Your Personal Pizza Stories

Here's where we share the stories that you share with us! Your tales of pizza passion, favorite pies, great pizza moments... you get the idea!

If you've got pizza stories to share, please use the form on our "Perfect Pizza" page - Click here to find it.

An update from Randy Johnson of Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, in his quest to make great artisanal pizza in his home oven!

If you scroll down this page a-ways, you'll see the first submission from Randy. This is a man on a pizza mission! Here's his latest:

Greetings from Idaho...

I have included pictures of some pizze and the process involved to imitate a 900F wood fired oven.

I have cooked pizze in two of my neighbors wood fired ovens, and now come really close to duplicating the process in my home oven---gas fired 550-575F, with a gas broiler 600F.

Sliding pizza into oven
Two stones, the top one just under the broiler

two stones, with broiler
Moving the pizza to the broiler for char

Still make much of my own charcuterie (pepperone, lardons, italian sausage, guanciale, pancetta, kielbasa, etc.-all small batch), my own mozzarella, use vine ripened, seeded, peeled tomato concasse (sauce), and keep the ingredients simple: no more than 2-3 per pizze.

Randy's Margherita
Randy's Margherita

Smoke-oven roast the vegetables and then add them to the pizze usually prebake, but sometimes post bake (morel mushrooms is an example-they dry out). Basil, hard cheeses, and I sometimes like to add a little fresh mozz on top as well as pre bake. Love to mix it up with the post- and pre-bake.

Share the processes with all.

So if you'd like to know more about Randy's process - and we'll stay in touch with him for sure - contact us and we'll forward your emails to him!

Juliette, a High School student from Arkansas, discovers authentic Neapolitan pizza -- in Pompeii!

Here's a story we received through the form on our Perfect Pizza page. It's always exciting to find a young person who's so passionate about pizza! Here's her story:

I've grown up in a family that loves pizza - at any chance we can we call up Pizza Hut and order a couple big ones, for that "special occasion" (Thanksgiving? Order some pizza! Super Bowl? Mom is already on the phone! It's the weekend? Why not!). I love Pizza Hut pizza - it's thick and gooey and chewy and oh so yummy.

I THOUGHT I knew what good pizza was - and then I went to Italy this summer. I went with my school on the tennis team for a "culture learning experience" (whatever, we just wanted to chill out in Italy for a few weeks. I'm not even on the tennis team). What I got out of it was PIZZA learning experience!

The first pizza I tried in Italy was alright. We were in Venice in a small pizzeria run by Asians playing Lady Gaga on the radio - not what we were expecting, I guess you could say. The pizza was delicious compared to all other pizza I've had before, of course, but the cheese slid off in a sheet like cheap school pizza and the strange vegetable on top had a very unappealing spongey texture. Maybe I was only in shock from the sheer amount they gave me (a whole pizza? To myself??) but still - not the best.

We searched Florence and Rome for the perfect Italian pizza - surely these huge cities would have something! But nothing popped up, only endless stores of gelato (which we didn't mind. We definitely sampled our fair share of gelato).

On one of our daily excursions, our tour guide Domenico (yep, typical Italian) took us to Pompeii. And there, shadowed beneath the massive volcano that destroyed the city centuries ago, was the best pizza known to man! It was so unexpected finding this hidden gem in this dusty city, but there it was, hidden behind lemon carts and stray dogs.

Inside Hotel Santa Caterina I ate my first pizza straight from heaven.

The cheese literally melted in your mouth, the bread wasn't so thick you had to chew over and over, but it filled you considerbly fast. The sauce tasted so good I wanted to lick it off my pizza. It was by far the best pizza I have ever had in my 17 years of existence - and that's coming from someone who eats pizza on a regular basis.

My favorite pizzeria? Pompeii, Italy - Hotel Santa Caterina's pizza is just so declicious and perfect. It's what all pizza should be. In the states, probably Mad Pizza in Rogers, AR. It has a fun atmosphere, plenty of pizza to choose from and AWESOME chocolate dessert.

You're very fortunate! Believe it or not, we haven't even been to Italy yet - although both our twentysomething daughters have! One daughter's favorite pizza was in Rome. We're hoping to visit Naples in the next couple of years, and Pompeii isn't far! Thanks for sharing your story with us.

Frank Varenchik of Clayton, CA Has a Great Day With His Backyard Oven!

Frank Varenchik, one of Cary's classmates from Tony Gemignani's International School of Pizza, sent in this account of making his own perfect pizza - and then some! He was also kind enough to send a couple of pictures...

Frank Varenchik's backyard pizza oven

Over the weekend we had a birthday party for our son Mike at our home in Clayton, CA. We fired up our backyard wood burning oven and cooked up 9 pizzas for our guests. After they left the oven was still hot so I ran up to our local Safeway and picked up a 6-1/4 lb. chicken. Barb stuffed it with some Rosemary and Oregano from our herb garden and we popped it into the oven. It was done in an hour and absolutely delicious.

Frank and grandson workin' the oven

The oven was still hot after cooking the chicken and we had three balls of pizza dough that were left over from the birthday party so we rolled them out and stuffed them with left over pizza fixings and turned them into calzones. We hit them with an egg wash for color, slid them into the pizza oven, and they cooked in about 15 minutes or so. Again mouth watering good. All in all a very satisfying day.

Frank, you know that Cary covets your oven. Hope we can share some pizza and more stories with you and Barb soon!

Randy Johnson, Artisanal Home Pizza-man from Coeur D'Alene, Idaho

We received the following from Randy Johnson (no, not the pitcher) a few months ago. This is a man who is obviously serious about his pizza. We like that.

Sorry for the delay, Randy, and that is one fine lookin' pizza!

"After reading American Pie and Pizza: A Slice of Heaven, I went on a quest for the best pizza. I personally talked to Chris Bianco and visited his pizzeria. I have eaten a VPN pizza in Seattle.

"Of course, I grew up eating Buddy's in Pocatello, Idaho and for a long time considered it the best. I also cook for fun about 2 hours a day.

"In the end, I make what I consider the best pizza without having a wood fired oven...I cook at 575 degrees convection, on stones to get as close as I can. I cold retard a hand-made high protein dough, use a concasse of compari tomatoes, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, dried oregano, extra-virgin olive oil, home-made mozz, home-made italian sausage, oven-roasted vegetables: onions, mushrooms, etc., garlic confit and parmigiano reggiano cheese.

The pizza in the picture is a Naples style, with smoked mushroom and garlic confit."

Pizza by Randy Johnson of Idaho

Okay, Randy, next time we're within 100 miles of Coeur d'Alene, we're comin' over!

Johnny Pizza, "The Pizza Consultant"

We received a post the other day from a fellow who told us we could call him Johnny Pizza, "The Pizza Consultant." Johnny's from Long Island and now lives in L.A.

Johnny and his pizza

"Hi there - Did you ever go to Cambria Fine Foods in St. James? across from Bella Vita Restaurant? It's no longer open - BEST PIZZA in NY. The place had a deli, prime meats, sushi etc - too much going on; they lasted about a year. (Johnny did tell us that he had been the pizza chef at Cambria. He's not shy about his pizza.

Little Vincent's is VERY GOOD! It's my favorite on the Island and well, I really can't think of anyone better. Colosseo is good. There is one excellent place on Johnson Avenue in Lake Ronkonkoma not too far from the train station, it's EXCELLENT. AMAZING crust, kind of like my crust. I use 3 different mozzarellas and 2 other "secret" cheeses blended so the taste is pretty amazing.

There's a place called Angelino's in North Hollywood that has a nice pie - kind of an unknown "neighborhood" place - great crust etc. - best pizza I've had outside of NY. Sazio in Delray Beach, Florida is just as good. Actually better than many New York places.

Once the Italians sold out the recipes changed and, well, only a few great ones remain. Joe's Pizza from Downtown NY opened here in Santa Monica and now one on Sunset - very good crust but sauce is too dry - and too light on the cheese. Have you been to Pizza Stop in Lake Ronkonkoma on Portion Road? The owner is really nice - his pie is really good - GREAT Sicilian."

Johnny promised to send us pictures of some of the pizzas he made in New York, and he was good as his word. The one that really got to us is this one:

Johnny's Grandma Pizza

We WANT this pizza!!

Johnny, if you only knew how much we love a good Grandma pie...

Brooklyn in the good old days, the Hudson Valley,and Rome!

Joe Brancatelli (of wrote this in response to our question, "so what's your favorite pizzeria, Joe?"

"Well, I think we all go back to childhood on stuff like pizza. I grew up eating Trio Pizza (Avenue U and East 19), which was an outgrowth of Arco, several blocks down Avenue U. Can't speak to the quality of either of them having moved quite a few years ago. More recently (that would be 17 years ago...) I lived on Kings Highway and East 21st Street and the pizzeria on Kings Highway just off Ocean Avenue was quite good. I'm talking New York slice and square good. I found their Sicilian quite good on taste-like-you-grew-up scale.

These days, I live in the Hudson Valley and pizza of high quality is a hard get, although one long-time contender (Longobardi in Wappingers Falls) and two more recent transplant from Arthur Avenue (Antonella's, now in Fishkill and Wappingers Falls) are decent. And a place called Brothers in Beacon, run by Albanians, is nice. They all make good round pies. The Sicilian, not so much. A classic, New York City-style Sicilian is going the way of bialys, I fear...

I know this will sound silly, but I'd never heard of Grandma style until the New York magazine story a few months back. And I was so impressed with the picture of Adrienne's pie in the story that I went down to Stone Street (and being THAT close to Goldman Sachs HQ scared me...) to check it out. I was muchly impressed, I must say. Impressed enough that I will add Umberto's to the list of places I want to hit. I am sure I can find a reason to be in New Hyde Park SOME day.

As for what I crave today, well, I am extraordinarily lucky. I get to Rome a lot. And I much prefer Roman style to Neopolitan now for round pies. I think Da Baffetto, generally regarded as Rome's best, is slightly overrated. But there is so much interesting pizza in Rome, the standards are amazing. As for a square pie, there is a place called Pizza Buono (Corso Vittorio Emanuele) that does astonishingly good work. A great Margherita and a truly brilliant pie with julienned zucchini. There's also a place called Arte on the Via Arenula that is superlative. Pizza Buono gets my nod,though, because it is open until 2am.

But do you know what bugs me most, Cary? That great pizza is now a matter of searching, even in New York. I mean, when you and I were growing up, there was no such thing as bad pizza in Brooklyn. We just assumed all the pies were great--and they were. And even into the late 1980s, when I was living on Kings Highway, there was good pizza--in several styles. There was a guy on 22nd Street who made a very light and airy Sicilian unlike anything I've ever tasted. Every block in Kings Highway from Ocean to Coney Island Avenues a pizzeria and all with something to recommend them. No more, I fear.

BTW, one terrific round pie place that never seems to get any publicity is Sacco on 9th Avenue and 52nd in Manhattan. It's an old-fashioned slice joint but it does terrific work. A light, flavorful pizza with no fuss and no muss."

DelVecchio's Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria, Hilton Head Island, SC

Paula Hunter sent us this -- her favorite pizzeria for more than one reason:


"I'm half Italian and grew up eating pizza made at home. For most of my young life, that was it for me....nothing compared. Now, I'm married to a Long Islander transplanted in the south who owns his own pizzeria. What can I say? I think I'm bound by marriage vows to my favorite pizza now!"

Thanks for writing, Paula! We noticed on your site that several of DelVecchio's hero sandwiches are named for towns on Long Island and that classic New York and Sicilian pizza are available -- please thank your husband for bringing a taste of Long Island to the South. Since we can't vouch for it, hope we can get down there to sample the pizza and add to our pizza stories soon!

Tony's in Brentwood, LI

Chandra Amand wrote to tell us about her favorite pizzeria:

"The most anazing pizzas I have ever eaten are found on a side street in Brentwood, LI, where there are 2 other pizza places in close proximity; one is on the same block by the IGA supermarket, the other is on Washington Avenue, the intersecting main street. Why would you choose Tony's on Clarke Street -- because it is simply the best, the best in town and for my taste, the best I have found on LI. If you are longing for a really great pizza and your partner wants a fine Italian meal, then Tony's is surely for you. It is an unassuming place, but you can assume that you will love the experience. Tasting is believing."

Thank you, Chandra! It's a future stop for us...

The Pizza Capital of the World

Bruce Generotti of Pennsylvania shares his remembrance of the pizza in Old Forge, PA:

Old Forge, PA - Pizza Capital of the World

"I grew up near Scranton.

There is a little town called Old Forge which local people refer to as the Pizza Capital of the World. The type of pizza that they make in Old Forge, and there are a lot of places that make it, is referred to as Old Forge pizza. Many years ago (I was living in Valley Forge), a co-worker went home to Scranton and brought a few Old Forge Pizzas back with her for the group at work. People could not stop talking about it. Even today when I tell some of them I was visiting my mother, they ask if I brought any back with me.

My wife who is from Philly was at a sales call in Scranton a few months ago. She went out of her way to bring a couple of trays home. She loves it. Yes, they are called trays and not pies. They are cooked on a rectangular tray and are cut in squares like Sicilian pizza. I actually never heard of a pizza pie until I went to college. The cheese is the secret. It is a mixture of several kinds of cheese, not including mozzarella.

For me the best red pizza is from Revello's and the white pizza, double crust stuffed with cheese is from Acaro and Genell."

Thanks, Bruce. We'll have to get out there for a tray!

Update: We recently had a chance to visit Old Forge and eat half a tray of Revello's pizza. We've never tasted anything like it! Not sure we loved it (we are from New York), but it was unique!

Keep those stories coming...

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