Where’s the pizza capital of the world? New York City? Naples, Italy?
How about Old Forge in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Lackawanna County. Including the eight shops in Old Forge, population 8,500, the county boasts 160 pizzerias—about one for every 1,300 residents. (New York, by comparison, has one pizzeria for every 5,300 residents.)
Old Forge’s self-described status as capital owes much to its namesake style of pizza, which is baked in trays, or rectangular metal pans, and served in cuts rather than slices. Old Forge pizza comes in two styles: “red,” which has a thick crust, tomato sauce and cheese; and “white,” which has a double crust sandwiching a layer of cheese and other fillings, has no sauce and is topped with herbs.
The area saw rapid growth in the early 20th century, driven by coal mining, which attracted immigrant workers, many from Italy. Today, the Lackawanna County Pizza Trail offers a self-guided tour of 60 area pizzerias. Pick up a pizza “passport” at the Lackawanna County Visitors Bureau and receive a stamp from participating pizzerias.
We reached out to Rep. Jim Haddock (D) and Sen. Marty Flynn (D), whose districts include Lackawanna County, to talk pizza and the area they represent.
What does Old Forge being “Pizza Capital of the World” mean for your district?
Haddock: It gives me bragging rights in the state Capitol. Any visiting reps and business people that get to try Old Forge pizza in any of the top Old Forge pizza hot spots want to take a tray or two home with them. Then the visitor brags to their friends and family about how unique and good the pizza is.
Flynn: This distinction attracts tourists to the district and is also a sense of pride for the community. According to history, the Ghigiarelli family, specifically Nonna Filomena, started making pizza as a late-night snack for Italian coal miners who frequented her husband’s tavern.
Have you done the Lackawanna County Pizza Trail?
Haddock: I have hit all eight stops in Old Forge, all three in neighboring Taylor and 22 of the other remaining stops in Lackawanna County. Truly, Old Forge-style pizza is my favorite. Many are made with slightly different crusts, some have different cheeses or cheese combos, and sauces all vary. However, they all combine in a special way to make it a comfort food to enjoy with family and friends and even by yourself.
Flynn: I have eaten at almost all of the stops on the pizza trail and now will make it a point to stop by the few remaining places that I have yet to try.
What else is great about your district?
Haddock: We have many great sights to see in the district. We serve as home to the New York Yankees Triple A farm team, the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. This gives a family a very affordable day at the stadium to see future major-league players in action. You can visit the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport in Avoca, which is on the smaller side and you can see an airport operation without a lot of the hustle and bustle of a major airport. Montage Mountain Resort is a good place to ski, snowboard or snow tube, and in the summer try the water park for the day. As with all of Northeastern Pennsylvania, we have several parks and walking tails to enjoy the great outdoors. One example is Stream Side Park in Dalton with the Trolley Trail nearby for hiking and biking. Also, Pennsylvania’s famous Route 6, known for fall foliage driving, runs through my district.
Flynn: Northeastern Pennsylvania has a lot of great recreational activities, whether it be hiking, fishing, live music, baseball games, water parks in the summer, or skiing in the winter. It’s a great place to live and visit!
Nora Caley is a Denver-based freelance writer.
“My District” gives NCSL members a chance to talk about life in the places they represent, from high-profile events and destinations to the fun facts only the locals know.
The responses have been edited for length and clarity.