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Dough rising in Pizza Capital of the World

  • Story Highlights
  • Old Forge, Pennsylvania, calls itself the Pizza Capital of the World
  • Most of the pizza café owners' relatives came from Felitto, Italy
  • The pizza is rectangular with a thick crust
  • Next Article in Travel »
By Jill Dougherty

OLD FORGE, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- My best friend from childhood is Italian-American. Very Italian-American. So when Mary Immaculata Ferrario Rinaldi invites me to visit the Pizza Capital of the World, I don't ask questions. She knows pizza.

Arrive early or make reservations to sample Old Forge's pizza.

We head out of Scranton, Pennsylvania, toward Old Forge, population approximately 10,000. In about 10 minutes we're driving down Main Street. I start counting the pizza cafés, as they call them here: Rinaldi's, Brutico's, Arcaro & Genell's, Anthony's, Ghigiarelli's -- 11 on this street alone. Within just a few blocks, there are at least nine more. Even the florist on Main Street is called "Pizzazz."

Mary said we would need reservations, and she's right. It's 4:30 p.m. and Revello's is packed. The place attracts locals and celebrities. Hillary Clinton was here a couple of weeks ago. Just for fun we ask if we can sit in the booth where she sat. "No problem, honey," the waitress, Dorothy, says.

Now, if you are thinking regular pizza, forget it. This is Old Forge pizza and all the cafés here make it. It's not round, it's rectangular and it's "red" or "white." Red is made with tomato sauce and cheese; white is cheese only, double crust, with olive oil and rosemary sprinkled on top, although they recently introduced a new version with broccoli.

Old Forge also is famous for "black" pizza, my favorite. No tomato sauce. Just cheese, black pepper, olives and anchovies.

While Dorothy is getting our sodas, I meet Pat Revello. He's the co-owner with his mother, Delores. His parents bought the café 41 years ago. I ask him if they have the best pizza in town.

Bad question. No one here in town claims to be the best. There's very little competition. After all, Old Forge, Pat says, is a place "where everyone knows your name."

"Well, it's really a matter of taste," he tells me.

The pizza café owners in Old Forge are a loyal bunch. Most of their families originally came from the same town in Italy -- Felitto, near Naples. The owners advertise together. They named their town the "Pizza Capital of the World." No one is "best," they say. They're all "the best."

So, what make the best pizza in the world? Pat takes me back to the kitchen. Andy Sopp, who has worked here for 40 years, is sprinkling grated cheese on a "red" pizza. Next to him is a stack of pizza crusts. He's the brother of the owner. Of the café's 25 employees, three-quarters of them are related.

I ask Andy for the secret of great pizza. "It's the cheese blend," he says. "So what kind do you use?" I ask. "We make our own," he says, "We have to keep our secrets."

Pat tells me they use only fresh ingredients and grind their own California tomatoes. They still use the original cheese grater from 40 years ago.

Local legend has it that Old Forge pizza began 88 years ago with grandmother Ghigiarelli, whose family restaurant, Ghigiarelli's, still stands on Main Street. Mrs. Ghigiarelli lived below a gentlemen's club where the clients played cards. They asked her for something to eat. She grabbed a rectangular baking pan and baked a pizza on the old coal stove. The rest is history. Today, some Old Forge cafés ship their pizza across the country and around the world.

It's 5:30 p.m. and the line of customers at Revello's is out the front door. At the back door there's a crowd waiting for takeout. Pat tells me his first worker gets in at 5 a.m. to make the dough. "Once the dough starts rising, the people come in," he says.

Waitress Dorothy comes by to freshen up our drinks. She's on the run, trying to keep the customers happy. "I wish I had another hand instead of a mouth," she says. E-mail to a friend

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