There’s a secret pizza style found only in Rhode Island. Known as a pizza strip, red strip, or bakery pizza, this hyper-local flatbread pizza leads to quite the controversy since it’s topped with nothing but a thick layer of tomato sauce. That’s right—a pizza made without any cheese.
The cheese-less pizza looks a bit naked when compared to nearby New Haven-style pies. The dough is thicker than New Haven and New York pizzas, but somewhat thinner than New York Sicilian slices. And if the lack of cheese wasn't too surprising, the way the strips are served still might be: pizza strips are meant to be eaten cold.
The sheets of dough are baked up and topped with sauce before slicing into rectangles. But this simplicity is exactly why it was popular. Since it didn't have cheese, the pizza strips could be stored at room temperature making them readily available as an all-day snack.
Originally, Rhode Island bakeries had pizzas topped with cheese—a snack for customers looking for pastries and cakes. But the pizza was stored at room temperature and local health departments objected to the lack of refrigeration. However, without the cheese, there was less concern the food would spoil and the red strip was born.
The pizza's bread-like quality helps explain its origin, and where to find it today. Pizza strips aren’t typically served at pizzerias, but instead at confectionery bakeries featuring cakes and pastries. They can also be found today in the bakery sections of supermarkets alongside bread.
Borelli's Pastry Shop in Coventry, Rhode Island is thought to be the first bakery making the red strips, according to Katie Landeck at The Providence Journal. The style soon spread to bakeries in Providence’s Little Italy on Federal Hill and to surrounding suburbs. But outside of this very local area, don’t expect to find a pizza strip. These are Rhode Island specialties that can’t be found anywhere else.
Here's a look at a few bakeries that make Rhode Island pizza strips:
D. Palmieri’s Bakery
Rhode Island's oldest Italian bakery, it has been around since 1905. It originally opened in Providence's tiny Little Italy, Federal Hill, but has since moved to Johnston, west of the city. It might be the oldest bakery, but it’s not clear when Palmieri’s began cooking pizza strips. Today, Palmieri's strips are available at Dave's market, an upscale grocery chain.
DePetrillo’s Pizza & Bakery
Although the bakery also sells more traditional pizza topped with cheese and cut into triangles, DePetrillo's is one of the best-known locations to find the strips. The bakery is a fourth-generation family establishment that first started baking in 1967.
Carlo Venda first opened the shop in 1928 on Federal Hill in Providence selling handmade pasta. In 1972, Alan Costantino bought the market and expanded it, and now produces more than 150 varieties of frozen pasta, particularly focused on stuffed pastas like ravioli, tortellini, and agnolotti. However, the shop is also known for its pizza strips. Twenty years ago, the Providence Journal published Venda’s pizza strip recipe.
The bakery first opened in 1930 before Jake DeMaria bought it in 1935. Forty years later, Michael Manni bought the bakery and began expanding it. Today, it is owned by Manni's son and has two locations. The sauce on their pizza strips is sweeter than most, and rumors of a dusting of parmigiana cheese.
Founded in Narragansett, Rhode Island in 1992, the family-run bakery prepares pizza dough fresh each morning. Not only can strips be bought individually, but full-size party pies are available too.
Ian MacAllen is America Domani's Senior Correspondent and the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American. He is a writer, editor, and graphic designer living in Brooklyn. Connect with him at IanMacAllen.com or on Twitter @IanMacAllen.