Category Archives: Restaurant

Dina’s Favorite Pizza in the Triangle

Dina’s Favorite Pizza in the Triangle

by Dina Di Maio

Photo by Alan Hardman on Unsplash

I’m a harsh judge of pizza. For a few good reasons. My parents owned a pizzeria. People in my family have owned pizzerias in the U.S. as early as the 1930s.  Both sides of my family are from Naples. And I wrote a book with a chapter on the history of pizza, Authentic Italian.

Authentic Italian

I’m qualified to write about pizza, and since I’ve lived in the Triangle off and on since 1993, I’m qualified to write about pizza in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.

Image by Mark Thomas from Pixabay

Pizza should be judged on 3 criteria, and 3 criteria only: 1. Crust 2. Sauce 3. Cheese

Crust is the most important component and an especially difficult one to master. If you cannot make a decent dough, you shouldn’t be making pizza. (The best crust I ever had was at Sally’s Apizza in New Haven.)

Photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash

Having said that, I’ve tried pizza at many of the area’s pizzerias, although not all, because despite the fact that pizza is so ingrained in my blood and heritage, it’s actually not one of my personally favorite foods. However, I am well-schooled in its craft and know a good one from a bad one.

One can find New York, Neapolitan, Chicago style and Turkish pide in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and other areas of the Triangle. Unfortunately, most I have had were mediocre.

Oakwood Pizza Box

I’ve been pizza-wowed only once in Raleigh. And that was at Oakwood Pizza Box, which I think is an example of good crust, sauce and cheese, and the best example of pizza to be found in the Triangle. Not a surprise from the owners of the former Bella Mia in Cary, a since-closed pizzeria that was also one of my favorites in the Triangle. The owner, Anthony Guerra, is an Italian American from New York with ancestry from Basilicata, a region of Southern Italy.

Have I had an OK pie elsewhere? Yes. I can’t say I’m an expert on Chicago style, although I’ve had a really good one in Chicago, but if I’m in the mood for it or the occasion arises, I go to Nancy’s in North Raleigh, a local franchise of the pizzeria chain created by Italian immigrants who patterned the pizza after a traditional Easter pie.

Nancy’s Pizzeria

I had a decent pie at Anna’s in Apex (while I like their regular pie, I wasn’t a fan of their grandma pizza). In Durham, Pizzeria Toro and Pie Pushers were OK, the latter especially if you like a cheesier pie.

Pizzeria Toro

Pie Pushers

Now and again, I enjoy an eggplant pizza from Frank’s Pizza, a classic old-fashioned pizza parlor. If I’m reminiscing for the simpler times of Raleigh, I’ll go to Mellow Mushroom or Lilly’s. Salvio’s is my go-to for New York-style. On the rare occasion I’m in Rolesville, I’ve enjoyed Pie-Zano’s, a pizzeria owned by Italians from New Jersey. If I want Turkish pide, I go to Istanbul or Bosphorus in Cary.

pide from Istanbul Restaurant

I like the chain Piola for the Brazilian catupiry cheese, created by an Italian immigrant to the country.

Pizza from Piola with catupiry cheese

All of these have something interesting to offer, even though some are chains or part of restaurant groups or not owned by Italians or Italian Americans. There aren’t older Italian-American pizzerias in North Carolina because Italians didn’t immigrate to the state due to its painful history toward Italian immigrants the first half of the last century.*

Generally, I don’t want a pizzeria that supports shareholders/investors or people looking to capitalize on pizza’s popularity, although sometimes it’s unavoidable, say if you’re out with a group and everyone decides to go to one of those places. I feel that if a restaurant group or chain wants to capitalize on an Italian and Italian-American food, it should give something back to the Italian-American community. Acknowledge the history of Italian Americans. Maybe donate to a scholarship fund for local Italian Americans. Or donate to an Italian-American organization, museum, or charity somewhere in the United States to in some way honor the heritage from which you are borrowing.

Photo by Nicolas Hoizey on Unsplash

What do I want in a pizza? Is it too much to ask for that Di Fara’s Pizza pride, the heritage, the craftsmanship? Domenico De Marco became a legend because of his obsessive devotion to pizza. That, and the fact that he makes one of the best dang pies around. One can’t expect that from every pizzeria, but what stands out to me is a pizza that stays true to my heritage and that supports a local family business and the cultural history of pizza. Oh, yeah, it has to taste good too.

–Dina Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com

 

*(There is a town named Valdese that was settled by Protestant Northern Italians, but their foodways are different from Southern Italians, who originated pizza as we know it.)

All writings and photographs are the intellectual property of me, unless I’ve noted otherwise, and can only be used with permission. If you are inspired by this blog, please use professional courtesy to note it.

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Some South American Italian in the Triangle at Piola

When Italians settled in the United States about 100 years ago, some also settled in South America, especially Argentina. However, a critical difference is that the majority of Italian immigrants to the United States were from Southern Italy and the majority to South America were from Northern Italy. So the Italian food in both areas reflects that. I write about Italian food in South America and around the globe in my new book, Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com.

Authentic Italian

One of the things I write about in the book is catupiry cheese, a soft cheese that tastes like a cross between ricotta and velvety burrata. Catupiry cheese was created in 1911 by a Brazilian Italian named Mario Silvestrini. For the most part, it is used in the same way we use cream cheese. However, it is different from cream cheese. It is also used on pizza and you can try it in the Triangle at Piola in North Hills in Raleigh. Piola is an Italian pizza chain from Treviso (near Venice in Northeastern Italy) with locations in Italy, South America and Raleigh.

Pizza from Piola with catupiry cheese

Another interesting South American Italian tradition that I mention in my book is eating ñoqui/ñoquis, or gnocchi, on the 29th of the month. Piola highlights this tradition. While Southern Italians eat gnocchi as well, it is associated more with Northern Italian cuisine, and that is probably why it is more popular in South American countries with Italian populations, like Argentina and Uruguay.

Gnocchi Legnano from Piola

–Dina Di Maio

Villa Tronco: Historic Italian (and Oldest) Restaurant in South Carolina

My new book, Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, debunks myths about Italian food in the United States. One of those myths is that returning GIs from World War II brought pizza back from Italy to America and that’s how pizza became popular in America. DEBUNKED. Pizza was already here–brought by the Italian immigrants of 100 years ago who opened Italian restaurants around the country wherever they settled. Villa Tronco is one such restaurant, opened in 1940, which predates WWII, and it claims to have introduced pizza to South Carolina. (It is also the oldest operating restaurant in South Carolina.)

The family originates from Naples and Sicily, according to owner Joe Roche. The Carnaggio family first moved to Columbia in 1910 and opened a fruit store. From Philadelphia, James Tronco was stationed nearby during World War I. He met the daughter, Sadie, and they married, eventually opening what would later become Villa Tronco.

Current owner and granddaughter of the original owner, Carmella Roche, details the racial discrimination her grandparents endured in an article in the Cola Daily, such as having to sit at the back of the bus and having to use non-white bathrooms. (In my book, I also discuss racial discrimination that Italians endured in the United States.)

Recently, I had the pleasure of dining there and meeting one of the owners. Villa Tronco is located in a historic firehouse in downtown Columbia, South Carolina.

And you can still see the exposed brick in one of the dining rooms.

The menu details the history of the restaurant.

Of course, while visiting I ordered the pizza. The pizza here is a square pie cut into square slices. It is a thin crust pie with a crunch. The tomato sauce is fresh and tomatoey–not herby. There’s a good amount of cheese.

For dinner, I ordered one of the specials, a pork with creamy polenta dish. I really enjoyed this dish. The pork was cooked perfectly, through but not dry, and the creamy polenta was a delicious accompaniment.

My friend got the eggplant parmigiana and enjoyed it.

For dessert, we got Carmella’s famous cheesecake. It is excellent.

And a generous serving of some tricolored spumoni ice cream. Yum!

–Dina Di Maio

My Book, Authentic Italian, Is Now Available

Authentic Italian

Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People

by Dina M. Di Maio

Available from Amazon.com

Pizza. Spaghetti and meatballs. Are these beloved foods Italian or American?

Italy declares pizza from Naples the only true pizza, but what about New York, New Haven, and Chicago pizza? The media says spaghetti and meatballs isn’t found in Italy, but it exists around the globe. Worldwide, people regard pizza and spaghetti and meatballs as Italian. Why? Because the Italian immigrants to the United States brought their foodways with them 100 years ago and created successful food-related businesses. But a new message is emerging–that the only real Italian food comes from the contemporary Italian mainland. However, this ideology negatively affects Italian Americans, who still face discrimination that pervades the culture–from movies and TV to religion, academia, the workplace, and every aspect of their existence.

In Authentic Italian, Italian-American food writer Dina M. Di Maio explores the history and food contributions of Italian immigrants in the United States and beyond. With thorough research and evidence, Di Maio proves the classic dishes like pizza and spaghetti and meatballs so beloved by the world are, indeed, Italian. Much more than a food history, Authentic Italian packs a sociopolitical punch and shows that the Italian-American people made Italian food what it is today. They and their food are real, true, and authentic Italian.

Little Italy Isn’t Dead: Forlini’s

Periodically, there’s an article about how Little Italy is dead or dying. Yes, it’s more of a tourist destination and less of a neighborhood where Italian people live. There are still some Italians there, and there are Italian-American-owned businesses there. A recent article in the New York Times made me want to write a series on Little Italy Isn’t Dead and feature some of the businesses there.

Forlini’s

Forlini’s has been serving Italian food since 1943. It is on Baxter Street below Canal in Chinatown. What newcomers to New York may not realize is that Little Italy used to be much larger, and there are remnants of it sprinkled throughout Soho, Nolita, Little Italy and Chinatown. (The houses my family moved to from Italy are on the part of Mulberry Street in Chinatown.) The restaurant’s menu says it serves Northern Italian cuisine, but it has a lot of Southern Italian cuisine as well. In addition to being a classic Italian restaurant, it is also a classic New York restaurant and a must for anyone wanting some NY nostalgia.

Little Italy Isn’t Dead: Lombardi’s

Periodically, there’s an article about how Little Italy is dead or dying. Yes, it’s more of a tourist destination and less of a neighborhood where Italian people live. There are still some Italians there, and there are Italian-American-owned businesses there. A recent article in the New York Times made me want to write a series on Little Italy Isn’t Dead and feature some of the businesses there.

Lombardi’s

Lombardi’s on Spring Street is the oldest pizzeria in the United States, founded in 1905 by immigrant Gennaro Lombardi from Naples, Italy. The pizza is baked in a coal-fired oven just as it was back in the day. And it is one of the best pies in New York City and the country. It’s the must-stop for any pizza aficionado.

Little Italy Isn’t Dead: Puglia

Periodically, there’s an article about how Little Italy is dead or dying. Yes, it’s more of a tourist destination and less of a neighborhood where Italian people live. There are still some Italians there, and there are Italian-American-owned businesses there. A recent article in the New York Times made me want to write a series on Little Italy Isn’t Dead and feature some of the businesses there.

Puglia

In 1919, Italian immigrant Gregorio Garofalo opened Puglia, named after the region in Italy where he was from. The restaurant used to serve Italian specialties like capozello (sheep’s head) and tripe, but now its menu includes more standard and popular Italian favorites. Puglia is known for its entertainment. It’s a good stop during the San Gennaro festival too.