The Most Read Stories of 2023: Who's Got It? The Best Pizza in Boyertown


Like everything he has written for The Expression, this article by Mike Strzelecki, written in February 2023, ended up in the top three most read articles of the year.

by Mike Strzelecki

Eating eight slices of pizza for one lunch was not going to be our finest hour as journalists, but sometimes you have to set aside social norms (and your own dignity) to get the story.

The plan was simple; we were going to find the best slice of pizza in Boyertown. To do so, we would walk a five-mile loop through Boyertown and Gilbertsville, stopping at each of the eight independent pizzerias along the way (sorry, Domino’s…. no chains).

I am a 1981 graduate of Boyertown Area Senior High School and a carb enthusiast. My culinary cohort was Jane Stahl, my 8th grade English teacher and Associate Editor of this Boyertown Area Expression, known for putting into motion sketchy ideas for feature stories - like this one. It has been 46 years since we last met in person - well, since I was in 8th grade - but we decided to reacquaint over a prolonged and adventurous lunch about town.

Jane and I met in the parking lot of Argento’s Pizza and Family Restaurant, in the Town Plaza. Argento’s sits on the site of the former Burger Chef, Boyertown’s original fast food joint, well before the McDonald’s invasion. I recalled to Jane how in high school, I spent half a day employed at Burger King before being “let go.” Apparently management took issue with me and a few workmates putting too vast of an array of foods - and maybe even some non-food items - through the burger griller to test their combustibilities.

We ordered two plain cheese slices. In the name of fairness and conformity, we opted to forgo any toppings on our slices, as they might sway our attention away from the vital triad of pizza components - dough, tomato sauce, and cheese.

Jane donned her teacher’s cap for this exercise and set up a rubric that we used to compare the slices. The rubric entailed a dozen categories that ranged from the necessary (how crispy was the crust; how tasty was the sauce), to the comprehensive (how clean was the eatery, how friendly were the servers), to the silly (are Italians cooking and serving the pizzas? How is their tattoo situation? Their hair styles?). 

At Argento’s, a teenage girl with a wide smile slid two slices across the counter at us. As critics, we strove to find the positives and pitfalls of each slice, but had difficulty finding any negatives with these slices . They were deliciously thin. The sauce and cheese were both tasty and mixed in perfect proportion.

And they adhered to my personal rule for New York style pizza slices: when lifting the slice to your mouth, you must be able to half-fold the slice and keep the tip upright without it sagging or flopping down and dripping grease. We deemed the slices exemplary. 

As a confession, I was fortunate to have Jane as my wingperson on this day. My culinary palette tends toward the Neanderthal. Being of Polish heritage, I am lucky to differentiate between potatoes and cabbage, so trying to discern whether the cooks snuck a dash of sugar into the sauce, or whether the mozzarella cheese was of proper moisture content, were non-starters.

I realized I would be relying on Jane’s more refined palette for the finer details of our investigation. But I also knew that, as someone who has ingested an unquantifiable number of slices over my 59 years, I know a damn good pizza when I taste it. 

We departed Argento’s and set off north on Philadelphia Avenue into a windy snow storm. We walked past well-preserved, stately Victorian homes built in the late 1800’s that refuse to cede their charming cornices and ornamentation to modernization.

We spotted the roof of my childhood house peaking over shrubs. The sprawling carnation greenhouse complex that once abutted my yard has long since given way to a townhouse development, but walking by, I could still smell the thousands of rotting flowers they used to dump in massive piles next to my house.

Our second stop was Mamma Maria’s Restaurant and Pizzeria, at the corner of Philadelphia Avenue and Madison Street. The quality of Mamma Maria’s pizza was on par with Argento’s. The slices were generous and tasty, and the sauce-to-cheese ratio was on point.

The atmosphere of Mamma Maria’s was charming, evoking a Sicilian flair. The walls were splashed with Italian frescos and the hardwood interior set forth a pleasant ambiance. Mamma Maria’s would be a great spot for families to end the busy day and talk about how soccer practice went and how your daughter did on her math quiz. 

We continued through town, cutting through the snow and wind, lost in conversation. We exchanged stories about our children, compared career trajectories, and reminisced about what used to be in this building or that one.

I was anxiously anticipating our next stop: Carmelo’s Pizza, located beside the railroad tracks, on Philadelphia Avenue. This is where my friends and I spent a substantial chunk of my weekends in high school, when it was called Vince’s.

Every Friday night, we would each take two dollars into town. The first one was spent at this pizzeria where we got two slices of plain cheese pizza (35 cents each) and a Coca Cola (30 cents). The second dollar was for whatever movie happened to be playing at the State Theater.

Alas, my nostalgic stroll was not meant to be: Carmelo’s was closed for the day. But looking in the window, the images of my soccer team taking over the booths - and probably leaving behind a disastrous mess for Vince to clean up - were still freshly etched.

Jane and I marveled at the number of Italian restaurants and pizzerias in the immediate Boyertown area. While pizza came to America with Italian immigrants beginning in the 1800s, the first official pizzeria in America, Lombardi’s in New York City, did not open until 1905.

I was not able to find when Boyertown’s first pizzeria opened, but I recall several available growing up here beginning in the 1960s. Demographics for Pennsylvania show that about 15 percent of the population identifies as having Italian heritage, meaning that more than 500 Italians live in the Boyertown area, enough to support a dynamic Italian dining community.

As we ambled toward Boyertown’s main crossroad, our conversation swerved towards the arts, a subject of Jane’s interest. We stepped from the cold into Jane’s toasty Studio B art gallery. Jane has assisted local fine artist Susan Biebuyck over the past 14 years in creating the studio to highlight the immense artistic talent we have in the immediate area, and the studio was part of Boyertown’s art renaissance that has occurred in the past decade or so.

Theodore Dreiser called art the stored honey of the human soul, and Jane understood that cultural institutions had to be part of any renaissance that Boyertown would experience. She currently serves as Director of Community Relations for Studio B and helps administer the gallery.

Inside, we hydrated with diet ginger ales and took in the latest exhibit. The paintings included a far-ranging number of subjects and covered most of the bare walls. The theme of this particular exhibit was FACE.

My attention kept returning to a striking portrait of someone’s teenage daughter, seated in a flowing light gray gown, contemplating something only the artist knows as she gazes down upon a closed book on her lap. The lighting and shading and dress detail were startling and Jane mentioned that this piece won Best in Show award in the studio’s most recent exhibit. 

Artist Marky Barto, oil, “Memories”

After a brief rest, our snowy saunter continued through town. We turned left down Reading Avenue, forging past revamped stores and restaurants. We passed Iezzi’s on 3rd bar, a favorite town meeting place for 80 year that has expanded in recent years under new ownership. As a child, our family would sneak into a back room that had four tables and eat mounds of tasty spaghetti and meatballs, entertained by the yelps and laughs of the bar patrons one room over.

We ducked into Mario’s Pizza . This pizzeria did not have the inviting ambiance of the well-appointed eateries we visited earlier. There were boxes piled around a few booths and posters clung to walls instead of murals.

But the workers were both older Italian gentlemen who exuded kindness and friendliness and the slice of pizza was divine. It was larger than most slices and had a more subtle tomato flavor. The thin crust was nicely caramelized on the bottom. Good pizza makers know that the soul of the pie lies in the crust and this particular slice was expertly constructed. Though unadorned in appearance and atmosphere, Mario’s had an unusually authentic Italian aura.

In earlier days, this hub held Fisher’s Atlantic Gas Station. Jane recalled that as a junior high student herself, she spent a day here surveying customers who stopped for gas about their opinions on pending legislation requiring seat belts in automobiles. She said that that assignment made her aware that not everyone felt comfortable responding to requests for their opinions and, to some degree, helped form her teaching style years later.

We wound our way down the back streets of town, moving past the Colebrookdale Railroad, another keystone of Boyertown’s revitalization. Our conversation topics were far-flung. We talked about the virtues and taste of Impossible Burger compared to real hamburger, and came very close to solving the divisiveness problem in our current political climate. We chatted about dog walks and other good eateries in town.

As snow gave way to freezing rain, we chose to abandon the walking and drove to the three Gilbertsville pizzerias. Marco’s Pizza and Family Restaurant is hidden behind the Petvalue store in the Gilbertsville Shopping Center. The servers spoke with an Italian accent and sported hip spiked hair, and we knew that we were in good hands. In the back was a dining room with Italian decor that would be perfect for family dining, but we opted for a sunny table near the counter.

This was the thinnest and crispiest slice we tasted all day. Jane considered that the art of creating the crust was much like the art of crafting fine bone china; the thinner and lighter, the better, showcasing the artists’ mastery of technique. The commingling between sauce and cheese was spot on. It became clear that making fine New York style pizza was this town’s forte. 

At this point, we were past sated and entering “oh no, not another slice” territory. We walked into Little Gio’s Pizza Shop, at the corner of Route 73 and Congo Road, a place I have visited numerous times in its previous incarnation as an ice cream shop. The pizzeria is strictly take-out with no tables and only three chairs in a tiny alcove where you order. This is where we sat to eat our slices, raising our feet so they could replace the carpeting in the waiting area while we dined.

Our slices were cheesier than most we encountered, and the cheese stringier. It carried more oil, and as such, offered a less traditional flavor than others. It was a slice that would be very agreeable to those who order extra cheese on their pizzas. 

Our final target stood directly across the street from Little Gio’s. On any other day, I would say that Nonna’s Pizzeria looked deliciously inviting, draped in the reds and greens of the Italian flag. But at this particular time, our stomachs were topped off. We were full of crust and cheese and the sauces seeped into our stomach’s interstitial spaces. We took a deep breath as we crossed the street, admittedly dreading the thought of partaking in yet another cheese slice.

When we met the front door, a sign declared that the pizzeria was closed for a few weeks and offered sincere apologies. We rejoiced. Our luncheon journey came to an abrupt halt, much to the delight of our appetites who had already tapped out. 

We stood in a parking lot, in the windy rain and snow, recapping our culinary expedition. We both expressed surprise at how consistently good Boyertown pizza really is. To actually pick a favorite would be a disservice to the other pizzerias in town.

The slices in which we partook were tasty across the board. I currently live in Baltimore where the pizza is notably subpar. I did not expect to encounter this quality of pizza in every shop in Boyertown that we tested.

What really jumped out at us was the difference in atmospheres between the pizzerias. Some had cozy surroundings, perfectly set up for unhurried casual family dining. Others were more utilitarian - ideal for rushing in and grabbing a slice or two for lunch before hustling back to work. Others were set up only for take-out. Boyertown is a community where residents can choose whichever atmosphere is most accommodating and know that they will get a top-notch pizza when they arrive. It is a dining privilege not to be taken for granted. 

One beautiful aspect of pizza is that it is the food of all people. It spans all social classes and ethnicities. You can always find a pizzeria while traveling and know that you will probably get an acceptable meal at a fairly reasonable price.

What’s more, pizza is an elixir that notoriously brings people together. You have pizza parties, not meat loaf or veal cutlet parties. And I was fortunate that on this snowy and blustery January afternoon, pizza is what reunited me with Jane and reignited a friendship that sat latent for 46 years.

Mike Strzelecki is a 1981 graduate of Boyertown Area Senior High School and a freelance travel and outdoors writer. He writes from his home in Baltimore, Maryland. He is author of Baltimore With Children and Urban Hikes in and Around Baltimore. His work has also appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Baltimore's Child, Running Times, Trail Runner, Ultrarunning, and Pennsylvania. He recently retired after a career as an analyst in energy regulation, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC. 

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