Local pizza shops thrive around Washington County
Local pizza shops have stood the test of time and passed through many generations.
Square cuts, triangular slices or a whole, round pizza? Thin crust or thick? Plain or pepperoni? These are the delicious but somewhat difficult decisions we, as pizza lovers, are faced with when frequenting our favorite local pizza shop.
In Washington County, serving up those savory slices is often a family affair. Just ask Lisa Osso Hasson, who grew up helping her grandfather and father around the family business. “Making the dough and the sauce, boxing pizza and ringing orders … I did it all,” says the now co-owner of Osso’s Original Pizza.
Still in the same building on Henderson Avenue in Washington since the early 1960s, Osso’s is an icon and tradition for local pizza lovers, whether it’s Friday night’s quick dinner or a whole tray of pizza on Steelers Sundays.
“Everything is made fresh every day,” Hasson says. “When we say that, it’s the truth. My sister is down there every morning doing the sauce. You can’t beat fresh ingredients.”
Lisa’s husband, David, sister, Mindy, and daughter, Kristen, help keep the operation running. Hasson hopes to pass the business that her grandfather, Alfred, began in 1952 on to the fourth and fifth generations of Ossos.
Over 65 years, the only change in routine has been in making the sauce. “We make our own sauce and go through about 30 to 40 gallons a day,” Hasson says. “Now that we make so much, we start with whole, crushed tomatoes rather than crushing them ourselves.”
If Osso’s is the square pizza icon in town, DiCarlo’s Original Famous Pizza is the new kid in Washington. However, owner Anna DiCarlo says the DiCarlo family is credited with creating the square-cut style that started a sensation in the Ohio Valley way back in 1945. DiCarlo’s Jefferson Avenue location opened in the spring and is going strong with expanded hours this fall just in time for football season. The DiCarlo’s brand is famous, having been named to the 2012 Parade Magazine “Top 20” U.S. pizzas list, the pizza trade publication PMQ’s Pizza Hall of Fame and mentions in both Gourmet and Plate magazines.
Anna DiCarlo describes her product as a “high-end” pizza, with the great flavor coming from old-school techniques like crafting sauce from scratch daily. “My grandparents had a bakery famous for their bread, and that bread is the crust,” she explains, noting that the pizza is topped with aged provolone rather than mozzarella.
Square cuts or whole pies are on the menu at Danny Jr’s Pizza & Hoagies on Route 519 in Eighty Four, and though their Italian hoagies are famous, the pizza keeps locals coming in the door. “What I love the most in this business is the customers and the camaraderie I have with everybody, just making people happy and making sure things are right,” says owner Sandy Taylor. “Being here so long, there are many, many people that I come across all the time. I’ve seen babies turn into married adults with children of their own.”
She opened the doors in 1987 and has kept the same recipe over the years. What’s the secret ingredient? “It’s the love,” Taylor says with a laugh, though she vows a great pizza starts with quality ingredients. “If we have to raise our prices, that’s what we’ll do before we ever cheapen our meats or cheeses or anything like that. I won’t change.”
Why is pizza such a favorite among Americans? Taylor thinks it’s the convenience. “You get all of the food products in one. There are so many styles of it, and it’s awesome!”
Harry’s Pizza on Washington Road in McMurray has a distinct Neapolitan style all its own. Opened 14 years ago by brothers Dave and Jim Auld, the original Harry’s recipe endures, brought here by Dave after he discovered it on a trip to Connecticut. “It’s very thin, Neapolitan style crust, and we do not use your typical tomato sauce,” explains manager Stacey French. “We use actual chunks of tomato. Some people don’t like the chunks, so you can get it without the chunks.”
Everyone has his or her own personal preference when it comes to amounts of sauce and cheese. “I personally think the sauce makes it,” French says. “And we do not put a ton of cheese on it because we think you should taste the sauce and the crust.”
Variety is the spice of life, and French knows there’s a pizza for everyone. “We are consistent,” she says. “I’ve gotten to know the customers, I remember what they get and oftentimes they don’t even have to order. We don’t have a lot of turnover here, and it’s a lot of family – a lot of Dave and Jim’s family, including kids and nephews, work here.”
One of the most popular places for pizza in the Mon Valley is actually more than a pizza shop. River House Café on McKean Avenue in Charleroi serves up the same delicious pizza that its owners started crafting nearly 14 years ago at Salatino’s Pizzeria. When owners Michael and Lori Coury bought a building a block away to open River House Café, they moved the pizza oven, kept the same hand-tossed, fresh pizza and added more Italian dishes, plus steak and seafood.
“Everything is fresh,” says Lori Coury. “We don’t use frozen shells. Our pizza dough is handmade, our sauce is homemade. We have a family recipe we use for sauce, and it simmers on the stove for four to eight hours. We use really high-end ingredients. That is the key to good pizza.”
Though neither of the Coury children are involved with the business right now, Lori calls her staff of 40 her “kids” and considers them to be family. “What I love about it and what’s so rewarding is to read and to hear reviews from our customers,” she says. “We have some phenomenal customers here in the Mon Valley, and they’ve really embraced us. We have customers that come in here routinely every Friday. My staff works so hard, and that’s the biggest reward.”