The Untold Truth Of Grandma Pizza

When imagining the origins of grandma pizza, it's not hard to picture a little Italian nonna lovingly preparing a homemade pie for her family. The pizza in fact owes its popularity not to any one particular grandma, but a Long Island pizzeria owner by the name of Umberto Corteo (via Newsday). The original location of Umberto's in New Hyde Park was opened by Corteo in 1965. Nowadays, Umberto's is a mini chain of five pizzerias scattered throughout Long Island (according to the Umberto's website) and is commonly known as the originator of grandma style pizza. As the story goes, Corteo would request his brother Carlo make an off menu pizza to share with friends and family, similar to the version that their own mother made back when they lived in Italy, outside of pizza loving Naples.

Ironically, it wasn't the Corteo family who ultimately decided to put the grandma pizza on the menu. Ciro Cesarano and Angelo Giangrande, two pizza makers hired to work at Umberto's in the '80s, pushed to introduce the grandma pizza to the public.

Similar to the Sicilian, but not the same

So how does one describe this unique style of pizza? In an interview with Tasting Table, pizza expert and tour guide Scott Weiner says that grandma pizza is a thinner, more dense take on the familiar Sicilian pie. In a colorful profile of grandma pizza's popularity for Forbes, food writer David Rosengarten breaks down the difference between the two rectangular pies: "Much thinner than the standard Noo Yawk Sicilian pie. The tomatoes on it were fresher, sometimes raw, and the cheese was lighter."

Back at Umberto's, the quirky name of the pizza can be attributed to a regular customer named Anthony "Tippy" Nocella. Still unnamed when it debuted on the Umberto's menu in the '80s, Nocella suggested that the pie was more reminiscent of a grandmother rather than a grandpa, and Cesarano and Giangrande agreed (via Newsday). Nocella was not only responsible for the name. In 1989, Umberto's grandma pizza shot into the Long Island spotlight at a local pizza making competition after the superfan insisted they bring the unique pie. The Umberto's owners neglected to trademark their signature pizza, and original began to inspire copycat pies both on Long Island and into New York City, and beyond.

The pizzas became something of a good luck charm

In an interview with PMQ Pizza Magazine, brother Carlo Corteo explains that the not-so-secret ingredient for this house special lies is the sauce. "It's just peeled, hand-crushed and drained plum tomatoes, garlic, spices, oregano, olive oil, basil and salt." Adding fresh garlic and a little olive oil to the top just before baking are two other elements that set Umberto's grandma pizza apart from the crowd.

The biggest testament to loyalists love of Umberto's came in 2012, when the New York Giants had 15 of the restaurant's pizzas flown from New York to Indianapolis in preparation for their Super Bowl match up with the Patriots — and we're willing to bet there was more than one grandma in the mix. Umberto's might be a taste of home for the Giants, but according to the New York Post, the pizzas became something of a good luck charm as well. Anthony Lopez, Umberto's marketing manager, explains, "It's become a tradition in the sense that there were three games we missed [delivering to], and I believe those were games they lost." The pizza certainly appears to have worked its magic, the Giants won out over the Patriots 21 to 17 in Super Bowl XLVI (via Pro Football Reference).