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Panzerotti and the Mystery of the Missing Florida-Style Pizza

By on Tuesday, April 2nd, 2024 at 4:06 pm | 1,533 views

A panzerotto from panzerotti bites on Smith Street in Brooklyn, filled with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, fried in a thin pizza dough

A panzerotto from Panzerotti Bites on Smith Street in Brooklyn is a traditional-style panzerotto filled with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, fried in a thin pizza dough


Circulating on pizza message boards and other corners of the internet where pizza enthusiasts gather, a photograph of a sign advertising Florida Style Pizza has been making the rounds. Readers are confused: what is Florida-style pizza?

Perhaps the strangest part of this story is the Florida Style Pizza has origins in Philadelphia. At the corner of Snyder Ave and South Beachwood, the sign is still visible in old street view pictures on Google. The pizzeria closed more recently than the derelict building would suggest, and sure enough, the shop sold what it branded as Florida Style Pizza, also known as Inside-Out Pizza. These are deep fried pockets of dough filled with cheese, sauce, and sometimes include pepperoni.

Other than the brand name, Florida Style Pizza, there does not exist a Florida-style pizza– that is, a pizza cooked in the style of Florida. The brand isn’t the only inside-out pizza in Philadelphia, but it didn’t originate there either. Instead, the pizza style was created across the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey.

South Jersey, pork roll country for those who know, has embraced this deep fried snack and it has become a staple in bars, restaurants, and pizzerias across the region. Founded in the once thriving industrial city of Camden and spreading to nearby communities, the deep-fried dough pocket filled with cheese and sauce is known by the trademarked name, Panzarotti, inspired by a similar recipe found in Southern Italy.

Panzerotto (and the plural panzerotti), as they are properly known in Italy, originated in Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot. A slang translation means filled up belly, swollen belly, or belly-busting, a reference to the pockets round shape and filling that can escape.

A panzerotto from Rome to Brooklyn, a pizzeria in Brooklyn that sells Italian style panzerotti. The Hell Raiser recipe includes mozzarella, ricotta, spicy sopressata, jalapeno and mike’s hot honey -- flavors known as the Bee Sting from Roberta's or Hellboy from Paulie Gee's

A large, Italian-style panzerotto from Rome to Brooklyn, a pizzeria in Brooklyn. The deep-fried dough pocket is similar to a calzone.


Panzerotto are similarly shaped to the better-known calzone, but smaller. The term calzone is more generalist and used more widely to apply to stuffed dough that is baked or fried. Panzerotto should always be fried. However, in Puglia, the term panzerotto is applied to any type of calzone, even when they are baked (but they should be fried). Calzone are originally named for pants since they were made with two sheets of dough that resembled a pair of pants.

In Naples, Panzerotto are otherwise known as pizza fritta, or fried pizza. Fried pizza fell out of favor during the 19th century. Round, oven-baked pizza became more popular in the city because keeping the oil hot throughout the day was more expensive than keeping the stone pizza ovens hot.

Variations on panzerotto arrived with Italian immigrants during the diaspora of the late 19th and early 20th century. The smaller-sized calzone were common at festivals held by Italian Americans, such as the San Gennaro feast held in New York City. Festival calzone were often fried–the pizza ovens that made Neapolitan pizzas more affordable day-to-day, were less portable than a frying vat of oil. However, the term calzone was more common in these settings too since it was more widely known, and because big festivals like San Gennaro had links to Naples rather than Puglia.

Recipes using the term panzarotti appeared in American food columns in the latter half of the 20th century. One syndicated column by Ruth Foster from 1968 offered a panzarotti recipe filled with ricotta and ham, similar to festival calzones. Another syndicated column from 1985 suggested pepperoni and mozzarella – something that more people would recognize as a pizza by then. The Americanized spelling of panzarotti, however, was already a trademarked term by then thanks to an Italian immigrant family.

Panzarotti grew into a staple of south Jersey pizzerias beginning in the 1960s. Following World War II, Pauline and Leopoldo Tarantini arrived in the United States from Puglia. According to Catherine Smith at USA Today, the family first settled in Arizona, but couldn’t take the heat. They relocated to south Jersey.

Desperate for money, Pauline made a decision that would have a huge impact on the family, and the cuisine of south Jersey. Pauline decided to the best way to make money was to sell panzerotti.

Initially the fried dough pockets were filled with ricotta cheese, following a traditional recipe, but her American customers found the texture off putting. Pauline then experimented with other flavors, settling on a filling of mozzarella and tomato sauce. These flavors had become much more familiar to Americans who by the early 1960s had started eating pizza in ever larger quantities. Originally, the Tarantini family referred to these new creations as pizzelles, meaning little pizzas.

Pauline made each pizzelle by hand using an old coffee can to cut the dough. Leopoldo was responsible for selling them to nearby businesses like gas stations, and the wholesale business was successful enough that they decided to open their own shop to sell directly to the public. This first location, in a basement storefront, was named Pizza King.

Two years later they moved to a larger space and acquired two vans to convert into food trucks. That’s also when the name changed from Pizza King to Panzarotti, a term the family trademarked in 1967.

The trademark was important because Pauline’s sons Franco, Sergio, and Vincent were working on a new project–mass production. They experimented with using a modified turnover machine to begin manufacturing them, ultimately developing an assembly line system that could churn out 5,000 a day.The panzarotti were soon available at bars, restaurants, and pizzerias.

Franco eventually opened his own shop, Franco’s Place, in 1971. The business continued growing with the family opening other restaurants like VIncent’s Pizza in Merchantville, and the now shuttered Mr. T’s in Philadelphia. They used food trucks to expand their direct to consumer market, and also attend fairs and festivals. In 1986, Franco was locked out of a state fair because organizers believed the panzarotti were too similar to the other pizza vendors already assigned stalls.

Pauline and Leopoldo had ten children. Franco, was born in Italy, arrived in the United States with his parents at the age of 15. He passed away earlier this year, but the family continues to sell panzarotti. The company have experimented with other fillings beyond the traditional pizza flavor of cheese and sauce, including mushroom, sausage, bacon, steak, chicken and ham. The company also offers smaller, bite-sized panzarotti. According to the Courier Post, as of 2005, they were shipping 12,000 panzarotti each week.

In 2001, the business expanded once more with national distribution. Today, Tarantini Panzarotti delivers their own product to south Jersey, has distributors along the northeast corridor, and will ship to any cold storage warehouse.

Tarantini Panzarotti created a market in the suburbs of Philadelphia for Panzerotti. That’s where the mystery of the Florida Style Pizza begins. Back in 2011 when Florida Style Pizza was still open to the public, the owner told Jon and John of Dough Boys that their product was handmade–differentiating from the factory-produced panzarotti from Tarantini. Although the retail shop, Florida Style Pizza, is closed, the Florida Style Inside Out Pizza is available wholesale, and still appears on menus of Philadelphia pizzerias like Avenue Steaks & Pizza near Marconi Square, Pastificio, and Enzo’s Pizzata.

Panzerotti, rather than the trademarked Panzarotti, have also grown in popularity in recent years, not just in South Jersey. This new wave of panzerotti are more likely to be stuffed with traditional Italian ingredients rather than pizza-filled pockets. They represent a celebration of modern southern Italian cuisine.

In Brooklyn, Panzerotti Bites is a petite shop dedicated to the savory turnovers. Vittoria Lattanzio and Pasquale De Ruvo, originally from Italy, opened the shop in 2018. The panzerotti on offer can be baked or fried, but the dough is much lighter than a calzone that might be found in a nearby pizzeria. Other shops in New York City like I love Panzerotti and Mr. Panzerotto were not so lucky, both having closed just a few years after opening.

In Florida, which still lacks its own distinct regional pizza style, both panzerotti and panzarotti are available. I Love Panzerotti, the Pugliese export that didn’t find their footing in New York opened in Florida. The shop operates in Fort Lauderdale selling traditional Apulian-style turnovers. In addition to savory versions, they sell varieties with nutella. And on the west coast, Price Panzarotti, a food truck, offers full size and petite size panzarotti from Tarantini. These inside out pizzas might not officially be “Florida Style,” but they are available in Florida.

If you’re looking to get your hands on a panzerotti or a panzarotti or an official Florida Style Inside Out Pizza, we put together a short list of where each can be found. Just get ready to travel:

NEW JERSEY

Franco’s Place

(Tarantini Panzarotti)
53 Haddon Ave
Haddon Township, NJ 08108
Website

Vincent’s Pizza

(Tarantini Panzarotti)
17 West Park Avenue
Merchantville, NJ 08109
Website

The Panzarotti Spot

(Tarantini Panzarotti)
349 Marlton Ave
Camden, NJ 08105
Website

BROOKLYN

Panzerotti Bites

(Italian panzerotti)
235 Smith St
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Website

Rome to Brooklyn

(Italian panzerotti)
755 Grand St
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Website

PHILADELPHIA

Avenue Steaks & Pizza

(Florida Style Inside Out)
2655 S Juniper St
Philadelphia, PA 19148
Website

Pastificio Philly

(Florida Style Inside Out)
1528 Packer Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19145
Website

Enzo’s Pizzata

(Florida Style Inside Out)
1849 Wolf St
Philadelphia, PA 19145
Website

FLORIDA

I Love Panzerotti

(Italian panzerotti)
113 SE 12th St
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33315
Website

Price Panzarottis

(Tarantini Panzarotti)
Bonita Springs, Florida
Website