A Look At The History of Pizza In America "A Slice of History - Pizza in America" is a temporary exhibit in the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. Bob Uffer, the creator, tells us how he went about assembling it.
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A Look At The History of Pizza In America

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A Look At The History of Pizza In America

A Look At The History of Pizza In America

A Look At The History of Pizza In America

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"A Slice of History - Pizza in America" is a temporary exhibit in the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. Bob Uffer, the creator, tells us how he went about assembling it.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

On this Fourth of July, I want to take a moment to celebrate a most American cuisine - pizza. The story of how pizza came to America from Italy and how it became a staple of American diets is really the story of the people who brought it here - immigrants, families who came to New York through Ellis Island. A new exhibit on Ellis Island puts the spotlight on some of those immigrants and the pizzerias they run. It's the brainchild of Bob Uffer, and his quest to find the right five pizzerias to feature took him all over New York and New Jersey.

BOB UFFER: We're not 100% sure where the first pizza really came from. We think we know, but we're not 100% sure. Started doing my research - I'm knocking on doors, and I'm knocking on doors, and I'm talking about physically going to these locations and introducing myself and telling them who I am, telling them I'm not looking for money, and I'm trying to tell your family story (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UFFER: I wound up at a place called Nellie's Place in New Jersey, and Nellie's Place is an Irish pub. And I walk into this Irish pub, and I'm like, I want a beer and corn beef and cabbage. You know, Irish immigrants bought a restaurant after - Nellie was a waitress there, and they bought the restaurant after she worked there for many years. The long and short is they not only serve pizza; they sell about 2,000 pies a week. The pizza will blow you away.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UFFER: There's Johnny's Pizza (ph) in Mount Vernon, N.Y. 1895 is when their first family member emigrated from Naples, Italy. And I sat down with a gentleman named Joe Piscopo, and we had a conversation. And I'm going to tell you that that conversation lasted an hour and a half. I was crying. I was hugging him. And we were family.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UFFER: Then I looked into some others, and I wound up with Keste Pizza & Vino. And they're located in Manhattan. And Roberto, the owner - I had a whole conversation with him, and Roberto, I will tell you, is the pizza maestro. This guy has won more accolades and taught more people how to be master pizza-makers than you can shake a stick at. Roberto didn't come to this country till the late '90s or early 2000s, so there was a new immigrant. I never even knew there was a master pizza-maker.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UFFER: I wound up getting a name of New York Pizza Suprema - Joe Riggio. You know, Joe's mother picked out the location of this pizzeria in the early '60s. His father wasn't sure of the location, but the mother ruled the roost. And a few years later, Madison Square Garden moved right across the street. And he served nothing but plain slices for 20 or 30 years. And his whole thought was, to be successful in New York City, you do one thing, but you do it better than anyone else. And to this day, there's a sign over the counter that says exactly that. So it was years - it wasn't until his father retired that they started serving slices that had toppings on it. And everybody else had already done that, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UFFER: So now I'm at four - I'm at four who are going to show up (ph). Long and short is I wound up getting my own pizzeria because we all have our own pizzerias, don't we? So one day leaving work, I said to myself, how come I haven't called Posa Posa? The founder, Nonno Alfonso (ph), he spoke broken English at best. But whenever there was a family toast, the one thing that you could always make out from him was, God bless America, and that he said in perfect English. And that's how proud he was to be an American, though he never forgot his roots from the old country.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UFFER: I mean, it's just so interesting. I mean, in dealing with the pizza families, the five pizza families that I dealt with - and I'm sure it's - the case is true with all of them - they hold the recipes close to their heart. They're very proud of their heritage and where they came from and what they do, which tells you something, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: Bob Uffer of Evelyn Hill, Inc. - the food service concessionaire on Ellis Island. "A Slice Of History - Pizza In America" runs until Columbus Day in October.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THAT'S AMORE")

DEAN MARTIN: (Singing) When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore. When the world seems to shine like you've had too much wine, that's amore.

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