Red Sauce America - Food, Culture, and Italian American Experience

The Largest Pizza In America

By on Thursday, March 17th, 2022 at 6:59 pm | 7,018 views

a chart of pizza sizes from the New york city standard pizza slice to Koronet, to D.C. Jumbo slice, and the Super Size slice from Yonkers and also Toronto

Neapolitan pizzas have always been small. These pizzas are typically about 10 to 12 inches in diameter. Traditionally these pies are served whole, although in modern restaurants, some Neapolitan-style pies are cut into 5 or 6-inch slices, intended to allow customers to share.

The original Neapolitan pies are quite a bit different than pizza in America. When Italian immigrants arrived in New York City, they baked pizza in bread ovens. These ovens were larger than the dedicated pizza ovens in Naples, and as a result the pies grew bigger.

The typical New York style pizza is about 18 inches across and cut into roughly 9-inch slices.

The size lends itself to consuming with a single hand, and most New Yorkers will fold the slice to make it easier to eat on the go. Any larger, and the dough simply doesn’t have the structure to remain rigid when folded.

The desire to eat pizza one-handed might explain why as other pizza styles evolved around the United States, the 18-inch pie remained more or less the largest round pie for quite a long time. Chain pizzerias sold large pies with smaller diameters, and most independent pizzerias within the tri-state area pizza belt stick to the standard 18-inch pie.

Other shapes – square and rectangular pies – are usually sliced into squares rather than triangular shaped slices.

However, bigger triangle shaped pies were inevitable. One of the earliest big format pies comes from none other than New York City. Opening in 1981, Koronet pizza in Morningside Heights in Manhattan began selling oversized pizzas in the neighborhood around Columbia University.

The jumbo pie clocks in at 32 inches, making the slice about 16-inches. These slices are hard to fold and eat, but many have tried.

Koronet pizza has achieved something of a cult status, perhaps in part because of its proximity to Columbia University. The pizzeria has appeared in numerous novels and including Rivka Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances, Jacqueline Friedland’s That’s Not A Thing, and Rachel Cohn’s Cupcake.

Nevertheless, the jumbo slice is perhaps more widely associated with Washington D.C., where for more than two decades it has been a popular style in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. These “jumbo” slices all began with an accident.

The first shop to sell the oversized slices was Pizza Mart, and the origin of the big pie happened by chance when an inexperienced pizzaiolo left dough out overnight. The extra proofing time meant the dough had more elasticity. When combined with fresh dough, the over-proofed dough could be formed and stretched into larger pies.

Chris Chishti opened the shop in 1997 after almost two decades of experience running pizzerias in Baltimore and Washington area. The Pakistan-born pizzaiolo had primarily focused on the whole-pie pickup or delivery, and when he opened his shop he planned on continuing that business model with standard 18-inch pies.

Following the fateful accident with the over-proofed dough, Chishti worked out how to turn the dough into a 20-inch pie. He started selling what he called the Jumbo Slice in 1999, although these were only slightly larger than standard size slices.

Soon after, Jawed Khan, a former employee, opened Pizza Napoli nearby and began selling his own jumbo slice. Khan expanded his pie to 22-inches. Shots fired.

The pizza size began to escalate, and Chishit developed a 28-inch pie.

Meanwhile, Khan experimented with pizza delivery, investing in customized boxes to transport his extra large pizza, which he expanded into 30-inch pies. Ultimately, the large size pizza proved too difficult to deliver.

However, Chishti kept expanding his pizza. He needed new equipment, and he eventually settled on a 32-inch pie for his jumbo slice.

By this point, Jumbo pizza was becoming a sort of landmark food in Adams Morgan, and unsurprisingly picking up more rivals.

John Nasir, owner of Pizza Boli, opened a restaurant in 2003 a few doors down from Pizza Mart and started selling jumbo slices.

Nasir’s Pizza Boli chain had 75-stores, and had at one time been in business with Chishti. Nasir also has claimed Chishti got the idea for jumbo slices from Pizza Boli.

Pizza Boli installed light-up sign proclaiming “jumbo slices,” clearly intending to grab some of Chishti’s success.

Over the next several months, the two shops engaged in an escalating battle to determine which shop could add more neon “Jumbo Slice” signs, each costing $800 a piece. Finally, Pizza Mart installed “Real Original Jumbo Slice,” and ended the fracas.

Today, imitators abound. The Adams Morgan Pizza Boli has become Bestolli Pizza and Pizza Napoli appears to have closed. Meanwhile, other area shops now sell big slices, and even suburban pizzerias around the area have similarly large 14-16 inch slices. Benny’s, a small chain in the region, sells a “Virginia Slice,” inspired by the Adams Morgan pizza.

These jumbo slices aren’t actually the largest pizza available though. An Arizona pizzeria is pushing the limits of pizza pie integrity with a whopping 39-inch pizza.

However, this giant pie isn’t quite as big as it sounds. Although the pizza is 39 inches, the oval shaped pie is narrower than 39 inches along two sides. That makes the largest round pie the 32-inchers from Koronet in New York and the others in Washington D.C.

the Neapolitan style pizza is usaully 10 to 12 inches, while New York pies are 18. D.C. Jumbo slices are 32 inches

Pizza A Metro cuts 20-22 slices from each one, rather than creating giant-sized triangles.

The pie is the creation of chef Maurizio Benforte who opened his Phoenix restaurant in 2007. A second location of the restaurant lasted just four years before closing – and didn’t have an oven large enough for the extra large pies.

Pizza A Metro might have a giant pie, but not the largest slice. Toronto’s Lamanna Bakery has a slice that comes in at 24 inches. This big slice is intended to feed as many as six people.

Some people might disqualify this big slice since it’s not much of a slice at all. Lamanna Bakery isn’t cooking up 48-inch pies. Instead, these pies are cooked in the shape of a slice.

Lamanna slices aren’t just for cheese and pepperoni. The slices come topped with all sorts of combinations like poutine, macaroni and cheese, nachos, and grilled cheese. The 24-inch slices also come topped with sweets like nutella cannoli, donuts, churros and more.

The pizza slices are so big the company even had to come out with customized boxes. Lamanna has been serving up pizza since 2004.

Toronto isn’t the only place with a two-foot long pizza. In Yonkers, New York, the Yonkers Pizza Barn began selling a giant 24-inch slice after owner Angelo DeLuca created his own version of the giant slice. He posted a photo to Facebook and demand for big slices led to selling some out of his pizzeria.

DeLuca calls his slice the Super Slice. The slices require two pounds of dough, the equivalent of a regular 18-inch pie. The slices are not made as a round pie, and DeLuca isn’t sure there ever will be a 48-inch pie.