What's good, internet. Remember when I used to review pizza? Well I'm doing it again, perhaps just this once. Back in the saddle. Lemme give you some context:
Two years ago, a few months after my popular and charming NYC memoir was released, I moved away from Queens, NY, my ancestral homeland, to Austin, TX, a wonderful place to visit but terrible place (for me) to live. I ate very little pizza while I was there. Never found a great slice, though I did find an amazing bar pie (shouts to Li'l Nonna's), but I didn't care, I was happy and in love and I just ate pizza when I was back in New York.
Two month's ago, my partner and moved to Pittsburgh so she could do a PhD here, brilliant genius that she is. A few days after we got here I went to the pizzeria in my new neighborhood (not gonna name names), took one look at the slices, and ordered a gyro. I kinda decided that day that I just wouldn't eat pizza in Pittsburgh, but then my good buddy Justin Bender told me about a local feud and I realized I had to weigh in.
Well yesterday myself, Bender, and our friends Cindy and Miguel went and ate at both places and I'm here to report back. Bender is an old friend from WAAAAY BACK at this point, a nice Jersey Boy. He's played in a bunch of cool bands over the years and I recently learned that in the early 2000s he briefly lived in Virginia where he drove a puke green Delta 88 with vanity plates that said "SCUMDOG." Cindy is Cindy Crabb of Doris zine. She's been a frientor (friend/mentor) of mine for many years and we've always had an easy rapport and a nice time hanging out but Pittsburgh is the first time we've lived in the same place and had a go at being IRL day 2 day friends and I think so far it's going great! I initially met Miguel because he’s Cindy's partner, but I would say at this point we have a friendship in it's own right, which was easy to do because he’s one of the most charming, effortlessly positive people I've ever met in my life.
As we walked up to Mineo's, Bender told me what he knew of the rivalry. "So this place opened up in like, '58 or something. A long time ago. In '78 the kitchen manager got in a fight with the owner that they couldn't resolve, so he quit and opened up a new place like three doors down. That's Aiello's. We'll go there next."
I couldn't believe that this feud had been going on for almost 40 years. I was so giddy I could barely contain myself. Luckily, right then Miguel biked up (Cindy would be joining us a little later), and we headed inside.
I was immediately glad Miguel was with us because the first thing he said when we walked in the door was “woah, sick Four Loko clock.” I never would’ve noticed that Four Loko clock, but it truly was sick. It’s this kind of astute observation that is vital in a Harvesting Companion.
Right off the bat, Mineo’s looks like a classic pizza parlor. Orange formica tables, the walls are hung with pictures of a toddler, presumably related to the owner, posing as a pizza chef, 20 year old plaques and accolades, and press clippings from newspapers and magazines.
Bender was first up to the counter, and he order “a cut,” which is apparently what they call a slice here in Pittsburgh. The woman working the register complimented his sweater. “He made it. Very talented guy,” I interjected.
"Men used to do all the knitting until about the mid-nineteenth century. But then, ya know, the patriarchy…” she trailed off then pointed at Bender’s Coneheads button and said, “you from France?”
“No why would you think…” he began, but was interrupted.
“CONEHEADS. The movie Coneheads. They’re aliens but they tell people they’re from France. It’s a lampooning of American xenophobia.”
We both laughed. “It’s a band…” Bender started to explain.
“OBVIOUSLY,” the woman interjected. “You’re gonna have to be a little quicker on your toes if you wanna make it around here. NEXT.”
I ordered my “one cheese cut,” thoroughly charmed by the cashier knowing immediately that Bender and I were the kind of people who would probably enjoy a little kind-hearted ribbing.
Now let me just say, this isn’t New York slice. I think approaching it with different expectations is important. So, first things first, Pittsburgh slices are smaller than NY slices, but they’re also cheaper—$1.80 seems to be the going rate, and that seems like a fair price. Second, the ratio expectations are different. There’s more cheese and more sauce on the pizza here. Maybe it’s a Rust Belt thing.
I bit into my slice, though, and it was good. It had a spicier sauce than I would ever like in New York, but here, it worked. The cheese was plentiful and delicious—they grind their own mix of cheeses in house. The dough was crisp and salty but couldn’t support the weight of all that cheese. Not really a huge surprise and not really an issue for me. The reason a New York slice needs to hold up is because it’s meant to eat and walk. This slice is clearly an eat in affair. I took my dog for an hour walk in the neighborhood after we were done Slice Harvesting and no one outside on Murray Ave was eating a slice while they strolled around.
The crust, however, left something to be desired for me. The outside was crispy, but the inside, instead of being fluffy and cooked through, felt dense and wet. It was heavy in a way that didn’t quite work for me, but not a deal breaker.
Bender said he loved his crust, that it seemed to be gushing with olive oil, and that he appreciated that the sauce tasted like real tomatoes, but for him, the cheese at Mineo’s was the real thing. Miguel also liked what he called the “Ninja Turtle Cheese,” and also appreciated that the sauce was clearly made from real tomato and wasn’t overly processed. For Cindy, the sauce was the key. She liked that it wasn’t overly sweet. “I like it when you eat your pizza and it tastes like pizza rather than candy.”
Overall, the slice at Mineo’s isn’t the best I’ve ever had in my life, but it’s good, they use quality ingredients and clearly care about their product. The real reason I’ll come back though, is because it’s just such a perfect place. Between the charming counterwoman, and the classic pizzeria atmosphere, this is somewhere I felt very at home.
Aiello’s was a different story. Before I get into my review, I just wanna admit that going into this, I wanted to like Aiello’s better. First, the name makes me think of Danny Aiello and I love Danny Aiello. Second, who wouldn’t automatically side with the disgruntled employee who hates his boss so much he quits his job and then opens up a competing business literally three doors down? A jerk, that's who. But Aiello’s was, ultimately, a pretty big disappointment.
First of all, I hated being inside this place. Now, they were under construction, so it might feel like I’m not giving them a fair shake regarding ambience, but half the store was done and I really didn’t like what they were going for aesthetically. The menu was displayed on three giant flat screens, everything was glass or chrome in the same sort of disposable-looking futuristic nostalgia of like, a Steak n’ Shake or Johnny Rockets franchise. I just wasn’t feeling it, which would’ve been fine if their slice measured up, but it just didn’t.
This slice had something closer to New York ratios in terms of cheese::sauce::dough, but it still didn’t hold it’s own weight when I lifted it up. When I looked underneath, I realized it was because there was a seam in the dough that just led the slice to fall completely apart. This is unacceptable. A pizzeria, at the very least, should provide a doughy foundation to all their pies that is a solid, uninterrupted surface for the rest of the slice to rest on. No seams, no folds. Maybe a bubble is fine, but that’s it. Otherwise this dough had a great char and a great flavor, though the crust was too dense for my tastes, seemed raw in the middle, and looked like an ashy elbow. Maybe that’s just how they like it in Pittsburgh. The cheese was a fine quality. The sauce was a little on the sweet side, but I’m starting to admit that I kinda like that if the other flavors can balance it out. Eating this slice was not an experience I especially relished, but once it was done I remembered it fondly.
When asked for their opinions, Cindy said “good char, but everything else was subpar.” Miguel said, “I can confidently recommend that people try this alcoholic Mountain Dew they serve here.” Bender said “it’s like they weren’t even trying,” and I tend to agree.
So the verdict is in. Regarding the feud between Mineo’s Pizza House and Aiello’s Pizza that’s been simmering in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood for going on 40 years, Slice Harvester falls firmly on the side of Mineo’s.