The Forks blog

Is the pepperoni roll a Pittsburgh food?

Written by Melissa McCart on

mancinisA few Sundays ago at La Prima Espresso, a sheet pan filled with pepperoni rolls sat by the register. Half-moons of meat paged between spiraled bread stumps layered with cheese.

I thought it strange pepperoni rolls were the day's pastry of choice, since so few Pittsburghers I've talked to will admit they eat them, let alone like them. 

Yet they're everywhere, particularly in any neighborhood that features an Italian grocer. They're at Mancini's in the Strip. They're called wraps at Winghart's, where diners can choose from rolls stuffed with ham and swiss, vegetables or BLT in addition to pepperoni. They're at Donatelli's in Bloomfield, where they're made on-site.

"They're like Hot Pockets," said a friend with disdain. 

"I'd maybe eat them if I had to," said colleagues when I asked them why there are so many pepperoni rolls here. 

The ubiquity of pepperoni rolls in Pittsburgh suggests they're a regional ethnic eat as worthy of recognition as pierogies.

One reason they're not embraced may have to do with their origin. A quick search attributes the birth of pepperoni rolls to Giuseppe Argiro in Fairmont, W.Va., in 1927.

John T. Edge chronicled it as the manna of miners and other West Virginians in "Fast Food Even Before Fast Food."

"In the northern reaches of West Virginia, along a corridor of Appalachia stretching from Buckhannon, through Clarksburg, up to Morgantown, an appetite for pepperoni rolls cuts across class strata."

Mr. Edge details how the pepperoni roll was a one-handed meal for those from the Calabria region of Italy.

But it's not like Mr. Argiro invented something entirely new, noted Mr. Edge, who compares a roll to a British-inspired meat pasty or a Tennessee moon pie.

What makes for a good pepperoni roll that might win converts?

"The tell is in the bread," wrote Mr. Edge. The bread of a pepperoni roll is similar to thick, Sicilian pizza crust.

Perhaps the pepperoni roll could boost its image in Pittsburgh if a chef particularly good at house-made charcuterie would team up with an exceptional baker. (Calling Mr. Severino...

Or maybe it's just a matter of shifting perspective to gain converts. A future pepperoni roll tasting chronicled on this blog may be in order.

Mancini's photo

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