939 Carbon Road, Greensburg PA 15601 (map); 724-836-6676; jioios.com
The skinny: Jioio's crust puts the "pie" in pizza pie, with a signature sweet taste that's more akin to dessert—but it works
Though it doesn't have a signature regional style like Chicago or New York, the Pittsburgh area has its fair share of slice joints and Italian-American pizza places. Most are as good as what you'll find in any American city, but a few miles east of the 'Burgh, there's something truly special. Jioio's (pronounced Joey-O's), in my hometown of Greensburg, is the most unusual pizza I've ever encountered.
Essentially, the pizza dough is pie dough, a sweet crust stretched thin and pan-baked so it's crazy crisp. The larger pies are baked in sheet pans and cut square, like grandma or Sicilian slices, while the small personal pizza is the usual round. The dough, however, is the same sugar-tinged recipe no matter what size you go for. (Hint: smaller pies offer more outer crust, and for those of you who save the ends of your apple pies for last, that's a good thing.)
I know, you're already making a slightly squicked-out face at the thought of a sweet pie crust. You then might not want to know that on the original, traditional pizza ($9.75 for an 8-cut pie), the tomato sauce is most certainly on the sweet end of the spectrum as well. I can't lie: it's a little off-putting at first taste. One look at the pizza would never clue a casual eater into the strange, yet oddly appealing combination of sweet crust, tomatoes, and cheese. I can't even say it's an acquired taste, because it never appealed to me throughout my entire high school career... and now I'm suddenly in love with it.
Actually, it's on the other two styles of pizza that the restaurant offers, the white and the pirogue pies, where the crust put Jioio's back on my official list of Pennsylvania food stops for every return visit home. Taking the tomato sauce out of the equation lets the salty cheese and sweet crust conduct some sort of pizza alchemy—a slice of "fresh" (read: likely from Sysco, since it's the dead of winter) tomato on the white pizza ($10.25 for an 8-cut pie) doesn't read as strongly as the concentrated flavor of the sauce, and lets the natural play of dough and dairy come through. Eaten cold for breakfast the next morning, it's even better.
And while I'll admit that the pierogie pizza ($10.75 for an 8-cut pie), covered in mashed potatoes and crunchy slices of white onion in an homage to another of western PA's most famous food icons, sounds something like a Guy Fieri fever dream, it's the most successful of all the Jioio's pies, in my estimation. Creamy potatoes, sweet crust, the sharp tang of roasted onion—was this style of pizza not around in high school? How have I been missing out on this all these years?
Only the cooks know the dough recipe—"They make it at night, when the restaurant's closed"—is all I can get out of our otherwise talkative server, decked out in a Steelers t-shirt because that's how you do on Sundays in western PA, even if the temperature is merely reaching into the teens and it's two days before Christmas.
I'd never eaten a Jioio's pie anywhere but my own kitchen, never venturing further into the restaurant than the take-out window off the vestibule (which, let me tell you, does a brisk business of its own), so it was a refreshing change of pace to sample the pizzas in the humble dining room, decorated with framed photos and memorabilia from the family's grocery purveyor roots. I'm always a cheerleader for the food and culture of Pittsburgh, but something about being home for the holidays after a long stretch away made me more appreciative of what I grew up with, no matter how quirky it might be. (For the record, my favorite Primanti's sandwich is kolbassi.)
Whether my rekindled love for Jioio's pizza is merely a rush of the familiar or a true changing of my taste preferences is unclear; honestly, it's likely a mixture of nostalgia and carbs. But after years of viewing this strange, sweet pie as a mere sideline of my western PA upbringing, I'm ready to embrace it as the unique pizza property it is, and recommend it without reservation. You might not like it, but you must try it.
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