New York isn't just home to the oldest pizzeria in America. The nation's third-oldest pizza place is operating right here in Utica.

Pizza History

What year was pizza introduced to Americans?  Reports say Italian immigrants first brought it to the Americas in the late 19th century. Soon, the food grew in popularity and the first pizzeria, Lombardi's, was established in 1905 in the Little Italy section of Manhattan.

Beyond My Ken/Wikipedia Commons
Beyond My Ken/Wikipedia Commons

Yes, New York is the birthplace of pizza in America. Lombardi's has been recognized as the first pizza joint in the United states, with historians confirming owner Gennaro Lombardi began serving up the first pizzas nearly 120 years ago.

The pizzeria also created what we now call "New York-style pizza," with crispy thin crusts baked to perfection in a coal-fired oven.

Back then, pizza was called "tomato pie" -- sound familiar?

Utica Enters the Pizza Game

Nearly a decade later, an iconic pizza establishment opened its doors on Bleecker Street. That restaurant was none other than O'Scugnizzo's, which began operations in 1914.

Courtesy Google Images
Courtesy Google Images

The establishment was opened by Eugeno Burlino, an Italian immigrant from Naples who settled in Utica in the late 19th century. However, Burlino didn't hit success right away. His journey began as a simple pastry chef who made money on the side by selling his family's pizzas that are reminiscent of the tomato pie that's become a staple here in Central New York, but his included an extra ingredient: anchovies.

He was seen carrying big trays of his pies and earned an Italian nickname that meant "street urchin."  The name? Scugnizzi.

Eventually, Burlino made enough money to open his own little shop - and the rest was history.  The family-owned restaurant has been going strong ever since. The joint is also credited for inventing the famous "upside down pizza," which is basically a pizza where the toppings are inverted.

Toppings like vegetables or sausage are layered on the bottom before being covered in cheese. After baking, tomato sauce is smothered over the top and finished off with a dusting of Romano cheese.

As for how this pizzeria has withstood the test of time, Burlino's grandson, Steven Burline, says they have never changed the recipes nor their ingredients. Despite skyrocketing inflation, the owners say they won't "cheapen" their pies.

The restaurant is also an official member of the Pizza Hall of Fame.

Best Pizza in Utica

Obviously, O'Scugnizzo's has amassed a very loyal following due to being in business for over a century. Pizza enthusiasts will also make the pilgrimage to try the famous "upside down" pie.

Additionally, people will fork over big money to have their pizzas flown across the country.

And while O'Scugnizzo's has fantastic pizza, it is only one of the many jewels in the crown known as Utica's pizza scene - and, perhaps, help set the bar.

As someone who recently moved to Utica, I consider myself a pizza connoisseur because I grew up eating New Haven-styled pizza (if you know, you know.) My favorite pizza of all is, sadly, not sold here, which is my beloved white clam pizza.

Stephen Taaffe
Stephen Taaffe

That pizza was invented by Pepe's, which opened its doors in 1925, and that kind of pizza is sold in practically every pizzeria in Connecticut. Don't knock it 'till you try it.

That aside, which pizza place in Utica is your favorite? I am always open to recommendations.

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New York State's Ultimate Pizza Trail With 62 Stops

We decided to have ChatGPT, the magic A.I. of the internet, pick one pizza place in every single county in New York State. We asked ChatGPT to create the ultimate road trip choosing places that were historic, well reviewed, and very popular. Let us know on our station app how ChatGPT did. Here's that list of 62:

Gallery Credit: Dave Wheeler

Who Got The Title Of Best Pizza For New York?

According to a recent Lovefood article, they went on the hunt for the best pizza places in America.

According to this article, the experts decided that the best pizza in all of New York State was Rubirosa, located in New York City:

This New York institution was opened by Aj Pappalardo, the son of the founder of iconic Joe & Pat's in Staten Island. It's home to the trademarked Tie Dye pizza, with pesto swirled on top of the tomato, mozzarella and vodka base. There are nine pizzas on the main menu, or you can build your own. Customers love the traditional vintage interior of the small restaurant, plus there is seating available outside on the patio."

Here's some photos from the restaurant:

Gallery Credit: Dave Wheeler

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