Local flavor and then some: Bar pizza rules on the South Shore

When it comes to the search for exceptional tastes, some foods are legendary.

The truffles of Villefranche-du-Perigord, France. The poutines of Canada. The chocolates of Switzerland.

Eating those delectable foods in their native country is one of the joys of travel.

Here’s one you can explore now, pandemic or not: Move over, French truffles, and meet the bar pizzas of the South Shore.

For at least a half century, there’s been a unique, sought-after savory treat here in Massachusetts.

“South Shore bar pizza is so engrained in our culture that we don’t even know it’s a thing,” said Kerry J. Byrne, owner of KJB Trending Hospitality. Byrne started a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/groups/southshorebarpizzasocialclub) for those who love it shortly before the shutdown last spring.

At first, he said, there was a trickle of interest. But when the shutdown kicked in and folks focused on take out, things went nuts.

Now, with over 20,000 members, the page is a place where people debate the proper crust, talk about their childhood memories and most of all: share spots to take a drive and hunt out the best.

The result? Byrne said that in a year in which restaurants are failing at a quick clip, not one of the nearly 50 spots serving South Shore bar pizza has closed. Some, he said, have actually seen a boom in this time.

What is bar pizza?

First, while it usually is served in a bar, that’s not what makes it a bar pizza.

Bar pizza, Byrne said, is thought to have originated at the Cape Cod Café in Brockton, around the mid to late 1940s.

Bar pizza has a thin, crisp and buttery crust, using cheddar cheese at least in part, often has unique toppings (like baked beans, or pastrami and pickles) but can also have classic toppings.

It’s cooked in seasoned pans and those dedicated to it say a true bar pizza is always a 10-inch pizza (and you never call it a pie). It is almost always served in a paper bag rather than a box.

It can have “laced sides” or “burnt edges” (and that’s a good thing) and almost never has a classic crust side.

Bar pizza afficionado Jonathan Catley explained it like this: “Lacing and burnt edges come from the sauce, not the cheese. The blackened look on the side of the pizza is the burnt edges and when you lace the pizza, it’s a little sauce on the top of the crust at the edge. So, you could order ‘pepperoni, extra crispy, laced and burnt edges’”

Those edges, the seasoned pans and the toppings add to the flavor.

So, too, does the preparation.

Tom “Otis” O’Toole, owner of O’Toole’s Pub in Whitman, cranks out bar pizza daily.

O’Toole said the secret to a great bar pizza is time, effort and freshness.

“There has to be consistency,” he said. “Consistency in temperature, as well in how it is made. Here, I am the only one who makes the sauce. And we prepare fresh dough every day.”

O’Toole said he was given the secret recipe for bar pizza from the Page family, who ran The Front Page, thought to be one of the original bar pizza spots on the South Shore.

“I told them, ‘I’ll never embarrass you,’” he said.  Back in the day the Page family put out about 2,500 bar pizzas a week.

This year, O’Toole saw his bar pizza business boom.

“My pizza sales have been two and a half times what they usually are,” he said. He credits the Facebook page for not just harnessing the spirit of those who love bar pizza, but for expanding horizons and bringing in new customers.

Now, with people looking for something to do with their time, he’s seeing them driving great distances, just to pick up a bar pizza.

For your bar pizza outing:

Business continues to be brisk for bar pizza spots. Many discovering it, Byrne said, are taking road trips to different spots to try and compare. His Facebook page recently held a college-format bar pizza competition. More than 20,000 voted on it.

For the most part, bar pizza exists around the South Shore’s inland towns. Byrne said the theory is spots followed the trolley route from Brockton to Quincy, with spots opening up in Whitman, Abington and other towns along it.

Today, those trolley routes are roads like Routes 53, 58 and 18, and along them, you can find those special pizzas.

Some of the most popular spots include the Lynwood Café in Randolph(http://lynwoodcafe.com), Town Spa Pizza  in Stoughton (http://townspapizza.com), the Braintree Brewhouse (www.facebook.com/braintree.brewhouse/, the Alumni in Weymouth (https://alumni-weymouth-bar-and-pizza.business.site) and Damien’s (www.damienspub.com) in Hanson.

Your best way to get started? Check out the Facebook page and plan out your adventures. With a long winter ahead of us, there’s plenty of chance to become an expert on the Bay State’s own special flavor.

“There’s some regional pride attached to all this,” Byrne said. “We are not historically great at food around here. We all ate the same things for years: Fish sticks on Fridays and all that.

“Now? There’s a culture being created around bar pizza. I can see it being like the breweries in Vermont. It’s our thing, and we do it well.”

You might even be inspired to create some on your own. Local bar pizza pan seller Bay State Restaurant Products usually sells about 1,000 pans a year. This past year, it sold 5,000.

 

 

 

 

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