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The Vinnie Pie Lives on at Vincent's Pizza Park in Pittsburgh
Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel from the road, this time in Pittsburgh. —The Mgmt.
Vincent's Pizza Park
When I put out the call on Serious Eats Talk a few weeks ago for tips on where to eat pizza in Pittsburgh, Steel City residents and a few others produced a list that anyone living in—or planning on going to—Pittsburgh should bookmark for future reference. I'd initially hoped to hit two or three different places, but as things worked out, I only had time for one. Five people suggested Vincent's Pizza Park, and their advice turned out to be outstanding.
Long before contemporary pizza rock stars like Nancy Silverton at Pizzeria Mozza (reviewed here and here) and Nick Lessins at Great Lake (reviewed here and here) made their pizza names on the backs of hearty, almost rustic crusts that would be immensely satisfying with no toppings, cheese, or sauce whatsoever, I suspect there were plenty of people who similarly eschewed anything resembling dainty traditional Neapolitan ones for something much more rugged. One such pizzaman was Vincent Chianese, who put out "Vinnie Pies" for 55 years before selling his interest in the place a few years ago. While his pies live on, the man behind them passed away in March.
By all accounts to call Chianese a character would be an understatement. He reportedly had a sign over his oven that read, "This isn't Burger King; you take it our way, or you don't take the sonofabitch at all," and it's quite possible that a customer or two got a little ash in their pizza from the ever-present cigarette dangling from his mouth while he made pies. A couple less family-friendly stories can be found in this thread on a Steelers message board. The man may be gone, but his institution lives on and continues to serve can't miss pizza.
Any discussion of a Vinnie Pie has to start with the crust. The end crust is extremely thick and has a nice crunchy exterior and a softer but still chewy interior. If you can imagine a great hearty Italian roll - the kind needed to stand up to a saucy meatball sub - and envision that bread as a pizza crust, then you have an idea of what the crust at Vincent's is like.
The thick crust is there for more than just bready pleasure; it is absolutely necessary to stand up to the amount of cheese and toppings put on the pizzas. I went with a sausage and mushroom pie and got an insane amount of both. Large hunks of sausage from local purveyor Joseph Labriola Co. well spread all over the pie along with what seemed to be about a half pint of fresh mushrooms. The mozzarella, like the toppings, sits out in a large tub that the people making the pies seem to keep reaching into and adding more until their arms get tired.
The end result is a massive and delicious pizza. The sausage is remarkably flavorful and the mushrooms manage to stand up to it and get noticed through sheer quantity. The liquid from the mushrooms and the mozzarella along with the grease from the sausage did cause the most liquid I've ever seen on and around a pizza, but even the thinner bottom crust manages to remain chewy when soaked.
From the elderly couple who came to fill up the two candy machines (he handled the candy, she the money) to the carry-out orders being placed on a piece of cardboard and wrapped in butcher paper to the likelihood that not only were we the only first-timers in the place, we might have been the only people who hadn't been there more than 20 times, I loved everything about Vincent's Pizza Park. I'm sure a lot of the places people recommended in my SE: Talk post are great, but I have a hard time imagining a trip to Pittsburgh without getting another Vinnie Pie.
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