If someone asked you — real quick, “Where is the pizza capital of the world?” Your first thought might be Italy. Maybe New York City? Okay, Chicago if you’re talking deep dish. But if you were passing through Northeast Pennsylvania, you’d be quickly corrected. Everyone in this neck of the woods knows it’s in Old Forge (population roughly 8,000). This tiny Pennsylvania coal mining town proudly advertises itself as THE best spot in the world for pizza.
Wait… you’ve NEVER heard of Old Forge? You’re not the only one. I grew up less than 45 minutes away from Old Forge and I never knew about its ‘pizza cred’ until a year ago when reading a glowing review in USA Today’s travel section. This past weekend, Kevin and I went back to my hometown to visit my family and headed to the closest Crunch gym we could find, which was in Scranton (driving over 45 minutes, but hey we’re used to driving in LA). Oddly, you can also find the actual ‘Welcome to Scranton’ sign from the opening credits of The Office just outside the gym. That fact alone makes it a fun stop!
That’s when I floated a spur-of-the-moment idea by Kevin — let’s do a pizza crawl through Old Forge! After all, we EARNED those calories. And just how unhealthy is pizza anyway? He agreed, clearly having no idea where in the world Old Forge was located (5 miles outside Scranton) or why we were going there (let’s just say, he’s more of an Economist reader than USA Today).
Whatever, he agreed. And off we went! And what an adventure we had. Below are 3 places we’d recommend visiting, all within minutes of each other in downtown Old Forge. But the big question… Is the pizza as good as they say it is? Believe it or not, it actually is! And the culture of ordering pizza here is unlike anywhere else in the world. We’ll tell you how it’s done.
PIZZA STOP #1: Arcaro & Genell
Keeping with the tradition of the famous pizza places in Old Forge, the Arcaro & Genell family began their business in 1962. To this day, you’ll find family members waiting on tables and working behind the bar. You’ll get that “family feel” the minute you walk in the door. Everyone seems to know each other, and if they don’t, they probably will know you by the time you leave.
We were greeted by Ashley who we later learned is the daughter of one of the owners. She was friendly and immediately could tell we were confused on what to order (and that we were visiting from out of town. I wonder what gave it away?). She guided us on the plan of action for our pizza crawl — and what made the pizza so different in Old Forge. First, all pizza in Old Forge is baked in large rectangular metal trays (never round). You never call it a pie, but rather it’s a tray. Also, what you might call a “slice of pizza” is actually called “a cut of pizza.” Confused yet? We were! While she let that all sink in, she brought us out the restaurant’s signature white bean appetizer (included at no cost) and some crusty Italian bread. We could have made a meal of this alone. It was that delicious.
We tried our best to blend in. Well, until Kevin asked whether their Chardonnay was “oak-y.” KEVIN! Anyway, we went with Ashley’s recommendation for Old Forge’s signature pizza: a cut of traditional red and a cut of traditional white. The white is actually a double-crusted, resembling more of a calzone than pizza.
Out of the three spots we visited in Old Forge, we enjoyed the atmosphere at Arcaro & Genell the most. It was a nice combo of classy dining establishment mixed with vintage cool, like a bar out of Mad Men. Then we got the bill, which was less than $4 dollars. It wasn’t until we were outside when Kevin laughed and said, “Do you realize you nearly gave her a 100 percent tip?” Clearly, I couldn’t believe just how cheap a meal here was. That, and I need to work on my math skills!
PIZZA STOP #2: Revello’s Cafe
Revello’s Cafe is located just across the street from Arcaro & Genell. But could Revello’s make the cut for the best pizza? We were ready to put them to the test. Upon entering, we could sense a completely different vibe — being a little more casual with a family-dining feel. Well, a family vibe with a bar. This is Northeast Pennsylvania after all! We grabbed a spot at the bar along with a handful of locals here to watch the Philadelphia Eagles game on the TV sets.
To keep equal tasting ground, we ordered a cut of the red and a cut of the white pizza. What makes Old Forge pizza so different — besides the way to order it — is the blend of cheeses. While it’s different at each restaurant, it generally includes classics like mozzarella, Parmesan and Pecorino. But it also has a heavy mixture of cheeses like American and Cheddar.
Out of the 3 stops on our pizza crawl, we loved the taste of the pizza here the best. The cheese was gooey and plentiful. It also seemed to lean heavy on using melted American cheese (which may sound disgusting, but is pretty mind-blowing!). I could only imagine what our fellow LA foodies would think of this combo. But don’t just take our word for how good it is. The spot has been visited by Hilary Clinton, former Governor John Heinz and even Ozzy Osborne, to name a few.
And the price was even cheaper than the first stop! Just $1.25 for the red cut and $2 dollars for the white cut. Once again, we majorly overcompensated and tipped nearly 100 percent. I mean, our regular juice bar in Los Angeles charges 5 times as much for a thimble-sized shot of juice!
PIZZA STOP #3: Salerno’s Cafe
We made it to our third and final stop. But no joke, we’re starting to get very full at this point! We were told by several people in town that we needed to check out Salerno’s Cafe. There is a dining room in the back, but most of the people seemed to congregate inside the dark bar located in the first room when you walk inside.
Out of the three spots we tried, we felt that Salerno’s had the most casual vibe. Basically, a sports bar with good pizza and a lot of dark wood. There was also a wall full of signed photographs from various sports players. Clearly, I have zero knowledge about sports. Otherwise, I’d call out a few prominently featured on the wall! Though, I did recognize Mohamed Ali.
We ordered the standard cuts just like at the previous stops: 1 red and 1 white. Salerno’s also has had a lot of media attention and was even included in the book Roadfood as one of the best spots to eat in the country. We could see the draw — and why it held such a special place for locals. It’s like Old Forge’s version of Cheers. While we enjoyed the other two stops more, we were glad we stopped by and tried it! And the total price for two slices was just $3.30 total. You certainly can’t beat the price.
We did it! We can finally scratch Old Forge off our list of pizza hot spots. And we definitely think it’s worth it. After all, you’ll never look at pizza the same way again. Kevin learned this the hard way, after ordering the pizza on our Delta flight back to Los Angeles the next day. Clearly, Delta Airlines won’t be claiming the crown of pizza capital anytime soon!
THE LOW DOWN:
- We visited 3 spots on our pizza crawl. There are even more pizza spots in Old Forge. We recommend the 3 places we visited, but heard great things about Mary Lou’s and Ghigiarelli’s Restaurant. Both were closed the day we visited.
- Here are the addresses of each of the spots we visited:
Arcaro & Genell’s Restaurant
443 S Main St, Old Forge, PA 18518-1608
502 S Main St, Old Forge, PA 18518-1542
139 Moosic Rd, Old Forge, PA 18518-2018