For our final restaurant meal out in Scranton, Pennsylvania, my host and friend Chris recommended that we give a local pizza style a try. It seems that the Scranton area boasts not only a larger than normal number of pizza shops per capita, but the style of pizza that had originated in the Old Forge part of the city was now commonly available in places outside of this limited geographic region. Chris tried to describe the pizza to me prior to us heading out to the restaurant, but I think it must truly be experienced to understand exactly the nuanced flavor he was trying to describe to me.
Tonight's quest for Old Forge-style pizza led us to one of the three Colarusso's Cafe locations. Located at 100 East Grove Street, Clarks Summit, PA 18411, they can be reached at 570-586-0608. At the time of this writing, there was no website associated with any of the three Colarusso's locations.
After parking in the somewhat smallish lot in front of the restaurant, I snapped a photo of the front:
Once inside, we were seated at a high table near the bar area. First to catch my eye was the actual placemat itself. Comprised of a number of advertisements for local businesses, the center of the rectangular piece of paper was what really spoke to me:
Clearly there are going to be many opinions on whose Old Forge-style pizza is the best; hopefully Colarusso's would be representative. Also overlooking the bar area was this particularly appropriate fellow, Bacchus:
Although the restaurant overall didn't have a particularly quaint feeling to it, small touches like the statue above and the wondering minstrel doling out Christmas carols on his guitar for eager families with small children such as "Dominic the Christmas Donkey" certainly gave the ambiance a unique feel.
Having taken our drink orders, our server left us to look over the menu:
Because of the rather dim lighting at the table at which we were sitting, I only took a photo of the page that contained the pizzas. That being said, the menu had much, much more and had Chris and I not been in the mood to try the pizza, I could have easily found something else instead.
It turns out that the pizzas come in two sizes, 12 cut and 6 cut. It also turns out that the size of a slice is the same for both sizes. A 6 cut is just half the size of a 12 cut. Other options include a double-crusted pizza which is available on some of the pizzas. You can order from one of the "pre-built" pizzas or do what we did which was to order a 6 cut red sauce and a 6 cut white sauce and add the toppings of our choice. On the red pizza we ordered pepperoni and mushroom. On the white pizza we ordered onions and banana pepper rings (although these were simply referred to as "hot" peppers on the menu).
Chris and I got to chat for quite some time before our dinner arrived, to the point where it became noticeable. Granted, it was Saturday night around 7:00 PM, but there wasn't a line at the hostess stand of people waiting to be seated either.
Our waitress first delivered the 6 cut red pizza:
And then the 6 cut white pizza:
In what seemed to be an odd delivery system, each pizza came out on a piece of parchment (not so odd) on a cafeteria tray (odd). Along with the pizzas, plates and extra napkins, a small dish of additional condiments came with it:
While the sight of red pepper flakes wasn't wholly unexpected, the additional containers contained granulated garlic salt and a dried Italian spice mix.
I decided to start with the red pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms:
In both size, appearance, and texture of the crust, this immediately reminded me of Stouffer's frozen French Bread pizzas. The crust was nicely crisped on the bottom and the dough above it was nice enough, although a bit too thick for me. Thin crust lovers would definitely not enjoy this crust. Once I realized how thick the single crust pizza was, I couldn't even really fathom why someone would want a double crusted pizza (one on bottom and one on top). Fortunately, Colarusso's was generous with the red sauce and it shone brightly through the rest of the toppings. While the cheese on top was a mixture of standard American pizza cheeses, Mozzarella and Provolone, there was an additional flavor in their as well. Chris explained that one of the hallmarks of the Old Forge-style pizzas was to put down a layer of processed cheddar cheese product (think American cheese) either above or below the sauce. Each purveyor decided the amount of processed cheese to apply. I knew that the processed cheese was there before I took a bite, so I could pick it out immediately, but it wasn't as overwhelming as I had imagined it. The restrained use of the pizza cheeses on top meant that the red pizza was nicely balanced.
Having finished my slice of red, I turned my attention to the white pizza with onions and banana pepper rings:
Finished with a sprinkling of the dried Italian herb mix applied by the kitchen, I took a bite. Clearly the crust texture was the same, so I won't belabor that point again. This time, the processed cheddar cheese flavor was much more pronounced. It came across not only in the flavor, but the creaminess of the mouth feel. In an almost serendipitous way, the pickled banana pepper rings were the perfect foil for this rich, cheesy topping as it helped to cut through the fattiness. Taking another bite, something eerily familiar about the taste kept nagging me that I had enjoyed this flavor before. I racked my brain for a second before blurting out, "Jalapeno poppers filled with cheddar cheese! That's it!" Of course, Chris looked at me quizzically for a moment before realizing what I was talking about and giving it some thought of his own, he agreed with my assessment.
We managed to eat only about half of our two 6 cut pizzas and we took the rest home for late night snacking, which I most happily helped to devour later that night. Not normally a huge fan of processed cheddar cheese products, I had consumed more of the stuff in the past three days than I probably did the previous year. However, in both Colarusso's case as well as Cosmo's Cheesesteaks, I think they both did a nice job at making the experience something unique.
While the kitchen was a tad slow tonight, I think the pizzas more than made up for it. Our two 6 cut pizzas were roughly $16 for both and could've easily fed four adults. Do I think that Old Forge-style pizza is a revolution in the pizza world? No, but I'd certainly concede that it is a distinct variant from Neopolitan, New York-style thin crust, and Chicago-style deep dish. I think if you are in the Scranton or Wilkes-Barre area, you should definitely check it out. I know that the version I had tonight at Colarusso's was something I had never tasted before. I'd be happy to go back again the next time I'm in the area.