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Aug 19, 2007 05:14 PM

NEPA pizza ala "Tommy's" of the 60s (now "Pizza L'oven")

Hi, all...
I'm on a quest and if anyone can help me, I'd certainly appreciate it!

In the late-50s, early-60s, while spending summers in NE PA (Exeter, Wyoming Valley, near Scranton... and Old Forge) my grandfather used to send me to a pizza joint called "Tommy's" for 12 cuts of pizza... it was, by comparison to NY pizza... or pizza in Naples... nothing spectacular, but it is part of my childhood that I want to recreate since I live on the left coast now!
It was baked in a rectangular pan, had a plain tomato/onion sauce and white cheese. It was also delicious and I'm hoping to recreate it for my almost 80 year-old mother who grew up there!

Any help would be greatly appreciated... I've been working at this for many months and have not quite got it right yet!

~sourdough girl

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  1. SD_G,

    I'm going to venture some guesses here based on presumptions that may be heretical, misguided or even blasphemous to those who have better information. So.. apologies to anyone who’s eyebrows I raise. <ahem>.

    Okay, I’m going to venture a guess that Tommy’s recipes were handed down from Sicilian Americans rather than the Neopolitan or Southern Italian style. The term “Sfincione” is commonly used for this style pie. Trademarks: few ingredients (typically as you mentioned: tomatoes, onions but also anchovy). In Sicily they often bake the ingredients into the bread dough. In US we put the stuff on top as you know. Also, the pizza is baked in a rectangular tray or casserole rather than on a flat surface. A higher volume of oil is used in the crust (and to grease the tray) which yields an almost “fried” crust that’s crunchy and rich. Tomato sauce is a simple affair (which means you’d better find some good tomatoes!): tomatoes, olive oil, salt and sometimes finely chopped basil (probably a US addition) or parsley.

    Sidebar: I have a hunch that the delicious Chicago style pie which is baked in a round, black tray rather than on an oven floor must have originated from the Sicilian style pie. I’d like to know if someone has some data that this is otherwise.

    Anyway, If this sounds like your stuff, then do some searches for recipes for Sfincione, Sicilian Pizza, etc.. Here’s one that approximates my thoughts:

    Bread crumbs show up frequently in recipes. Have never seen personally. Looks good to me though! Also, nearly every recipe I’ve seen calls for caciocavallo cheese which may be a chore to find here in the States. Looks to be worth searching out though:

    If you can find a copy of Ada Boni’s “Italian Regional Cooking” it’s a treasure chest for understanding where some of these things came from.

    Lastly- if you like this style of pizza do some research and find some time to make pizza rustica in the Roman style which is dough, lots of good olive oil, thinly sliced potatoes and thinly sliced onion.

    2 Replies
    1. re: e_bone

      This is a bit off topic, and mostly of interest to Harrisburg readers, but . . . you can find caciocavallo cheese at Olewine's on Chestnut Street in Harrisburg. It's also the cheese you use in cacio e pepe, and I have never seen it anywhere else.

      1. re: profjmm

        You can also find really good Old Forge style pizza in Enola, just across the river from Harrisburg:

    2. It sounds like what you are describing is known in that area as Old Forge style pizza. Some folks who grew up on it simply love it. They often use an american type cheese to top it. There are a few places up there that specialize in old forge style but I don't remember any of them off hand. There is at one one still in Old Forge itself.
      I personally don't really care for it but it has a real following in the Scranton area.
      good luck.

      6 Replies
      1. re: 18465

        "American cheese" isn't used and there at least 6 good pizza places in Old Forge alone that make that style pizza.

        1. re: Hank1

          american can be one of the blend of cheeses. It depends on the place.

          1. re: 18465

            cooper american cheese to be specific.

            1. re: 18465

              Uhhh.... no.

              You can tell by these photos from Arcaro & Gennel that it isn't American:


          2. re: Hank1

            American cheese is most definitely used on Old Forge pizza. I don't understand its appeal, but I didn't grow up in the area.

            1. re: Guy

              I can't think of any pizzaria in Old Forge that uses American. Monterey Jack, perhaps, or Scamorza, as part of a blend.

              That said, there are places in the surrounding area that do use American, and some of them are quite excellent!!! Colarusso's, in Jessup, and the Honky Tonk , in Dunmore are prime examples.

              Generic, bland, New York pizza can't even come close to them, in my opinion.

              Of course, nothing is on the same level as Arcaro and Genell's (spelling?) double crusted white with garlic and spinach topped with rosemary!!!!

        2. check out for pizza shipped to you or do a google search on old forge style pizza for many hits to discover history,etc.

          1. Well, why don't you go right to the source? Tommy's Pizza Corner at 619 Market St., Kingston, is still making terrific pizza.

            1. Thanks to all who responded! I believe I have captured the wild pizza beast at last!
              First of all, since I live on the Left Coast, a trip to the "source" is not feasible and secondly, from what I hear in my research on other boards, the Tommy's in Kingston is in no way related to the 60s era Tommy's of Exeter. Wish I could get back there to decide for myself, but like I said, not feasible.
              Also, apparently, it's LIKE an Old Forge red, but is NOT an OId Forge. There was no American cheese used... I have figured out that it was (or was quite close to) a blend of mozzarella, provolone and fontina, but LIGHT on the fontina. It was "fried" in a dark pan with classico olive oil. The crust was light and crisp with just tomatoes (yes, GOOD ones!) salt and finely chopped white onion.
              I made a pizza for that nearly 80 yo mother of mine over Labor Day Weekend and she declared that it was right! The only change she suggested was thicker tomato sauce (I had forgotten the paste!) and more of it! I am happy with my results and can now have my old favorite anytime I desire without the cost of a plane ticket, et al.
              I'm posting a pic or two so that you can see what I mean... this pizza was the one just prior to the one for my mom and the cheese is two brown. Tommy's cheese was not browned, so I made sure to lower the oven temp just a tad.
              Thanks again to all!

              4 Replies
              1. re: sourdough girl

                well, the photo files were too small and I couldn't replace them in the original post, so let's try this again! when you click these, they should show up much better!


                1. re: sourdough girl

                  SD--How did you do your dough? Just the recipe, rolled to a rectangle? What temperature (and for how long) did you finally settle on?

                  1. re: sourdough girl

                    I'm inspired! Will try soon. Need to go get a good sheet pan! did you use a "standard" 1/4 sheet pan or did you get something special?

                  2. re: sourdough girl

                    to prevent the cheese from getting brown, partially bake the pizza, and put the cheese on at the last minute. I live practically across the street from where Tommy's was, but I don't remember it having that "fried" crust. In fact, about 10 years ago, the original owner of Tommy's re-opened in Pittston. The pizza had the kind of cheese that sticks to the back of your teeth, but it definitely isn't mozzerella. Too bad they closed about 5 years ago.