Eater's Digest: Delawarean defense of Grotto Pizza
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 01:05
Talking animatedly and convening in frantic, starry-eyed freshman clusters, my First Year Seminar class waited for a table at Grotto Pizza. Chatter reached a lull as our collective hunger grew more intense and we first detected the tortuous smell of Grotto popcorn. It was a beautiful fall day, the kind that could only be concluded with fresh, piping hot trays of pepperoni pizza and ice-cold Cokes.
We were ready to eat, and to my central Jersey and Westchester, N.Y.-bred classmates, this Grotto’s seemed like the ideal place to satiate an appetite for New York-style pizza. The interior was decorated in familiar casual pizzeria style and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. What the Grotto virgins didn’t know is that Grotto’s pizza, unlike Margherita’s, or even the pizza served in Trabant, is at best a distant cousin of the pies they grew up with.
Any seasoned university student would be ashamed of such a basic misjudgment. Grotto Pizza, though Hens may flock to the bar and front deck—it’s the first place I’ll go when I turn 21—is “different,” and often hard to adjust to for non-Delawareans. You love it or you hate it. Many of my classmates, especially those who possess what I would call a misplaced variety of New York pride, voiced not just disappointment, but audible outrage at the taste of the pizza. These were rash, passionate reactions, ones that could not be calmed by even my fiercest Delawarean defensive maneuvers.
I can’t deny that Grotto Pizza doesn’t offer the best slices on the planet. What Grotto describes as a “legendary taste” and what is the key disparity between a Grotto pie and one from other pizza chains is the sauce. While tomato sauce tends to take a backseat in most New York-style slices, meant to quietly complement the cheese and dough, Grotto’s tangy and sweet, highly flavorful sauce overwhelms every bite.
Grotto’s chefs make no attempt to mask their devotion to sauce, creating distinctive, eye-catching swirls of sauce and cheese that make for pizzas that are visibly much more sauce-heavy than most New Yorkers are used to eating. What cheese there is on a Grotto pie is unique too, a blend of traditional mozzarella with the surprising addition of cheddar.
After scouring Internet comments—an always terrifying, rarely enlightening endeavor—I was able to confirm the love-it-or-hate-it nature of Grotto’s pizza. Negative opinions ranged from the benign “not for me” to the dramatic “a slaughterhouse of Italian-American cuisine.” This mix is similar among my out-of-state friends, who promised to take me to Grotto Pizza on my birthday, “If you really want, Rach.”
The most accurate assessment I found is that Grotto is “a Delaware thing.” I was born in a hospital less than five miles from campus. My grandmother’s family settled in Delaware before the Civil War. This state is in my blood, and so too is Grotto Pizza. Maybe it’s the result of a decade of eating the Delaware staple after soccer games and hours of dance class, starving and accordingly satisfied by the saucy swirls and stripes. Maybe it’s how closely I associate Grotto’s pizza with a perfect day in Rehoboth Beach, a slice or two as essential to the experience as Funland and fries from Thrasher’s.
But I maintain that Grotto Pizza stands up to the competition proudly on its own magnificently crispy and golden crust. In my less-than-professional opinion, should the Hobokenites and Scarsdalians be wont of washing their pride down with a creamy scoop of gelato, they too would discover the brilliance of Grotto Pizza, its taste divine regardless of its cultural significance in Delaware.
If you know anyone from Scarsdale, though, you know that that probably won’t happen anytime soon, so I guess that means more pizza for the believers in Grotto pizza pie. Fine by me.