Written by Phin Upham
New York pizza originates in 1905, when a man named Gennaro Lombardi opened a pizzeria at 53 ½ Spring Street. Pizza dates back to the Neapolitan age of Italy, supposedly first made by Raffaele Esposito of Pizzeria de Pietro. Another origin story puts the creation of pizza as a tribute to the introduction of Queen Margherita to King Umberto. This was in Naples, in the year 1889.
It was largely a localized delicacy until immigrants began arriving in New York City seeking a better life. The ingredients were different, but the chefs were determined to bring back that taste of home. Instead of buffalo-milk mozzarella for instance, chefs had cow’s milk. Oregano was replaced by sweet marjoram. Everything about the pizza in America was different, even the quality of water.
World War II played a significant role in the spread of pizzas through America. After returning from European theaters of war, the troops had acquired a taste for the flat bread. That helped spur the spread of pizzerias outside of the Eastern seaboard.
Of course, the style is very different from what is colloquially known as the “Chicago Deep Dish.” This pizza was created at Pizzeria Uno, which is a chain that still survives today. Chicago deep dish was slow to catch on. It first appeared in 1912, served from a basket atop a man’s head, to very confused people who couldn’t figure out whether it was meant to be eaten or used as roofing materials. Perhaps that is why pizza is now served in boxes.