There are many different styles of pizza, and one type that is cooked in a pan sometimes brings to mind meals from days past – though perhaps meals that were memorable in a not-so-good way.
Indeed, the rectangular slices of Sicilian pizza or bakery pizza that can be found here and there in the Boston area and elsewhere in Massachusetts look eerily similar to the slices in school lunches from years ago (and possibly today, depending on the schools). While they had very little in common with the pizza from beloved places like Galleria Umberto in Boston’s North End or La Cascia in South Medford, it can be tough to convince people that these eateries are not serving school lunch pizza.
In a way, this applies even more to a longtime bakery north of Boston whose pizza squares look almost exactly like something you might find in a school cafeteria, but those who frequent Tripoli Pizza and Bakery in Lawrence certainly know better.
Sicilian pizza vs. bakery pizza vs. Detroit-style pizza
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A little background on rectangular (and square) pizza slices, since several styles of pizza have this look, which can lead to some confusion.
Sicilian pizza and bakery pizza (the latter of which is also called “grandma pizza”) are quite similar, though Sicilian slices tend to have a thicker and more airy crust while bakery/grandma pizza has a thinner and slightly more crackerlike crust. While Sicilian pizza can be made either with the cheese above or below the sauce, bakery pizza typically has the sauce on top of the cheese and there often isn’t much cheese at all, making these closer in style to a tomato pie.
Detroit-style pizza is also cut into rectangular slices and has a thicker crust, much like Sicilian slices, though the cheese tends to be the star of the show with this style, making it a favorite for cheese lovers. If you like pizza that is heavy on the tomato sauce, go with bakery pizza, and for something in between, Sicilian pizza may be best, though the lines do tend to blur a bit.
Eat New England
One other category worth mentioning here is beach pizza, which can mean a lot of things, but along the North Shore of Massachusetts and the New Hampshire coast, beach pizza is basically a version of bakery pizza but with options that lead to some serious controversy among pizza lovers (more on this in a bit).
What makes Tripoli's pizza special
Tripoli started out in the 1920s as a bakery in a section of Lawrence that was home to a large number of Italian immigrants, whose influence can still be seen today along Common Street. Pizza was added to the offerings at Tripoli in the 1940s and the business soon expanded to Salisbury Beach, with outlets in Seabrook, New Hampshire; North Andover; and Methuen following.
The original location on Common Street feels like it hasn’t changed at all over the years, with the street entrance leading to a traditional bakery and pastry shop. A short walkway in the back (or via a separate parking lot entrance) leads to the tiny pizza shop, where customers place their orders and sit in the little waiting area while workers cook sheets of the pan pizza in the ovens along the wall.
From Pizza to Cookies, What to Score at Tripoli
The setup feels a bit like two different businesses in a way – patrons often order their pizza, wait for it to be boxed up, pay at the counter, then walk into the bakery/pastry shop to pick up more items and pay at the counter in that space.
As mentioned, the pizza at Tripoli tends to lean toward bakery/grandma slices, with a thin and dense crust, a good amount of slightly sweet tomato sauce and a scattering of cheese. The slices most typically ordered here are plain or pepperoni, though toppings such as mushrooms, peppers, onions, ham and sausage are offered as well.
Here’s where the beach pizza part comes into play: slices can also be topped with a slice of American cheese or provolone cheese, which is something often found in places like Salisbury Beach and Seabrook (and it’s no coincidence that locations of Tripoli can be found in both) and tends to be a big no-no to pizza snobs. But it’s actually quite delicious, if not all that aesthetically pleasing.
If you’ve had slices at the aforementioned Galleria Umberto and are expecting these to taste similar, they are actually rather different, because Umberto’s slices are classic Sicilian; for slices in the Boston area that are a bit like those at Tripoli you probably would need to hit some of the old-school Italian bakeries in Everett, Medford, Malden, Revere or other communities just north of Boston, with Italian-American roots (Elm Street Bakery in Everett is a good example of this).
Beyond pizza at Tripoli
The bakery part of Tripoli in Lawrence is outstanding as well, offering all kinds of wonderful Italian treats. Highlights are many, including the colorful Italian cookies, rich-tasting squares of tiramisu, dense slices of carrot cake, freshly made cannoli, crunchy biscotti that go perfectly with a cup of cappuccino or espresso, and cream puffs and eclairs that will probably lead you to take a very pleasant nap after eating them.
Tripoli also offers a variety of cakes and pies, and, of course, scali bread, which is pretty much a requirement among local Italian bakeries and is a particularly popular item here.
In an era of social media, where “beautiful” foods take priority over more plain-looking items, bakery pizza doesn’t really get its due. But the deceptively simple slices offered at Tripoli Pizza and Bakery are pretty close to being works of art in their own right that can be bought for little more than pocket change, as can the marvelous goodies displayed in the pastry cases next door.
Tripoli Pizza and Bakery, 106 Common Street, Lawrence, MA, 01840. tripolibakery.com/lawrence