It’s Presidents’ Day, which means thousands will visit South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore to pay tribute to our nation’s highest office.
That got us to thinking: If there was a monument dedicated to the most important figures in pizza, which four heroes would be represented?
Choosing only four pizza pioneers for Mount Crustmore is no easy task – there are millions worthy of consideration across multiple centuries and continents. With that, we turn to the original for inspiration.
Mount Rushmore’s four presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – were chosen to represent the nation’s birth, growth, development, and preservation.
For us, that feels like a natural jumping off point. In the name of pizza, here are the four heroes that we would immortalize atop Mount Crustmore, all covered in cheese:
Birth – Queen Margherita
In the 19th century, many Italians believed that tomatoes were poisonous, even though they had been around since the mid-16th century, by way of Spanish conquistadors. Only blue collar types would dare to eat tomatoes, but Savoy’s ermine-lined Queen Margherita had no such fear. Even with a chef at her beck and call, the Queen sent her guards out to the markets to bring her flatbreads adorned with that mysterious red fruit.
In 1889, when Queen Margherita visited Naples, baker Raffaele Esposito made an Italian colored pizza in her honor. This pizza – topped with red tomatoes, white mozzarella, and green basil – was dubbed the Margherita pizza.
Queen Margherita of Savoy was the muse that inspired the Neapolitan pizza that we know and love today and, possibly, the creator of pizza delivery.
Growth – Filippo Milone
For years, Gennaro Lombardi was recognized as America’s first pizzeria owner with his eponymous shop in Little Italy. Recently, however, a historian discovered that the pizzeria at 53 ½ Spring Street was first owned by a man named Filippo Milone.
By bringing pizza to the United States, Milone started a revolution in the culinary world. As it turns out, he wasn’t just the creator of the pizzeria that became Lombardi’s – he had a few shops, including the equally legendary John’s of Bleecker Street.
Lombardi, of course, still occupies an important place in pizza lore. To this day, Lombardi’s remains one of New York’s most famed pizzerias, and legend has it that he was the first to sell his pizzas by the slice.
But, since we’re forced to choose just one figure to represent the growth of pizza on Mount Crustmore, we’ll go with Milone, who is finally getting his proper due.
Development – Rudy Malnati
Queen Margherita inspired the first Neapolitan pie and Milone helped introduce the pizza to New York. In the last 100+ years since Milone opened his doors, there have been countless innovators in the world of pizza.
There’s Gus Guerra, who created Detroit-style pizza in 1946 when he repurposed blue steel industrial pans from an auto plant for his kitchen. There’s Ed Imo, the tile-layer-turned-restaurateur who concocted St. Louis’ famed Provel-topped pizza. This spot could just as easily go to Alice Waters or Ed LaDou, the chefs credited with inventing California-style pizza by getting weird with duck sausage, goat cheese, and other non-traditional toppings. The list goes on and on.
This isn’t an easy pick to make, but we’re going with Rudy Malnati, the man credited by many as the true inventor of deep dish pizza. Working in the kitchen of the original Pizzeria Uno, Malnati redefined pizza as we know it. Deep dish – cooked low n’ slow to form something of a pizza casserole – went on to become a global phenomenon while staying in the Chicago family, thanks in part to son Lou Malnati and his legendary outfit.
Preservation – Frank Pinello
The digital age has transformed the face of pizza. Online ordering is just one part of the shift. These days, more and more chefs are catering to the Instagram generation, which values deliciousness and likes in equal measure. Tony Boloney’s, for example, scoffs at the notion that pizza should be confined to only sauce, dough, and cheese – owner Mike Hauke isn’t afraid to build pizzas with ramen noodles, chocolate spaghetti, or anything else he can get his hands on.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty of mom & pop shops across the country that remain rooted in time-honored techniques. Is it possible for shops to innovate and raise the bar while staying true to tradition? Yes, and Frank Pinello is proof.
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Pinello launched Williamsburg’s Best Pizza with his signature sesame-seeded crust, a new twist on the tried-and-true cornicione made in tribute to his Sicilian heritage. After Best Pizza skyrocketed, Pinello found an unexpected career as the host of “The Pizza Show” on Vice and traveled all around the world to showcase the world’s most creative and talented pizzaiolos. Despite growing up as a fervent champion of New York’s classic pizza styles, Pinello is more than happy to give props to doughy trays of Old Forge while keeping an open mind for Dorito-topped pies.
Behind the scenes, Pinello continues to grow the pie for authentic pizza with shops in Los Angeles, Qatar, and everywhere in between. Thanks to devoted chefs like Pinello, pizza will continue to evolve and stay true to its roots, all at the same time.