How Our Food Editor Celebrates National Pizza Day, One Slice at a Time
Every Pittsburgh neighborhood has at least one shop with a cult-like following. Follow along as Food Editor Kristy Locklin visits a few new-to-her spots.
Feb. 9 is National Pizza Day, but, if you’re anything like me, you celebrate the Circle of Life year-round.
Every Pittsburgh neighborhood has at least one shop with a cult-like following, so determining who has the best pie is like going to McKees Rocks and attempting to eat an entire 30-inch, 64-cut, $85 Monster Pizza from Mama Lena’s in one sitting, solo. It can’t be done — at least not without a lot of antacid.
For this story, I simply visited a few new-to-me places and a dine-in Pizza Hut. Anyway you slice it, I’m stuffed like crust.
Driven at Federal Galley, Nova Place, 200 Children’s Way, North Side
Jake Stewart is a driven individual with a penchant for Motor City-style munchies.
Since age 16, he’s been slinging pies for caterers and local institutions such as Mercurio’s in Shadyside, where he cut his teeth on Neapolitan pizza. As a pandemic project, he started playing with ingredients in a church kitchen.
In September 2021, he opened Driven, a Detroit-inspired pizza concept at Federal Galley. The 26-year-old is now one of four chefs set up inside the North Side restaurant incubator. Iron Born Pizza, another Galley Group alum that specializes in Michigan’s greatest culinary export, now has brick-and-mortar locations in Millvale and the Strip District
For customers unfamiliar with the Motown foodie trend, the pizza is baked in high-sided, rectangular pans, giving the dough a thick, airy, focaccia-like crust that caramelizes the cheesy edges as it heats up. After years of research and experimentation, Stewart says he has perfected his dough recipes, including a gluten-free version.
There are a variety of pizzas, pastas and appetizers on the menu. I went with the best-selling PBR pizza with pepperoni (the cupped kind that captures the grease!), banana peppers, ricotta, hot honey, marinara, mozzarella and cheddar. It’s cut into six squares and each one is enough for a meal.
True to form, I devoured two pieces. Like the chicken sandwiches at Given to Fly, a fellow Federal Galley tenant, this pizza is a messy affair. By the time I took my last bite, I was surrounded by crumpled napkins. The bartender — who poured me the latest Galley-exclusive beer from Hitchhiker Brewing Co., a West Coast IPA called Three’s A Crowd — pointed out that I had red sauce all over my Fangoria T-shirt. (If I didn’t already write about food for a living, I’d definitely pen articles about horror movies.)
It was a fitting end to a to-die-for lunch.
Lelulo’s Pizzeria, 311 Unity Trestle Road, Plum
In 2016, Patyn McCune decided to go big.
After working for Lelulo’s Pizzeria in Plum for four years, she bought the shop from the original owner — who opened a Pittsburgh-centric location in Florida — and added specialty pies to the menu.
In addition to holiday pizzas in fun shapes such as Christmas trees, “Scream” masks around Halloween, hearts and (ahem) other body parts for Valentine’s Day, McCune makes a mean deep dish.
The 14-inch, Chicago-style bad boy is baked in a pan that gives it its characteristically high crust. Imagine filling a baby pool with sauce, cheese and toppings and you get the idea. I’ve never been to the Windy City or tried its signature pizza, so I put the feelers out on social media to find a local source. A bunch of folks recommended Lelulo’s. As a former Plum High School student, I was excited to support a fellow Mustang, even if she graduated 13 years after I did.
Because they are so labor-intensive and pricey to make (2½ hours from dough to diner’s mouth and $35.99 each), Lelulo’s only offers the made-to-order monsters on Fridays. But keep an eye on their social media for other deep-dish days and purchasing instructions. Customers must order ahead by calling 412-795-1229.
My girlfriend (a former Chicago resident) and I ordered a deep dish with Lelulo’s traditional red sauce (there’s also a sweeter version available) and pepperoni. In hindsight, we should have just gone topping-less, because the pep pushed the grease content into heart attack territory. Delicious, but dangerous for two foodies whose high school careers ended during the Clinton Administration.
This is a pizza you need to eat with a knife and fork (and a medic on standby). I have a big appetite but was only able to finish one piece during our visit. My Chi-town companion gave it a thumbs up, even though she could only consume half a slice. We had Lelulo’s for breakfast the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that.
My mouth was happy, but now my body wishes I had ordered a deep-dish salad.
Pizza Lupo, 5123 Butler St., Lawrenceville
As professional firefighters for the City of Pittsburgh, brothers Travis and Brad Wolff put out infernos for a living, but they’re also heating up Lawrenceville with their pizza.
Pizza Lupo (which is Italian for “wolf”) grew out of Travis’ dedication to dough. Fascinated by ancient bread-making techniques, he began experimenting at home with sourdough starters way before it became the go-to pandemic hobby. Bread became his passion.
He still toys with different flours and other ingredients in the kitchen, but the dough is consistently very hydrated, giving the crust a nice crunchy outside with a bite that you can really sink your canines into.
When That’s Amore pizzeria closed in 2019, the Wolff siblings, who had no previous pizza-making experience, bought the spot at 5123 Butler St. and spent a year making the take-out space their own.
With help from their parents, Joe and Camille, they’re cranking out pies and placing them in inside-out pizza boxes from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 9 p.m. Saturday.
Travis is on dough detail, of course, and Brad is the guy in charge of the different sauces, sandwiches and pastas. Big sellers include the Drunk Meatball topped with homemade meatballs, vodka sauce, a house-cheese blend and fresh mozzarella, ricotta and basil.
I went a bit outside of my comfort zone and ordered the Tropic Thunder, one of Lupo’s 13 specialty pizzas, most of which are available in sizes small, large and grandma-style. My selection featured crushed tomato sauce, smoked mozzarella, Broadbents’s bacon, jalapeño, shaved red onion, chili oil and … pineapple.
I’ve always scoffed at this topping for reasons unknown, but, on a spicy pie that’s a five-alarm fire, the sweetness helped soothed this savage beast. Dousing my burning mouth with a growler of Firewhistle Brewing red ale would’ve probably help, too.
Next time you’re hungry like the wolf, you know where to go.
Pizza Hut, 4873 William Flynn Highway, Allison Park
When I think about Pizza Hut, Pac-Man comes to mind.
Throughout the mid-to-late 1980s, my family frequented the iconic chain’s long-gone Wexford location, where I happily played the arcade game, gobbling up digital pellets and ghosts along with my Personal Pan Pizza.
On the day I decided to visit the Allison Park location — one of the few dine-in spots still left in the Pittsburgh region — I followed a rainbow all the way to Route 8. It was as if the BOOK IT! Program logo was guiding me to my destination.
I was a pizza-faced teen the last time I ate at The Hut, so this was more than a meal, it was a slice of nostalgia.
Folks of a certain age will recognize the trapezoidal windows and angular roofline, although the red shingles are now black.
I ordered a half-cheese, half-pepperoni pan pizza at the counter and, seeing no Pac-Man machine or jukebox in sight, took a seat at one of the many empty booths. Like the roof, the seats are no longer red. The checkered tablecloths and Tiffany-style lamps are gone, too. Same with the soft ice pellets that somehow made the Pepsi colder and fizzier than boring cubes.
But it’s not all bad news, friends; I’m happy to report that they’re still rockin’ the red, plastic cups!
A friendly employee brought a piping hot pizza to the table and, for a moment, I was a kid again. I dished out the first piece with an epic cheese pull and, without waiting for it to cool, took a bite. Third-degree mouth burns aside, it was pretty good; not the gastronomic pot of gold I remember from my youth, but decent.
Several years ago, Pizza Hut began giving some of their 16,000 eateries a retro makeover, bringing the interior and exterior back to their cheesy ‘80s glory. There’s a Pizza Hut Classic in Warren, Ohio that I plan to patronize as a BOOK IT!-style reward for tackling the dusty tomes on my nightstand.
I can’t wait to eat a Personal Pan Pizza, not to mention Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde.