That’s Amore: the Complicated History of Pizza in Delaware

Forget politics. Pizza in Delaware seems to be even more polarizing, with scores of people weighing in on what’s best, which pizza has the best sauce and holding onto traditions, such as pizza on the boardwalk.

Legend has it that pizza was introduced to Southern Delaware by Grotto Pizza, a steadfast and iconic provider of pizza in Rehoboth since 1960. Begun by teenager Dominick Puliere, who at age 17 opened up a take-out with his sister and brother in law, Grotto’s started as a classic entrepreneurial adventure. No one on the boardwalk seemed familiar with the strange pizza concept. Puliere and his sister hawked pizza for free to gain attention.

Eventually, it caught on, and repeat customers came back, netting Puliere his first $100 on his eighteenth birthday. What started as a seasonal venture in Rehoboth ultimately became year-round for Puliere, who traded in a teaching job in Smyrna for pizza making.

The pizza wars began! As the popularity of the curious slice grew, so did the competition. In the early 1970s, Nicola’s was formed – home of the famed Nicobola, a unique rendition of stromboli. And so did Louie’s, manned by a young Greek man who had never made pizza before, but was told by his Philadelphia owner-uncle he had to learn the trade quickly.

Today, in nearby Lewes, Mr. P’s pizza thrives, as does Crust & Craft. Both sell fashionable wood-fired pizza and do well in Delaware, where opinions about pizza are sometimes fierce. There’s even Rehoboth’s Casa Dileo’s, which has bragging rights to “Old Forge Style” pizza – a nod to the style of a Northeastern Pennsylvania town dubbed to be “Pizza Capital of the World.”

Grotto has a love it or leave it reputation. Its online reviews and the countless articles written about it cite why: it uses cheddar rather than mozzarella, and the sauce is on the top instead of the bottom. But it’s also a three-generation tradition that Delawareans and visitors insist on pursuing because it’s where beach memories originate. It is in the Pizza Hall of Fame, and now boasts 22 locations in Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

Nicola’s is also expanding – get ready Lewes! Louie’s, meanwhile, holds its own as a traditional boardwalk area mainstay.

That slice of heaven had humble beginnings here and now dominates the debates on which is the best. So give them all a try! You might just get some lively conversations going with your friends and neighbors.

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