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Behind the Bracket: Pizza Styles of America

Something tells us you’ll be spending a lot of time over the next three weeks watching basketball. Mid-March means we’ve finally hit that special time of year when 68 of the country’s best basketball teams duke it out for the title of national champion. There’s something about pizza and game day that just goes together, so why not take it a step further and match your pizza order to who’s playing on TV? Here, dig into the pizza styles of America, inspired by a few of the teams that scored a spot in the tournament.

Philly (just a 20-mile ride from Villanova) is big on the tomato pie, which is an offshoot of a Sicilian and was brought to the area by the Italian immigrants who settled here. The focaccia-like dough is baked into a square pie that’s about 1-inch thick and topped with a sweet tomato sauce. Add a shake of Parmesan cheese and eat the “red top” pizza at room temp for an authentic Philly experience.

New Jersey
Princeton, a No. 12 seed in this year’s tournament, is 10 miles from Trenton, New Jersey, which also lays claim to a tomato pie. It’s similar to Philadelphia’s except that its crust isn’t as thick, and it’s round instead of square. The dough is topped with cheese, vegetables or meat, and a chunky sauce made from lightly crushed tomatoes—in that order so the tomato sauce comes last (hence the “Trenton tomato pie” name).

New York
There’s nothing like roaming the streets of New York—or sampling your way through the foods on those streets. On any given corner in New York City, you’ll find “dirty water” hot dogs and a pizza counter serving up dollar slices. Head down from Iona University in New Rochelle, and do as the New Yorkers do: Order a thin slice (usually topped with cheese only), fold it in half, and get on with your busy day.

Ohio Valley
The Ohio Valley touches several states—including Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania—so it’s no wonder the region is a hub of basketball talent with consistently good teams like Kentucky, West Virginia, Cincinnati, and Dayton calling it home. In these parts, the square Ohio Valley-style pizza (also known as Steubenville-style pizza) is king—and particularly unique because the cheese and other toppings are added after the pizza’s been baked. Not sold on the idea? Ohio Valley natives claim that method results in stringier and more flavorful cheese.

The Golden State is well represented in this year’s bracket. When UCLA is on the court, do as the Californians do and get creative with your toppings. Rather than sticking to basic pepperoni or sausage, a California-style pizza might stack its slices with seasonal vegetables, unexpected sauces like barbecue sauce or crème fraîche, and goat cheese or ricotta rather than traditional mozzarella. Want to really make it scream California style? Throw an egg on top.

Our hometown, which is just south of Evanston, home to the Northwestern Wildcats, is best known for deep dish. The genius part-pizza, part-casserole, and all-delicious creation was first baked in the 1940s. The flaky, buttery crust usually gets its yellow tint from cornmeal. It’s topped with cheese and smothered in tomato sauce. Find our take on the Chicago classic in the frozen pizza aisle. And keep in mind: You’ll need a fork and knife to tackle this one.