From Altoona to mountain pie, hyper-regional pizza styles are a source of deep pride

"They might not even realize that they don’t exist outside a certain radius"

By Maggie Hennessy


Published October 18, 2022 11:31AM (EDT)

Chicago tavern-style pizza  (Maggie Hennessy )
Chicago tavern-style pizza (Maggie Hennessy )

You may have heard of, or perhaps tasted, Indian pizza, the regional nonpareil hailing from California's Bay Area. This somewhat elusive style — in which crisp-edged, New York-ish crust is topped with creamy masala and tandoori chicken, dal makhani or spinach and paneer — was created in the mid-1980s by Zante's Pizzeria & Indian Cuisine owner Dalvinder "Tony" Multani. 

These days, you'll find it at a handful of spots around San Francisco besides the canonical Zante's, including Brothers Pizza and Al Hamra Indian Pizza & Curry — the latter being music writer and Bay Area native Daniel Bromfield's go-to, given its convenient location near the Bay Area Rapid Transit station. 

"I didn't realize Indian pizza was regional until very recently," muses Bromfield, who's the creator of the ascendant Regional American Foods Twitter account. He started it in January 2021; it now has more than 108,700 followers. "I wonder if that isn't the case with a lot of folks who grow up with certain foods. They might not even realize that they don't exist outside a certain radius." 

"I don't really wanna make fun of anybody, or say, 'Look how gross this is.' That's not my intent. I'm more interested in the breadth of human experience and, you know, how these things remind me how big the universe is."

All manner of regional food treasures grace the @RegionalUSfood feed, from Kool-Aid-soaked dill pickles (Mississippi Delta) to comically enormous pounded pork tenderloin sandwiches (Indiana). But the posts I'm most drawn to feature pizza — the practically universal American comfort food that we love to bastardize. At first, Bromfield mostly scoured Wikipedia to unearth such edible quirks as cheese-less Rhode Island pizza strips, heavily sauced and doled out at room temp (which you'll find at bakeries, not pizzerias). He'd share them with his then-few dozen followers, who were mostly Bromfield's friends. The account started drawing buzz this spring, as more people shared or tagged @RegionalUSfood in their own posts and started DMing Bromfield with suggestions. Before long, pop culture and food sites got wind of it. 

A few hundred followers swelled into the thousands by May 2021, and Bromfield suddenly found himself hesitant to tweet about Altoona pizza despite a slew of requests. This polarizing creation — with its signature American cheese topper — hails from its namesake town in Pennsylvania, where it began life as a culinary oddity of the Altoona Hotel, which has since burned down. An Altoona pizza starts with Sicilian-style (don't @ me) crust, topped with tomato sauce, green bell peppers, salami, and finally, that yellowish square of cheese. 

"The thing is, I tend to get the most engagement on really weird, f**ked up, gross-looking foods," Bromfield says of his initial hesitation to post it. "That's not really why I started the page. I don't really wanna make fun of anybody, or say, 'Look how gross this is.' That's not my intent. I'm more interested in the breadth of human experience and, you know, how these things remind me how big the universe is."

Regardless, Bromfield guesses 90% of the comments the feed gets are negative — people verbally gobsmacked by how the hell someone could stomach pizza topped with a bunched-up square of processed cheese, or pickles or crickets, like a certain pie found at the Oklahoma State Fair. Bromfield doesn't let the negativity bother him; in fact, he anticipates it. When he hits a follower plateau, he'll lean on weirder, more polarizing food to boost him to the next level. 

"It's a consequence of being in a culture where everybody is trying to dunk on everybody else, trying to be superior," he says.

More than anything, he and his tens of thousands of followers are amplifying these distinctly American hometown creations, from the prosaic to the bizarre — and building a living document of this endlessly diverse nation and its foodways.

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Indeed, it's thanks to the glorious hive mind of @RegionalUSfood that we all now know about Colorado-style pizza, a.k.a mountain pie: a gargantuan, deep dish-like creation with honey-sweetened crust that's sold by the pound. And Ohio Valley-style, in which the finished pizza is showered with cold cheese and pepperoni so it resembles a Lunchable. And even pickle pizza, a fixture of the Indiana State Fair, in which dill ranch sauce, mozzarella cheese, dill seasoning and dill pickles top a homemade crust. 

"I think regionalism is really cool," Bromfield says. "Unique cultural customs develop in places over time, through isolation or a certain recipe being shared, then they're turned into something that's part of that region's heritage and lore. That's really cool to know it's out there in the world."

By Maggie Hennessy

Maggie Hennessy is a Chicago-based freelance food and drink journalist and the restaurant critic for Time Out Chicago. Her work has appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Taste, Eater and Food52.

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Altoona Pie Deep Dive Mountain Pie Pizza Regional Food