Pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven, like at Mr. P's, develop a unique flavor and texture, with a thicker crust and distinctive leoparding bubbles on the dough.

The Great, First State, Pizza Debate

Artisan? New York? Boardwalk? Whatever your preference, the beach has it.

This summer, Grotto Pizza’s menu includes new pasta dishes, caprese salad and an Italian pork sandwich. Unsurprisingly, it also includes a seasonal pizza topped with tomatoes, mozzarella and chicken marinated in balsamic vinegar. Not to worry. The pizza with the signature saucy swirl and cheese blend is still available. Longtime residents and visitors have ordered this pizza since 1960, when Grotto Pizza opened on Rehoboth Avenue. Grotto, Nicola Pizza (1971) and Louie’s Pizza (1974) have been the holy trinity for decades. 

But now you can find pizza even on mainstream menus. Consider Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats in Rehoboth and Lefty’s Alley & Eats in Lewes. People have become passionate about pizza styles and flavors. According to The New York Times, America has become the “capital of great pizza,” a claim substantiated along The Culinary Coast. When pizza first became popular in the States, immigrants made do with items in mid-20th-century grocery stores. Forget specialty cheese and ripe Italian tomatoes. Coastal residents were suspicious in 1960 when Grotto’s founder, Dominick Pulieri, tried to give away samples. (Slices were 20 cents apiece; a pie was $1.60.) Slowly, pizza caught on, and it is now considered a beachy boardwalk food.

New Yorkers, however, are unimpressed. They’re accustomed to a thin, hand-tossed crust that’s so pliable you can fold a slice in half to eat it. Legend has it that this Neo-Neapolitan-style pizza originated in Lombardi’s in New York. The restaurant’s gas-fueled oven demanded a longer bake time, which reduced the dough’s moisture. As a result, the pies did well when reheated. Enter pizza by the slice. 

Recently, Henlopen Pizza Kitchen in Rehoboth, located on Route 24 just off Route 1, has won praise from discerning transplants from the Big Apple. Amateur critics also give kudos to Lefty’s Alley & Eats. Below the canal, residents praise Pomodoro Pizza in Bethany Beach.

Conversely, pizzas cooked in a wood-fired pizza oven typically have a thicker crust with leoparding bubbles on the dough that cook faster than the remaining crust. (This is the desired result, so don’t return the pie because it’s burnt.) This style is found at Mr. P’s in Lewes, Crust & Craft and Touch of Italy in Rehoboth. Dalmata Italiano in downtown Rehoboth uses a brick oven.

Pizza is now expanded beyond what is expected. Half Full in Lewes was among the first to serve artisan oval-shaped pizzas with creative combinations of fresh ingredients. In Bethany Beach, Patsy Rankin’s penchant for grilling pizza at home led to Pie, the restaurant she owns with her daughter, Robin. The women first tested the pizza at Patsy’s Restaurant.

Expect the market to offer smaller slices of the pie. According to Pizza Today’s 2024 Pizza Industry Trends report, vegan, farm-to-table and out-of-the-box toppings are on the rise. There will undoubtedly be more restaurants with pizza sections and eateries specializing in it. 

Whether the pizza is round, oval or square, most will agree that it’s a good thing. 

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