Mineo's or Aiello's? Pittsburghers Nationwide Duke it Out via Facebook
On bustling Murray Ave. in the heart of Squirrel Hill sit two pizzerias. Mineo’s
, the elder statesman in this pizza parlay, has been around since 1958 while Aiello’s
, the upstart, opened up shop a mere thirty years ago. Surely, the neighborhood is big enough for two pizzerias, right? Well yes, and in fact there are more nearby, but when it comes to the question of best pizza it's Mineo's or Aiello's and the tendency is to line up firmly in one camp or the other. Period.
This sense of pizza fidelity is what prompted Mary Murrin, an exec at Carnegie Learning
, to start a Facebook group addressing that oft-asked question: Mineo’s or Aiello’s?
After a hallway conversation with a colleague, she set up the online group in five minutes flat and was stunned to find that ninety people had joined the conversation in its first four days. Equally surprising to Mary was the fervor with which people responded.
Mineo's or Aiello's?"This was the first question I got from an ENT (Ears, Nose, Throat) here in Dallas when he found out I was from Pittsburgh. Thankfully I answered correctly (Mineo's. Is there really a question?) Otherwise the scope might still be down my throat.
"Beyond the Pie
“I thought we were talking about pizza but then we weren’t,” says Mary. “It was about high school, old friends, cutting school and hiding out in the pizzeria.”
Mary was no stranger to either conversation. A resident of the East End and graduate of Taylor Allderdice High School, her family tended to favor one pizzeria over the other until Mary and her sisters grew up, married and found that their new spouses had other pizza allegiances.
“If you loafed in the East End, you had the conversation – Mineo’s or Aiello’s,” Mary continues. “Then the conversation got into my family.”"It’s Aiello’s for slices and Mineo’s for pies.
""Puh-lease. MINEO'S. With Lipitor on the side.
It’s hard for Mary to pinpoint why people in this part of town feel so strongly about pizza. She reasons a lot of it has to do with the traditional nature of Pittsburghers and the likelihood that folks will have pizza where their parents had pizza. A more subtle subtext may have to do with allegiances to schools such as Central Catholic, Winchester Thurston and Taylor Allderdice. If your crowd hung out at one establishment, you were likely to do the same.
“One sister's husband, Jimbo, went to Central Catholic and another sister’s husband, Jon, went to Allderdice,” says Mary. “They both grew up in Squirrel Hill and met playing 14th Ward baseball when they were kids. It was Aiello’s for Jimbo and Jon always went to Mineo’s.”“Mineo’s is the worst thing to happen to Pittsburgh since Sid Bream.” "Mineo's. NO Aiello's. NO Mineo's! NO Aiello's! F$%@ I can't decide. Love em both.
"It's the Guys Behind the Counter
And then there were those who chose one pizzeria over the other based on the talent behind the counter. The guys at Aiello’s were the consensus cuties, even if one poster to the group was compelled to declare that “Aiello’s is carpet.” Such is the intensity that can be found in the over 400 posts to this online group that now counts over 1,100 members, at least half of them from out of state. Safe to say, however, that they haven’t forgotten the neighborhood or its fabled pizza pies.
“I love the woman who said her ex would dab the grease off the Mineo’s pizza with napkins,” says Mary. “She knew right then that the relationship was doomed." This penchant for pizza as metaphor for compatibility and the trials and tribulations of youth is echoed by other posters, such as the fellow who frequented Aiello’s until they towed his friend’s car and the young thug who egged patrons of Mineo’s as they walked out the door.
Then there’s the poster who called the entire conversation an apples and oranges debate, “like, which is better, Heinz or Hunt’s Ketchup?” while another member of the group reminisces about “Friday nights at Aiello’s for fifty-cent slices and whoever will get us beer.”
“I always take two cuts off the top at Aiello’s.” "Mineo's please. They will deliver to any state. They freeze and then overnight them. A little taste of home whenever we want." Pizza Puglilists
For some respondents to this Facebook thread, the question is a moral one, since speculation is rampant that Joe Aiello stole the pizza recipe from Old Man Mineo when he opened his shop down the street. Some want to know if there really was a fistfight on Murray Ave. between the pizza dons.
“I don’t think my dad stole the recipe,” says Mike Aiello, Joe’s son. “You tell me. They don’t even taste the same.” As to the rumored fight, “I’ve never heard about that. But I’ll ask my dad ‘cause if it did happen, I want to know who won.” And are the purported pizza pugilists on speaking terms these days? “No, hell no,” says Mike with a glint in his eye.“It’s Napoli’s for subs.” Aiello's all the way! Love ya Joe! Can't come into Pittsburgh without taking 4 -5 pies home to FLA!
A handful of respondents try to take the conversation elsewhere, waxing eloquent about Napoli’s subs and Vincent’s pizza but they are quickly slammed down by others, including Mary Murrin herself. We won't say who, except to note that it wasn't at Mineo's or Aiello's, but at one shop mentioned by a poster, the pizza maker “went into the men's room with flour on his hands and came out with flour on his hands (thanks for sharing, Rogie). And that cig in his mouth? There was usually a 1/2 inch ash hanging precariously over your pie. Except when there wasn't."
Hoping to settle the conversation once and for all, or at least tamp down the debate, Central Catholic held the First Annual Aiello’s Pizza vs. Mineo’s Pizza Challenge in 2008. The winner? Aiello’s.
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Elaine Labalme writes the New Girl in Town columns for Pop City.
From the top: Mike Aiello; Mineo's pizza; Mary Murrin; Aiello's pizza; the trophy (yes, the real thing).Photographs copyright Brian Cohen