Four of the busiest glow brightly at the Touch of Italy restaurants in Lewes, Rehoboth, Ocean City and Wilmington. TOI is so serious about Neopolitan-style pies that they sent their lead pizzaioli to the world-wide pizza competition in Las Vegas a couple of years ago. 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 their pies. When SoDel Concepts took over last year, they mandated that the original owner’s pies remain the same. By the way, don’t miss C&C’s particularly good side dishes.
At the very west end of Rehoboth Avenue is Casa DiLeo’s New York-style pizza. Impossibly thin with slices the size of small airports, Chef Johnny’s pies have earned a loyal following. Petru Cornescu’s Pete’s Steak Shop in Rehoboth Marketplace - in spite of the name - whomps up a fine pizza. Get the thin & crispy (and a slice of homemade cheesecake to take home). Another place where you would not immediately expect good pizza is Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats. 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’.
Lewes is home to the unassuming but busy Full Belly Bistro. Owner Andrew Dulaney puts out a tasty pie that also sports the all-important “pull” of the crust. You can’t talk pizza in Lewes without invoking the name of Alex Kotanides. Pats’ Pizzeria in Mariner Plaza dishes up two entirely different varieties: a traditional round pie, and Alex’ 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. Ask me how I know.
Rectangular “gourmet” pies are just down Savannah at Half-Full. If you’re desiring a pie loaded with roasted chicken, smoked gouda, mushrooms, pickled banana peppers, roasted tomato sauce (or perhaps double cream brie, arugula, berry drizzle, roasted garlic sauce), this is your place. Pair it with wine by the glass.
My official Cape Gazette logo inkwell is running dry, but I want to squeeze in a couple of spots that are worth the drive. Rose and Brian Conte at Pomodoro Pizza in Bethany Beach are from Italy, so they know their way around a pie. The moment I took my first bite, I was reminded of some of the best pizza I have ever eaten: at Louie & Ernie's tiny storefront on Crosby Ave. in the Bronx. Thanks to Rose and Brian, I no longer have to suffer the Cross-Bronx Expressway to get my pizza fix. Carrying out? Give Pomodoro a few hours’ notice! Their oven is small and they harvest no pizza before its time.
Another unexpected source for tasty pies is Marc Latham’s Dough Bar in Milton. He and his absolutely delightful wife Kristen have created a tiny empire at the corner of Federal and Union streets. Though the pies are indeed very good, I also urge you to try Marc’s cheesesteaks. You can thank me later.
One more hidden gem is DaNizza Pizza at Revelation Craft Brewery in Rehoboth. A wood-fired oven (truck mounted, yet) cranks ‘em out thin and crispy with that elusive “pull” to the crust. My favorite is the Pork & Peppers (an extravaganza of tomatoes, mozzarella, sausage, bacon and roasted peppers). But you can also go rogue with tomato slices over pesto with thin-as-air red onions. Lately the Revelation boys have been taking their truck on the road when the brewery is closed, so if you are vigilant you can grab a pie nearby. Either way, wash ‘em down with Patrick Staggs & Harry Metcalf’s Conan the Juiceman IPA. Yet another chance to thank me later.
So, hop into the big Buick and seek out your favorite. And just think: If you have kids, around 60 (or so…) years from now one of them might even write an article about it.