I moved from the Youngstown, Ohio area in 1986 to Ashland, a couple of hours away. I visit frequently, now probably once a month, to see family and friends. While I'm there, I can't resist the urge to partake of some of the different foods that are available exclusively there or at least were when I was growing up.
Often noted, Youngstown was the melting pot of many ethnic persuasions, due to many Europeans immigrating there to work in the steel mills at the turn of the twentieth century. Almost every area had a specialty restaurant or store to supply the masses with their favorite food, reminding them of their homeland. It was understood by the local population of what side of town you were going to drive to for dinner depending on your palate that night.
Everyone has their favorite Comfort Food. I'll mention a few of mine and where to find it, if it's still available. I became partial to Italian food, which is the dominant heritage in Youngstown, hence the wide array of anything that came from Italy. Pizza parlors or restaurants that featured many Italian foods dominated the landscape of places to eat. My mouth waters just thinking about some of those dishes.
It's hard to declare my favorite pizza in the Youngstown area. It's like saying which one of your kids do you like best. Elmton Pizza on Fifth Street in Struthers stands as one of the best. Their huge, greasy slices are to die for, especially on Friday nights after a football game. It's a ritual for Wildcat Fans. Their meatball subs are spectacular, too. Wedgewood Pizza in Ausintown and Boardman probably serve more pizzas than the national chains in the area. Their deep-dish style is loaded with toppings and tons of mozzarella cheese that leaves a long string from your mouth to your plate. I usually pick one up on my way home from a visit. Wedgewood even ships their pizza anywhere in the country to those home-sick Youngstown folks that have a craving.
Petrillo Pizza that was on Powers Way in The Brownlee Woods Section of Youngstown, was famous for their "sheet" pizza. Four-inch squares of high-rise pizza that was plain on toppings, but loaded with flavor. Their sauce had a lot of garlic in it that stayed with you for hours. Our high school cafeteria offered Petrillo Pizza most Fridays and it always sold out. At twenty cents a slice, it was a cheap meal. I remember having a pizza eating contest with several other sixteen year old friends. I tied another guy for the win by eating fifteen pieces of pizza! Ah, the days when my metabolism could handle anything. Petrillo closed a few years ago. Wish I had known, I would have attended the Wake.
Another main-stay of Youngstown's foods was DiRusso's Italian Sausage. Starting out as a little Mom And Pop restaurant in Lowellville, many decades ago, it has evolved into a Major Brand. Be still my heart the first time I walked into a Sam's Club and found it available by the case in the Freezer Section! I've been a fan of DiRusso's since the sixties. They had opened a small restaurant in Canfield, but it has since closed. Until their national marketing in the last few years, the only place you could get an authentic sausage sandwich was at festivals or fairs where they had a trailer. Nothing beat a DiRusso's Sausage Sub made on a Hoagie loaded with grilled onions and peppers and topped with Marinara Sauce. Yum!
The Canfield Fair, the largest county fair in the country, is held every year for a week, ending on Labor Day. I've attended the fair most years since I've been a wee tot. Nothing temps your taste buds more than the area foods offered at The Canfield Fair. DiRusso's has several trailers there as well as Richardson's French Fries. Good "Fair fries" can't be matched. Long, golden-brown fries stuffed in a cardboard cup, covered with malt vinegar and salt with optional ketchup. Some wise entrepreneur bought the old malt machines from downtown Youngstown's Strouss's Department Store after it closed and had the original recipe for the frozen concoction. Any Baby Boomer from the area had to have one if they spotted their booth. I, of course, was one on them. Similar to a Wendy's Frosty, but ten times creamier and richer, Strouss's Malts were a must have if you were shopping downtown.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention Pirogi, available at many Catholic Churches in the area on Friday afternoons. The pronunciation varies as widely as the variety of filling they had available. Pa-row-gee was how I always said it. Close enough. They were thin dough squares folded over to about three inches square or in a half moon shape. Filled with potato, cheese, lectvar(prune), and/or onion. Boiled for several minutes and covered usually with a butter sauce. Once again, Yum!
One of the treats when I was on-duty at the North Side Fire Station in Struthers on Fridays was to drive the Fire Truck up to Holy Trinity Church. The sweet, old ladies making Perogi in the basement would fill my cooking pot to the rim at no charge. They loved their Firemen. We loved them back, especially on Fridays!