Grandma Pies: the Square Peg

It’s pretty simple. Westchester pizza is usually divided into two types, Sicilian and regular, with thick and thin crust, square and round pies. These are the geometric, clear, elementary distinctions that make the average diner feel comfortable…there’s no culinary gray area on these pies.

Until now. That Long Island regional pizza, Grandma pie, is hitting Westchester at Chubby’s Express. Square, and of medium thickness, it blends the two basic New York pizza styles. According to Erica Marcus of New York Newsday (as re-told in Ed Levine’s Pizza: A Slice of Heaven), “among the men who left Southern Italy to find their fortunes making pizza on Long Island, many cherished memories of a pizza made at home by Mama or Grandma. These pizzas were modest, thin-crusted, strewn sparingly with chopped tomatoes from the garden and just a little cheese [it was expensive] and then baked in a pan—Mama had no pizza oven.”

Grandma pies’ Long Island history is short and a little vague. It appeared for sale in the 1990s in places like Umberto’s in Hyde Park, though Umberto’s pizzaiolos claim that they’d been making the pie for their own meals since the 1970s. (This, BTW, is a dining scandal—the meals that cooks make for themselves in restaurants are so much tastier than the stuff slung to diners.)

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We stopped by Chubby’s Express in Eastchester to check out the Westchester version. (Chubby’s is take-out only, super-clean and bright.) As standard for the breed, this square Grandma piecrust was somewhere between Sicilian and Neapolitan/American in thickness. Its bottom had that pleasant, foccacia-like oiliness of being crisped in a pan rather than on the floor of oven. And instead of sauce (or tomatoes from the garden), Chubby strews large, diced, canned tomatoes in geometric precision over the square. The chunks add a watery/acidic punch to each bite that nicely moderates a thicker base (which can be dry).

And did we mention oregano? This pie arrives freely, open-handedly showered with oregano, which lends it a muscular, aromatic intensity.

We do have some quibbles with this pie. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of an ingredient snob when it comes to pizza, and I turn off when I see hard, translucent, low-moisture cheese on a pie—I’m looking for juicy, white fior de latte. Of course, that’s merely my own Italophilic bent: I know several New York City slice hounds that go teary-eyed for “mucoid” blobs that can be slipped from the dough in a single yellowy/clear sheet. (These same folks also wax romantic about the copious orange grease that drips from the folded New York slice, but that’s another story.) My other critique is that with a thicker, Grandma (or Sicilian) piecrust, the dough itself has to be great. Yeasty, bready, and tasty are key—with an olive-oil-crisped bottom coming from pan-cooking. Sadly, the Chubby’s crust can be a little less yeasty and bready, and a little more cardboardy/Stouffers-y.

Yet quibbles aside, Chubby’s Grandma pie offers a refreshing take with its watery punch of diced tomato and nose-tickling oregano. Plus, these folks have a lotta fun with their Frialator—something I was always tempted toward, but never actually indulged when I had the access (something about being in a supervisory role, or some such nonsense.) Look for Chubby’s desserts, like batter- dipped fried cannoli, fried Oreo cookies and Twinkies, and something that makes me a little frightened: dessert pizza. This last comes in two varieties, peanut butter and jelly, and apple pie and caramel. I think the less said about those, the better.

Chubby’s Express
102 Fisher Ave, Eastchester

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