Would a pizza by any other name …
Pizza comes in all shapes, sizes and tastes. After much research (add pepperoni, please…), I have also discovered that this deliciously flat indulgence tends to gather near boardwalks and oceans. Here in Delaware’s Cape Region, 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’s, and their slightly sweeter sauce is topped with the cheese. It’s no secret that Nicola Pizza is now on Coastal Highway where you can enjoy the signature Nic-O-Boli, basically a pizza turnover. 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 rarely disappoints.
Though Mr. P’s is arguably the first in the area to cook pizzas with oak, wood-fired ovens are popping up all over the place. 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 worldwide pizza competition in Las Vegas, making a very respectable showing as third best out of more than 200 competitors!
The minute you walk into Crust & Craft in Midway Galleria, you see the flickering flames adding their toasty char not only to their pies but also the particularly good side dishes. In that same Midway neighborhood is the tucked-away Pizza Villa. People tell me the place is one of Rehoboth’s best-kept pizza secrets. Makes sense … they’ve been crankin’ out pies for over 50 years! By the way, the cheesesteaks are also quite good. Two places where you might not immediately expect good pizza are Dogfish Head Brewpub and Revelation Craft Brewery in West Rehoboth. Both spots toast their pies with wood, and Revelation brings the brand recognition of the DaNizza truck-mounted wood oven.
Relatively new kid in downtown Rehoboth is Ava’s Pizzeria & Wine bar at the corner of Baltimore Avenue and N. First Street. Ava’s custom-made, open-flame oven is so big, they had to knock out a wall to crane it into the building. All that dust was worth it: If you haven’t tried Ava’s Detroit-style pizza, you’re missing out on something special. Get it with pepperoni.
At the very west end of Rehoboth Avenue is Johnny DiLeo’s New York-style pizza at his longtime Italian joint Casa DiLeo. Just around the corner and up The Highway is Petru Cornescu’s Pete’s Steak Shop in Rehoboth Marketplace (near Michy’s). In spite of the name (though they do make a fine cheesesteak), Pete’s whomps up an excellent pizza. Get the thin & crispy. Follow it with their house-made cherry cheesecake.
You can’t talk pizza in Lewes without invoking the name of Alex Kotanides. Pats’ 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. As me how I know. While in Lewes, check out the tiny Half Full. They kick up their pizza game with unusual toppings and sauces. Wine is the liquid of choice there at Second and Bank streets.
Neapolitan (the grandaddy of them all). Chicago deep-dish. New York. Sicilian. Greek. Detroit. Pala Romana. Even California and St. Louis. They’re all different, and everyone has his or her favorite. So get out there and mangia!