The Evolution of Pizza

Served up al fresco to the working poor in the ancient seaside city of what is now Italy’s Napoli, pizza was probably history’s first fast food. Termed lazzaroni, these dense throngs of laborers, household servants, and their families frequently lived in very small quarters that were little more than simple sleeping rooms that sorely lacked in meal preparation facilities. The lazzaroni need quick, cheap food that could be consumed with a minimal amount of cutlery and plateware, and unleavened flat breads with various toppings fit this bill to a tee. Sold by food vendors and served in casual trattorias, toppings included cooked meats, sliced fruits, fresh vegetables, and made good use of whatever local seafood was currently available. As varied as the toppings were, however, most street pizza was nonetheless crafted with liberal use of the classic combination of olive oil, tomatoes, cheese, and garlic, which remains the staple ingredients in most quality pizzas.

Although disdained by the upper classes as sloppy and crude, that particular tide shifted in 1889, when Italy’s Queen Margherita got a taste of pizza on a visit to Napoli. Bored with haute cuisine, the monarch fell hard for the city’s humble street fare and developed a particular preference for flatbread topped with fresh green basil, mozzarella cheese, and ripe red tomatoes. Some Neapolitan trattorias still term this particular delicacy “pizza Margherita.”

With the momentum gained from this royal push, pizza rose from the alleys and docksides of Napoli and other seaside cities, pizza eventually swept across Europe and reached the shores of the New World, where it then swept its way into the hearts of American citizens of all incomes and social classes. The first documented pizza joint was called Lombardi’s and opened up shop in 1905 on Spring Street in Manhattan, becoming the forerunner to New York-style pizza, and similar establishments could soon be found in almost every community across the country.

Still considered to be fast food and beloved by harried parents as a quick fix for when a warm, nourishing meal is needed in a hurry, pizza became a household classic for those nights when home cooking was just too much of a chore for tired hands and minds. It was also regarded as a treat and even as a reward for good behavior. Besides being the ultimate comfort food for enjoying in front of the fire with family and friends, pizza restaurants themselves were fun, casual places where the beer and the good times flowed and were frequented by local sports teams and their fans after games, families on a night out, and even by couples on dates.

Like all popular items, however, pizza began to take on a mass-produced taste, appearance, and texture. Standard pizzas were produced using a formula of tomato sauce, cheese, and meat toppings, with vegetarian options grudgingly placed on menus. Pepperoni and sausage were king, and although these versions were tasty and filling, something was lost in the standardization process. Fortunately, pizza’s culinary journey has now turned away from standard formulas and toward its humble roots in vibrant Old World cities by the sea. Today’s gourmet pizza has more in common with seaside street food than with many of the offerings still served up by standard pizza chains.

Here at My Pie, we proudly serve the version that started the pizza revolution caused by Queen Margherita’s love for the street food of Napoli. Specializing in custom made pizza using fresh, locally sourced ingredients and hot-fired in 800- degree ovens, we’ll take you back to a time when pizza was served with a side of fresh sea breezes.