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Apr 21, 2013 07:11 AM

Best Pizza Within an Hour of Harrisburg

I'm having a hard time finding good pizza in Harrisburg. So far, the best I've come across is Nikoli's in Camp Hill. Subway Cafe in Harrisburg is interesting, but it just doesn't fill the traditional pizza craving when it comes up.
I'm willing to drive a bit, does anyone have any suggestions of places to try?

As a reference, I'm most interested in NY style, New Haven style or Neapolitan style pies, but I'm also open to anything that is especially delicious.

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  1. State college has some nice places. That's about all I've got.

    19 Replies
      1. re: hyacinthgirl

        It's a pick your poison type of town. I like the "chain" one--Bella Luna (it's got two branches down near dc). other folks around here like the neapolitan one.

        Whatever you do, don't forget about dessert (@the Creamery, home of some award winning philadelphia-style ice cream).

        1. re: hyacinthgirl

          I think chowrin might mean Faccia Luna, which is a chain that has two locations in town. Avoid Luna 2. I'm not too crazy about Faccia, I find it overpriced and not always good.

          Not sure if Nola's in downtown State College is still serving pizza -- if so, that's your best choice pizza-wise. Service can be sketchy.

          This place gets *rave* reviews, but I haven't had a chance to try it yet.

          1. re: linguafood

            Chowrin's memory for names is awful. lingua's right.

            1. re: Chowrin

              Well, it's easy for me. I mean, I live here '-)

            2. re: linguafood

              Pizza Heaven was quite enjoyable on our first visit on a recent weeknight and has better service and is a better value (lower overhead, I'm sure) than either Faccia Luna or Nola's. I enjoyed the lightly humorous whiteboard menu of specials and had very attentive service from the pizzamaker and his assistant all night on an admittedly slow night (finals week is soon). It's a tiny dive.

              My friend and I ordered two Sicilian slices (each measured about 5"x6"x2.5") and a NY slice (which looked to be one-quarter of a 14" pie and would normally be two slices from any other pizza place in town, barring the drunk pizza downtown). The pizzamaker warned us that ordering slices would not save us any time as he made those to order starting with the fresh dough. I think he even made a fresh pie for my cheese NY slice.

              I found both my cheese NY slice and pepperoni Sicilian slice to be quite good. While neither slice had any noticeable yeast flavor and were slightly too thick, they had great crunch and some nice charring from the gas oven. A heavier hand on the sauce and slightly too much cheese than would be appropriate for better dough, but the slices still tasted good. The toppings were generic but fresh on my friend's Sicilian. Very competent renditions of my traditional standards. With one fountain soda, the total bill was less than $11.

              My friend and I agreed we would willingly return. There's an option on the menu that looks interesting called blind faith where you only choose the style of your crust and "voice minimal exceptions," if only to see what the pizzamaker will do with his few ingredients. Like most places in State College, it is BYOB. While it is not <quite> within an hour of Harrisburg (unless you enjoy taking your chances speeding on 322 - good luck!), I'd say it's worth a visit if you're coming from somewhere with terrible/horrible/no good/very bad pizza. (Obviously, not worth it if you regularly visit points east.)

              Possible new thread: How many places make fresh slices (not reheated) to order?

              1. re: mookleknuck

                A not-as-positive second visit: My friend and I returned to a very busy weeknight scene where all but two tables were filled and the phone was ringing as the two men kept apace with orders. We ordered calzones and an appetizer listed as boli rollies on the menu. Both came with the same acceptable marinara sauce.

                As noted before, the dough does not have any noticeable flavor, but does have great crunch. The stromboli rolls were six connected 2.5"x4.5" crescent-roll--lookalikes to an order and filled with bacon, mozzarella, and another meat of your choice (ham, sausage, and turkey). Ours were ham and the dough came out a great brown, like a good soft pretzel, and lightly dusted with cheese. We were not hungry after we ate this, but then our calzones arrived, so...

                Our ~14"x7"x1.5" calzones were stuffed with large handfuls of mozzarella and ricotta as well as pepperoni, sausage, chicken, broccoli, and onions. The dough was impressively thin on the calzones and stayed crispy for about five minutes, but lost the battle to soggy bottom. More generic toppings: the sausage was ordinary and the broccoli was overcooked. Still, we enjoyed ourselves and the two large calzones and boli appetizer and had enough leftovers for at least one meal. With a drink, our total order was ~$28.

                We overheard a customer order the "blind faith" option by handing over fifty bucks and nothing else. He left with three large pizza boxes and two styrofoam take-out containers. My leftover calzone reheated to a wonderful crisp the next day and I look forward to when the pizzamaker comes back from break in another week or two.

                1. re: mookleknuck

                  Oh, the usual pizza maker is out of town? Guess I'll have to hold off until later in the summer, then.

                  Hopefully, they'll stay in business till August :-)

                  1. re: linguafood

                    I remembered that there was a sign posted that stated that the shop would be closed until May 16th.

                    1. re: linguafood

                      I'm glad to hear this place is doing well. I used to work nearby so we tried their pizza for a lunch meeting. Everyone thought it was great and it became our go-to place. The owner was the pizza maker and a very nice guy, too.

                      1. re: mb luvs SBH

                        I've not been lucky with timing so far. I'll have to wait until later this summer to finally give them a try. I really do look forward to it.

                        My man makes a mean pizza himself, but sometimes you wanna be lazy. And Faccialuna is just too expensive & uneven lately in terms of quality.

            3. re: Chowrin

              Can you get to State College from Harrisburg in an hour?

                  1. re: cwdonald

                    I used to drive regularly from Boalsburg, which is southeast of State College, to PDE offices near the Paxtonia exit off 81. It took 1 hour and 20 minutes without traffic. Add at least 15 minutes to get to Pizza Heaven, which is northwest of State College.

                    1. re: cwdonald

                      Sure. I haven't gotten one yet. If you really wanna be on the safe side, you can still do it in 1:15 to State College.

                    1. re: taiga

                      I'm a Subway Café pizza fan and yes I remember the Giustis AND I remember Castiglias as well.

                1. You aren't going to get New Haven style. You just aren't unless you are making it at home.

                  For NY style or at least close to, I like Miseno's II in Carlisle. It isn't quite as thin as some places in NYC but I think they do a nice job over all with flavor of sauce etc. I don't recommend the bambino size because I think the crust is different.

                  Avoid the Pizza Grille! I don't know why but the locals LOVE it. It is the sorriest excuse for pizza I have seen.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: melpy

                    Unfortunately, I've already been dragged there. The pizza was depressing. The salad was ok, in that it at least reminded me of better salads that I can't get in the area.

                    1. re: hyacinthgirl

                      You have been dragged to the Pizza Grille or Miseno's?
                      For PG, depressing is the word! I have had a salad as well which I agree is ok.
                      Momma Spriggs in Carlisle is doing a decent whole meal salad since salad is really hard to come by in this area.

                      1. re: melpy

                        I've been dragged to Pizza Grille. I'll add Miseno's to my check-out list.
                        I've noticed the salad drought here. I'm hoping it will change soon.

                  2. Root's market (Lancaster) has a pizza stall every Tuesday that serves up what could easily be the best NY style slice West of NJ.


                    Norma is REALLY serious about her pizza. She tends to go a little thicker than most NY places go for NY style, so if you want something a bit more authentic, you might want to ask her to stretch the pizza a bit further. Regardless of what thickness you go with, this is top notch pizza.

                    Beyond NY style, Norma is a virtuoso with Detroit style. There's not a lot of Detroit competition on the East Coast, but, from the looks of the pies she's made, she could be making one of the best Detroit pies on the planet. I'm not sure that she makes Detroit every Tuesday, though- I'd call in advance just to make sure.

                    Norma's good friend and frequent partner in crime, Steve Grisafi, has a mobile trailer called 'X-Stream Cuisine', at the Green Dragon Market (Ephrata) on Fridays (weather permitting) that does Neapolitan and NY styles in a wood fired oven.


                    In the huge swath of area between Pittsburgh and NYC, I'm confident that this is the best Neapolitan pizza you'll find, by far.

                    These will both be a bit of drive from Harrisburg, but, for the area, I don't think anyone can touch the quality of pies Norma and Steve are putting out.

                    New Haven style, in your area, isn't going to happen. You could ask Steve to stretch his NY dough further and put it in a cooler part of his oven, and that might get you something a bit New Haven-ish, but the coolest part of his oven might still be a bit too hot. For NH, as Melpy mentioned, I think your best bet is to make it yourself. A home oven will never truly match a coal oven, but, with a little initiative, you can get pretty darn close:


                    8 Replies
                    1. re: scott123

                      Awesome, thank you. It seems like Lancaster is really where the food scene is as close to happening as it gets around here.

                      1. re: hyacinthgirl

                        This thread got bumped and it made me think of pizza at The Fridge in downtown Lancaster. Been there? It's not traditional pizza, more gourmet toppings based on seasonal availability, thin crust. I think it's great, but perhaps not what you are looking for?

                      2. re: scott123

                        its been a while since I've had pizza in New Haven--my allegiance has switched to Patsy's in East Harlem--but I've always assumed it was a high-temperature pie. Is that untrue?

                        1. re: KWagle

                          Pepe's is high-ish temperature, but it's not as high as Neapolitan, and, from New Haven experts that I've spoken about this in depth with, because of the somewhat fickle nature of coal ovens, their temperatures can vary pretty wildly. I hear stories of 3 minute bakes at Pepe's, all the way to 9. I think they attempt to run them around 650-700, but 650-700 doesn't make a 9 minute pie, so obviously they're missing the mark. Regardless of where they fall in the 3-9 minute spectrum, it's never the 90 seconds of Neapolitan. So NH can be/usually is hotter than NY deck oven style, but it's never the Neapolitan temps I was referring to above.

                          Coal oven pizza is very quixotic by nature. I think Pepe's might wrangle a bit more consistency out of their ovens than the NY coal places, and I also have a gut feeling that they might have a bit better doughmaking skills/fermentation knowledge than some of the historic NY haunts as well, but, no matter which coal oven joint you visit, it's always going to be a bit of a crap shoot.

                          I've heard from some pretty reliable sources that Patsy's in East Harlem, while great sometimes, suffers from consistency issues. Have you witnessed this yourself? Have you ever traveled further north to Johnny's?

                          1. re: scott123

                            650-700 makes a 3-4 minute pie in my home oven. And I'm suspicious that those 90 second pies are faster because they're tiny. I suppose the next time we have the pizza oven running I should crank it to 900 and time a pie (or pull one after 90 seconds) and then toss it out since the toppings will be undercooked (the problem with a home oven is that the floor is hotter than the roof, and we haven't figured out how to fix that yet.)

                            I don't get to Patsy's often since I live in Boston. I haven't noticed consistency issues, but I always order carryout and eat it in my car, which removes the possibility it might sit on a shelf somewhere spoiling while waiting for the expediter. And since I typically go on weekend nights, the same guys make my pies every time. Those pies, BTW, are 1:45-2 minute pies (the entire process takes three minutes or so, but they seem to take a little longer in the oven near closing time.)

                            I have not gone to Johnny's. Where is it, and what's it like?

                            1. re: KWagle

                              Kiran, how are you hitting 650-700 in a home oven? And how would you be hitting 900? Is this a cleaning cycle hack? I don't want to sound alarmist, but I might not recommending pushing your oven that high. You might get lucky and not burn out any wiring, but, every time you do, it's a gamble.

                              According to my estimates, about 1 in 200 home ovens have strong enough broilers to do 90 second Neapolitan pizza (very high wattage/elements with plenty of coils). Here's an example of one:


                              If you don't have a tightly coiled high wattage broiler, then a balanced 90 second bake is out of the question. You either have the broiler or you don't- there's no workarounds or hacks.

                              Going on the same days of the week to Patsy's and ordering carryout is very savvy. I don't eat much pizza locally any more (except for testing new places), but, when I did, I would drive past my favorite shop and see if a particular guy was working. If he wasn't, I wouldn't buy the pizza.

                              Johnny's is about 10 minutes north of Patsy's, in Mount Vernon. I have yet to make the trip, but the photos I've seen look formidable and the press has been stellar. Johnny's has been on the top of Jeff Varasano's list for quite some time.

                              1. re: scott123

                                We divide the oven with a rack covered in aluminum foil. It's a gas oven, so the failure points are the igniter and safety valve. We have another gas oven which was switched to propane and hacked with a resistor and switch in parallel with the thermostat, and have run it several times (outdoors) for 12-14 hours at a stretch, with no issues. In particular, the outside never got above 106dF. Based on that, I personally would have no problem modifying the thermostat on an indoor oven, as long as you don't mess with the gas mixture (and thus the combustion--don't wanna die of CO poisoning.)

                                As for broilers, older gas stoves have broilers that run continuously. If you're lucky enough to have such a thing, you can get real pizza temperatures much more easily.

                                1. re: KWagle

                                  And if your gas stove has a lower broiler element, you can always just disconnect the thermostat to cause it to run continuously.

                      3. Try Villa Rosa in Grantville, on Rt. 22 at Rt. 743. Brick oven pizza with Super thin crust and good sauce. I've enjoyed their other dishes as well.

                        1. Though it doesn't satisfy the traditional pizza craving, Subway Cafe is worshipped by many of us. There was a time in Harrisburg though -- Harry's Tavern, Castiglia's -- like me -- now gone.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: taiga

                            I've had Subway a few times. It doesn't work for me. The cheese has a bit of a plastic quality and the sweet sauce is ok, but not my preferred style.

                            1. re: hyacinthgirl

                              Be careful what you say about the Subway around its loyalists. They cling to their Bibles, guns, and those pizzas with that "plastic" provolone, that long, slowly cooked meat sauce, and the cracker crust.

                              1. re: taiga

                                I've been fortunate enough not to meet any loyalists yet, but I'll be careful not to flap my lips loosely.

                                1. re: hyacinthgirl

                                  They're mostly old like me, but they have indoctrinated their kids. Go sit there a few times and ask some of them if they remember the Giusti family which owned the place for 40 years. If you have a cheap beer or one of those heavy fishbowls, someone might begin to wax nostalgically. Given your thoughtful posts here, I think you would enjoy the banter which might make the pizza taste better.

                                  1. re: taiga

                                    Thank you :)
                                    The fishbowl beer was definitely the highlight when I've been in. Unfortunately on our last visits, we've been a bit rushed as we've had a toddler with us and he's only good for about 45 min before we start to get nervous that we're pushing our "we have a well-behaved kid" luck. I'll have to head back when I have a bit more time for banter.

                            2. re: taiga

                              I'm a Subway Café pizza fan and yes I remember the Giustis AND I remember Castiglias as well. I recall Harrys but don't think I was old enough to set foot in the place at the time.