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Big Appetites, Little Pizzas

Jan 3, 2011 1:18 PM | 0 comments

Brooklyn is justifiably world famous as a hot spot for delicious pizza, so much so that we even have our own style of pizza--thin-crusted slices cut so big you can fold them in half while you eat them.  The borough is peppered, or, perhaps, "pepperonied", with beloved neighborhood pizza joints serving quality slices to loyal fans, who debate endlessly over which excellent pizza place is the best pizza place.  And if you haven't yet known the pleasures of a coal-fired Totonno's slice, a fresh-from-the-oven DiFara's pie, or a delightfully doughy L & B Spumoni Gardens Sicilian slice, there exists, fortunately, a bus company that takes tourists on a whirlwind tour of the borough's most popular pizza purveyors.

 This Irving I. Herzberg photograph documents a kosher pizza spot in Williamsburg.

Considering the borough's close ties with pizza pies, it may seem blasphemous to note that Brooklyn is also home to one of the earliest manifestations of the less celebrated branch of the pizza family tree: the frozen pizza.

As reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on November 8, 1954, Brooklyn was home to one of the first frozen pizza manufacturers, the Petite Foods Corporation at 260 N. 7th Street.  Their specialty was miniature frozen pizzas, an idea that owners Le Roi and Louisiau ("Lozo") Nottoli struck upon one fateful evening three years before, when unexpected guests dropped by and the Nottoli's refrigerator was woefully empty.  In a pinch, Lozo threw together a bit of frozen dough, some tomato sauce, and a hunk of cheese, inventing what would eventually be called the "Bo Pizza".

Lozo tests the tomato sauce for a batch of Bo Pizzas.

The Bo Pizza was a far cry from your present-day, cardboard-flavored frozen pizza.  The dough for the mini-pies was mixed fresh every day by the Petite Foods staff, and topped with a carefully crafted sauce--one that had beat out 35 other recipes after arduous taste-testing.  The list of toppings mostly reflected authentic Italian cuisine, including fresh tomatoes, aged cheese, and imported olive oil, with a dose of monosodium glutamate (MSG) thrown into the mix for flavor.  The Eagle captured the entire Bo Pizza process in a series of photographs:

"Pizza dough is placed in plastic forms for shaping by Sophia Vallone."

"Dough is rolled to proper thickness with a special roller dipped in cooking oil."

"Marie Columbo moves tray of miniature pizzas while Mary Amendola, forelady, fills pizzas with sauce from pastry bag."

Once the toppings were applied, the pies were quick-frozen to 20 degrees below zero and packaged.  According to an extensive article in Invention & Technology Magazine, this flash-freezing method was crucial--it kept ice crystals from forming in the crust, which made a much less soggy pizza than normal freezing techniques.  After five minutes in a 350-degree oven, the mini-pizzas were ready to eat.  Bo Pizzas could be purchased at local grocery stores in packs of eight or twelve, and were served at "bars and many of the better hotels".

Lozo and Le Roi were not the only entrepreneurs staking a claim in the burgeoning frozen pizza market.  An article on new inventions in the February 6, 1954 issue of the New York Times mentions a patent issued to Joseph Bucci of Philadelphia for "a method of making in frozen form that popular delicacy, pizza, sometimes called tomato pie."  Mr. Bucci's patented process was described in thoroughly unappetizing detail for curious readers:

"After he shapes the pizza shell out of dough, Mr. Bucci spreads on a 'sealing agent' such as tomate puree, and bakes it.  The sauce is cooked separately, cooled, and placed in the shell.  Optional items such as cheese strips are added, and the whole is then frozen." 

Sounds tasty, no?