Just as New York City boasts a Starbucks on every corner, Beaver County has a pizza place about every five minutes. On one stretch of road, for instance, there is a Pizza Hut, a Papa John’s, and right behind Pizza Hut is a locally-owned spot called Breezy’s – which used to have a sign declaring “Say No to Chain Pizza!” hanging on the side of its building – and just around the corner is another small local place called Danny’s Pizza. Apparently, pizza is the takeout food of choice for the inhabitants of Beaver County, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing: the only problem is that making the choice of which to patronize is occasionally extremely difficult.
So, if you’re looking for a little bit of help, I’ve compiled a list of my personal favorite places to find a good pizza. This is only a small cross-section of the available choices, but four of these five places are local little gems that can’t be found anywhere but here in the Valley.
We start in Ambridge, with the Original Pizza House, colloquially called “Police Station” Pizza, thanks to its location near the old Ambridge Police Station. The pizza is cooked to order – after five o’clock in the afternoon, that is. If you don’t want to wait until 5:00 to be able to purchase the pizza, and don’t mind assembling and baking it yourself, unbaked pizza is available all day in kits of sorts: they will supply the dough, the sauce, the toppings of your choice, and the mozzarella cheese, for the same price as you would pay if you were ordering the already-baked variety. For two full trays of pizza – which roughly amounts to 24 normal-sized pieces – and two toppings, the price comes out to about $30. That’s pretty reasonable, considering that that can feed about eight to ten people, depending on how much pizza you can consume individually, and the pizza is unmatched whether you buy it already cooked or bake it yourself. And, I’ve got to say, it might be even more fun to assemble it and do it yourself; you get to nosh on the extra toppings, plus, it makes a great family project.
After our stop for Police Station Pizza, we head down the river to Beaver, and Mario’s Woodfired Pizzeria. Owned by a local family, Mario’s offers several different varieties of thin-crusted pizza, including the usual Margherita and pepperoni selections, as well as the Pizza Napoli, which is topped with fresh mozzarella cheese, artichoke hearts, calamata olives, capicola ham, and mushrooms, and generally gets my vote as a great choice. The sauce is applied liberally, seasoned perfectly, and marries well with not only the creaminess of the fresh mozzarella but all of the various toppings available. The crust is crisp, light, and well-seasoned with garlic oil, salt, and black pepper, and the overall product is some of the best pizza I’ve ever encountered. What’s more, the environment inside the restaurant is great – the oven is in sight of the patrons, as is the rest of the kitchen. Sometimes it gets a little loud, but that seems to be a result of comfort more than anything else.
From Mario’s, we cross the river to Vesuvio’s, an Italian restaurant that doesn’t just do pizza, but whose pizza is its notable achievement. Diners can choose from either thin or thick crust, white or traditional-style, and numerous toppings. The only unfortunate thing about Vesuvio’s is that the service can be extremely slow – even when the restaurant really isn’t full at all, and sometimes it’s very lackadaisical and fairly rude. But the pizza is definitely worth a try if you’re willing to overlook slow service, and the possibility of dealing with a terse, uninterested waiter or waitress.
Down the road from Vesuvio’s is a Pizza Masters franchise, and while Pizza Masters can be found almost anywhere – including another location in Hopewell Township – it’s my favorite of the available chains in the area. Their thin-crusted white pizza is terrific, although their traditional-style, with sauce, is a hit or miss option. The sauce occasionally varies drastically in taste, and so the oil-and-garlic white pizza might be the better choice, especially for Pizza Masters first-timers. Pepperoni is always a good option for meat-topping fans, while mushroom is a tasty choice for those who prefer vegetables. But most of the usual toppings that you can think of are able to be ordered: olives, pineapple, ham, bacon, and sausage are just some of them.
Finally, we arrive back in Aliquippa, and head over to Pop’s Pizza. Owned by the same family that owns Breezy’s Pizza, Pop’s Pizza offers a variety of other items, including wings, calzones, and salads, but it is obviously the pizza that is the highlight of the menu. As far as style goes, it’s fairly similar to Police Station Pizza: thick crust, square-cut, with liberally-applied sauce and cheese, as well as generously-applied toppings, but the taste is unique. It’s also just as good cold as it is piping hot, and is also pretty easy on the wallet – there are almost always leftover pieces, and considering that the slices aren’t skimpy at all, it’s a filling meal, and the leftover pieces stay really well in the fridge, and don’t adopt that leftover-pizza taste.
Pizza’s the kind of food that you can really mess up – if the sauce isn’t right, or the cheese has that overly-processed texture and taste, or the crust is limp and soggy – but here in the Beaver Valley, we’re pretty lucky as far as good choices for delicious pizza. Mangia!