What Makes Altoona-Style Pizza So Unique?

Consider the pizza capitals of the world — Naples, New York, Chicago, and ... Altoona, Pennsylvania? The keystone state has a habit of going its own way when it comes to food, producing regional specialties like teaberry ice cream and scrapple, which garner a loyal fanbase at home, but occasionally mystify outsiders unfamiliar with the region's cuisine. However, no local creation has proven more divisive than the pizza served up in the small central Pennsylvania city of Altoona.

Altoona-style pizza only began to attract national attention in the last decade, even though it was invented at least 50 years ago. According to the Pittsburgh City Paper, the first of these pies was served at the Altoona Hotel sometime in the 1960s or '70s. The exact details of who invented it and why they chose the ingredients they did has seemingly been lost to history. For decades, it was exclusively available at the Altoona Hotel until 2013, when the building was destroyed by a fire.

In the aftermath, other local restaurants decided to honor the establishment by serving their own Altoona-style pizza. It started showing up on more menus, and on people's social media feeds, which is when the controversy really began.

Altoona-style pizza has salami, green peppers, and American cheese

It only takes a glance to see why Altoona-style pizza is different from any other pie you've encountered. It begins with a Sicilian-style crust, which is thick and square, not unlike focaccia. The toppings typically go on in this order: tomato sauce, salami slices, green bell pepper rings, and American cheese (via Uncovering PA). When it's cut up, each square slice (called a "cut" by locals) should have one slice of salami and one green pepper ring beneath the cheese.

You can probably imagine what happened when photos of Altoona-style pizza started to pop up on social media in the late 2010s. The internet, not exactly known as a realm of level-headed reactions, erupted with a firestorm of criticism, calling it "criminal" and "an abomination," as related by Newsweek. Even some Pennsylvanians turned on their neighbors, with one Reddit user taking it upon themselves to issue an apology on the state's behalf. And yet, for all the blowback it received, Altoona pizza has plenty of die-hard fans. If a fire couldn't stop it, Reddit and Twitter won't stand a chance.

According to Uncovering PA, Altoona pizza tastes exactly how you'd expect it to based on the ingredients, so if that combo sounds appealing to you, you'll probably be a fan.