The City of Niagara Falls, which has a history rich with Italian-American influence, will host its first-ever celebration Friday, November 30 to showcase one of the city's most beloved food staples: pizza.
The inaugural Festival of Slice will be hosted at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, and is part of opening night of the city's Jingle Falls USA holiday celebration.
"We're really excited to showcase this, especially for people that might not live in Niagara Falls, or coming back for the holidays or coming to visit friends," said Susan Swiatkowski, tourism devdelopment manager for Destination Niagara USA. "They could see why we are so proud of the pizza that we serve up here in Niagara Falls."
More than a dozen local vendors from the City of Niagara Falls or Niagara County are scheduled to participate: Anthony’s Pizza, Broadway Pizza, Casa Antica, The Como Restaurant, DiCamillo Bakery, Donatello’s, George's, Goodfella’s Pizzeria, Grandma D’s, Jaco’s, Joey’s Pizzeria, Leon’s Italian Bistro & Pizza, The Little Bakery, Old Greenwalls, Sammy's, Solidays, and Submaster’s Bar & Grill.
On a weekday noon hour shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday, Matthew DiCamillo spoke with WBFO about the upcoming festival and explained that in a town like Niagara Falls, national chains may exist but the locals are loyal to the local eateries.
"They're superior," said DiCamillo, the family bakery's vice president. "They're superior to the chains and the Italian culture is still rich here. With that comes a lot of rich food that we're proud of."
DiCamillo described a mutual respect among competitors and also pointed out that Niagara Falls pizza does have its differences from the many popular and respected pizzas made by local businesses in nearby Buffalo.
The difference, he says, is in the sauce.
"Buffalo pizza tends to be a bit of a sweeter sauce. That's probably the most noticeable," he said. "Plus, there's a lot of pan pizzas in Niagara Falls, or 'Grandma pies' as we call them. Plus, there's this love for Romano pizza, which we have as well as others. Those are some key elements in the difference.
Romano pizza uses sprinked Romano Pecorino cheese in place of mozzarella. Grandma pies are cooked in a pan coated with olive oil but unlike Sicilian pizza, which involves letting the dough rise briefly before it's stretched throughout the pan, the dough used in a Grandma pie is covered and baked more quickly, creating a slightly thicker and crispier crust.
Whatever one prefers on their pizza or in their crust, Swiatkowski says visitors will learn just why local pizza is so appreciated.
"People that are not living in the area are always the first to chime in and say 'pizza doesn't look like that down south' or 'pizza doesn't look like that out west' and are really longing for it," she said. "My nephew himself, is following what we're doing. He's in the Navy and lives out in California and he says 'God, I long for a Niagara Falls slice.'"
The Festival of Slice begins Friday at 5 p.m.