Tag Archives: pizza

Pizza by any other name

Driving around Connecticut a while back I noticed signs with the unfamiliar terms “lapizza” and “apizza.” Occasionally since then I’ve wondered what accounted for the deviation from the commonplace word “pizza.”

Thanks to a recent round of fundraising on Connecticut Public Television, when they featured showings of Pizza, A Love Story, I found out why pizza was spelled that way. Watching the show, I heard the word apizza pronounced – repeatedly – for effect. Can you say ah-BEETS? That pronunciation is Neapolitan dialect, a simplification of la pizza. New Haven CT is hailed as today’s apizza center of the U.S. by its dedicated fans who probably would refuse to even enter a pizza chain’s parking lot.

In fact, it’s impressive that in 1978, when Pizza Hut had expanded to over 3,000 units nationwide, none was listed in New Haven’s City Directory. However, there were at least 31 pizza places in that city then, ten of them with apizza as part of their name. One of the pizza restaurants in New Haven was that of Fancesco “Frank” Pepe, initially a baker, who started making pizza in 1925. [1960s postcard shown at top of page] Today Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana is a small New England chain that has won many awards.

Although the word apizza came into common usage in advertisements in Connecticut newspapers in the 1930s – not just in New Haven but also Bridgeport, Meriden, and other cities – it remains in use today in many of the state’s Italian restaurants. I haven’t run across any descriptions of the Connecticut apizza of earlier days, but it’s unlikely that it was the cheese-delivery vehicle that most Americanized pizza has become. In the early 20th century Neapolitan pizza was described as a somewhat puffy, foldable crust typically topped with cooked tomatoes, grated cheese, oregano, and/or anchovies.

From the start in Connecticut and a few other parts of the Northeast, as well as California, pizza was take-out food, often bought at a bakery. But after Prohibition ended, it expanded into casual eating spots in Connecticut cities. Many of its purveyors ran taverns or other night spots, some of which featured it only on weekends. [below, Club Crystal, Bridgeport, 1940s] It was more of a snack than a meal, something to enjoy with friends. Beer was the favorite liquid accompaniment. As Meriden CT restaurant owner Vincent Verdolini put it in 1939, “beer to a lover of la pizza is like whipped cream to strawberry shortcake.”

Until the 1950s, most apizza consumers were Italian-Americans, many of them workers in Connecticut’s factories. Happily for them, pizza was inexpensive (in 1940, roughly 25¢ for small ones and 45¢ for large) and sellers delivered to workplaces. Early advertisements aimed at Italian speaking customers appeared in Italian-language newspapers such as La Sentinella in Bridgeport.

As I searched for the history of apizza in Connecticut, I happened upon another name for pizza, one that really surprised me because its meaning has shifted: pizzeria. Now a common name for a pizza parlor, at one time it was a word for pizza itself, as is evident in the advertisement for “delicious pizzeria, 25¢” at Frieda’s in Asbury Park NJ in 1936, shown above, or at the Paradise Bar and Grill on Staten Island in 1947 below.

For several decades restaurant chains have dominated the pizza market, making it all the more interesting that apizza, the word and the food, has survived.

© Jan Whitaker, 2022


Filed under ethnic restaurants, food, patrons

Decor: glass ceilings

There’s a couple of reasons why I’ve been thinking about glass ceilings in restaurants this week. I took a look at the total number of visits to my top posts and, apart from the various Taste of a decade posts which draw a lot of traffic, Swingin’ at Maxwell’s Plum is #1. An elaborate stained glass ceiling was one of the most striking features of Maxwell’s Plum in New York City, and another was created for the San Francisco Plum (pictured) which opened in 1981.

The second reason is that last Sunday I went to the antique paper show Papermania in Hartford CT and brought home a 1970s-era menu from a pizza restaurant in St. Louis that I used to go to but had forgotten all about. It too had a glass ceiling though, as I recall, it was fairly plain. I won’t name the restaurant but will say that it was located in the vicinity of Washington University where I went to graduate school and there was a second place in Creve Coeur.

On one occasion I went there with a group of friends and we witnessed a kind of free floor show – only it took place inside the glass ceiling. We heard the sounds first, of little claw feet scratching on glass. Then we looked up. We saw silhouettes of a legion of four-footed creatures with long tails which were furiously scrimmaging above us, as though playing a game of football. We laughed, considered leaving, but ended up staying. If the management noticed anything amiss they certainly didn’t show it. No one came over to explain away the incident (not that I know how you’d do that), no one offered us free drinks, nothing!

The menu from this restaurant which I just acquired displays on its cover a pledge of quality accompanied by the signature of the restaurant’s owner. One of the sentences jumps out at me: “More ingredients go into our pizza than the normal recipe calls for.” Yikes, say no more!

© Jan Whitaker, 2010


Filed under restaurant decor

You want cheese with that?

pattymelt60sLAIt seems as though almost all of history’s food forces have cooperated to give cheese top billing in restaurant meals today. Only one cheesy custom failed to catch on, that of finishing a meal with cheese and fruit as was done in small French and Italian restaurants in the later 19th century. Craig Claiborne argued in 1965 that even the best New York restaurants didn’t know how to handle the cheese course. They had poor selections which tended to be old, overripe, or served too cold. One restaurant admitted their chef was in the habit of popping cheese straight from the fridge into the oven to soften it. Restaurateurs that Claiborne interviewed insisted that Americans didn’t like cheese after a meal. I’d agree that most prefer their after-dinner cheese in the form of cheesecake.

pumpernikscheesecake352Cheese has been a staple food in American eating places probably since the first tavern opened. Regular meals were served only at stated hours but hungry customers could get cheese and crackers at the bar whatever the hour. For “Gentlemen en’passant,” the Union Coffee House in Boston promised in 1785 that it could always furnish the basics of life: oysters, English cheese, and London Porter. Across the river in Cambridge, the renowned Othello Pollard, aka “the Prince of Creams,” specialized in epicurean cheesecakes in 1805. By the 1850s, English chop houses in the East were famous for their Welsh rarebits, while pie came with a wedge of cheese just about everywhere.

When Germans immigrated to America in the 1850s and 1860s they brought their fondness for Limburger, often ridiculed in the press. The Italians introduced grated Parmesan for pasta dishes, as well as risotto, macaroni and cheese, and cheese-filled ravioli. In the late 19th century cheese became a standard item at “free lunch” counters in saloons, and many allegedly exhibited a solitary dried-up cheese sandwich as proof of their status as genuine restaurants during anti-saloon crackdowns in the early 20th century. In the 1920s toasted cheese sandwiches of all varieties became luncheonette favorites.

cheeseburger1960Cheeseburgers were a product of the fast food industry of the 1920s, claimed as inventions by both the Rite Spot of Southern California and the Little Tavern of Louisville. Strange there aren’t thousands of other contenders because what was there to invent, really? Cheeseburgers were strongly associated with Southern California before WWII — Bob’s Big Boy of LA introduced cheeseburgers in 1937. Another step forward came in the 1930s when a bill was introduced in the Wisconsin legislature requiring restaurants and cafes to serve 2/3 oz. of Wisconsin cheese with every meal costing 25 cents or more. In the same decade Kraft Cheese was among major food producers providing restaurants with standardized recipe cards.

pizzahutpizzaIt was after WWII that cheese spread its melted gooeyness everywhere — on pizza, hamburgers, Mexican dishes, and pasta, until today, well … just picture TV advertisements for TGI Friday and Olive Garden. Mass-produced cheesecake made its restaurant debut around 1950. McDonald’s introduced cheeseburgers in 1960. In the 1970s vegetarian and health food restaurants fell in love with dishes such as 7-cheese meatless lasagna, cheese-stuffed cauliflower, and cheese-smothered veggies on brown rice. From 1960 to 1978 annual cheese consumption doubled from 8.3 to 17.4 pounds per capita. Now we each eat close to 34 pounds of cheese a year, mainly on pizza and hamburgers.

© Jan Whitaker, 2009


Filed under food