32 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012-4173
At the corner of Spring & Mott Streets.
Hours: Open Sunday—Thursday
11:30 A.M.–11 P.M.
The true origin of pizza is a mystery. It could have been invented by just about anyone who figured out how to mix flour with water and heat it on a hot stone. Carthage? The Greeks? Sicily?
The earliest form of pizza found by archaeologists was a crude bread baked beneath a fire's coals. After cooking, different types of toppings and/or seasonings could be applied, and the bread could be used instead of a plate and utensils to sop up broth or gravies.
This idea of using bread as a plate (a “trencher”) came from the Greeks who ate flat round bread (plankuntos) baked with any number of toppings. This inexpensive cuisine was eaten by the ordinary laboring men and their families.
Fifth century, B.C. — At the apex of the Persian Empire, it is said that the soldiers of Darius the Great (521–486 B.C.) baked flat bread on their shields and then put on a topping of cheese and dates.
Second century, B.C. — Marcus Porcius Cato (234–149 B.C.), also known as Cato the Elder, wrote the first history of Rome, noting the common use of flat rounds of dough baked on stones and dressed with olive oil, herbs, and honey.
First century, B.C. — In The Aeneid, Virgil (70-19 B.C.) depicts a legendary origin of pizza: “Beneath a shady tree, the hero [Aeneas, leader of the Dardanians, the allies of conquered Troy and alleged ancestors of the Romans] spread his table on the turf, with cakes of bread; And, with his chiefs, on forest fruits he fed… They sate; and (not without the god’s command). Their homely fare dispatched, the hungry band invaded their trenchers next, and soon devoured to mend the scanty meal, their cakes of flour… And Aeneas said… See, we devour the plates on which we fed.”
The ancient Roman cookbook, De Re Coquinaria (“On the Subject of Cooking”), perhaps first compiled in the first century B.C. and erroneously attributed to the ancient gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius, mentions a variety of ingredients on a flat round base of bread, similar to a present-day pizza, and recipes that involve putting certain ingredients on a base of a hollowed-out loaf of bread. The recipe lists chicken meat, pine kernels, cheese, garlic, mint, pepper and oil (many of these ingredients can be found in modern-day pizza). The recipe concludes with “insuper nive, et infers” (“cool in snow and serve”).
79 A.D. — Although the Romans had no tomato sauce, a pizza-like fresh baked bread smeared with olive paste appears to have served as a snack at the ancient Roman fast-food stands, the thermopolia. Evidence has been found of flat wheat-spelt cakes that were baked and widely eaten not only in Pompeii but also in nearby Neopolis, the Greek colony that would ultimately become Naples, the future home of Neapolitan pizza. Also found in Pompeii were shops eqipped with marble slabs, flour mills, ovens, and other items that one could ascribe to a pizzeria.
1000 A.D. — By the dawn of the second millennium, picea, a disk of dough with a heavy smattering of herbs and spices, was popular in Naples. Pizzas were often used as a snack by Italian women who were waiting for their bread to bake in the local town’s communal ovens. They would break off a piece of the dough, flatten it out, apply some sort of seasoning, then quickly bake it.
1400s — The Tavernia Cerrigloi in Naples was frequented by soldiers because of the fine pizza served there, thus making it (and Naples) the home of Italian-style pizza. Pizza was made throughout Italy, but Neapolitan pies were known to be the best.
1522 — Although there are eight species of wild tomato in Peru, and doubtless some of these made their way to the Old World, modern tomatoes appear to be descended from central American species. Thus, tomatoes were probably first brought back to Europe following conquest of Mexico by Spanish explorer Cortez. Back in Spain they would later be called pome dei Moro (“Moor’s apple”).
1544 — The tomato is first described in European literature by Matthiolus. In Italy they are called pomi d’oro (golden apples), and are “eaten in Italy with oil, salt and pepper,” according to Matthiolus. These first tomatoes were yellow, having been brought from Central America to Europe via the Medditerranean. Years later two Catholic priests allegedly introduced red tomatoes to Italy.
1700s — Two hundred years after the introduction of the tomato to Europe, tomatoes were finally beomg eaten, as opposed to merely being used as a decorative item.
Late 1700s — Queen Maria Lorena (1752-1814) wife of the King of Naples, Ferdinand IV (1751–1821), had a special oven installed in the summer palace of Capodimonte so that her chef could serve pizzas to her royal self and guests.
1830 — Until 1830, pizza was sold from open-air stands and street vendors working with pizza bakeries, just like the ancient Romans did. However, in 1830 the world's first genuine pizzeria appeared (in Naples, naturally), Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba. Porous lava rock brought down from nearby Mount Vesuvius was used to line its wood-fired oven. This establishment is still in business today at Via Port'Alba
1889 — King Umberto I of Italy and his wife (and first cousin), Margherita Teresa Giovanna, Princess of Savoy, while on holiday in Naples in 1889, issued a royal summons, calling to their residence the most popular of the pizzaioli (pizza chefs), Raffaele Esposito of the Pietro il Pizzaiolo pizzeria, to taste his specialties. Esposito prepared three kinds of pizza for the royal couple. His most innovative was one sporting the colors of the Italian flag: red, green and white. To achieve the color white, he added mozzarella cheese to a more conventional Napolitan pie of red tomato, bacon and green basil. The queen liked the last kind of pizza so much that Esposito named it the “Pizza Margherita” in her honor, and the name stuck. Thus, in 1889 the modern “cheese pizza” was born.
1880s — Italian immigrants start making pizza in New York City.
1905 — Gennaro Lombardi receives a business license for New York's first official pizzeria, Lombardi's.
1924 — Antonio Totonno Pero leaves Lombardi’s and opens Totonno Pizzeria Napolitano in Coney Island.
1925 — Frank Pepe opens his Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven, Connecticut, to serve up classic “tomato pies.” Today the place is known for its unexpectedly superb clam pizza.
1926 — Pizza is introduced to Boston’s North End via Anthony Polcari’s Pizzeria Regina.
1927 — Italian immigrants Salvatore and Chiarina Marra living in South Philadelphia open Marra’s on Passyunk Avenue.
1929 — John Sasso, another ex-Lombardi's employee, starts up John’s of Bleecker Street.
1933 — Yet another ex-Lombardi's employee, Patsy Lancieri, founds Patsy's in New York.
1939— Pizza comes to Los Angeles, courtesy of the D'Amore family.
1950s — America notices Italian-American celebrities (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jimmy Durante, baseball star Joe DiMaggio) consuming pizzas. The lyric “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore,” appears in Dean Martin's song, That’s Amore!
1957 — Frozen pizzas are introduced to stores by the Celentano Brothers.
1959 — The first Famous Ray’s Pizza opens on Prince Street in Little Italy, founded by Ralph Cuomo.
1984 — Lombardi's closes for ten years.
1990 — Grimaldi’s opens.
1994 — Lombardi's reopens.
Lombardi's in New York City was the first inductee into the Pizza Hall of Fame, founded by Steve Green, publisher of PMQ, the magazine with the largest circulation (50,000) of any trade magazine devoted to the pizza industry. PMQ publishes U.S., Canadian, Chinese and Australian/New Zealand editions, in addition to producing the Orlando and New York Pizza Shows each September and March respectively. The company’s website, PMQ.com is the official website of the pizza industry.
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