My first impressions of Pittsburgh pizza were college-town cheese rivers and soggy crusts that were $5 after-hours and, to my horror, served (and happily received) with ranch dressing on the side. Pizza definitely was not a staple of my diet while I lived here for school, stubborn to exploring outside of the school’s perimeters for something that reminded me of home, that classic Jersey slice. I simply convinced myself that such a thing did not exist in this city.
However, now that I can explore Pittsburgh outside of my student-vision and with a more positive outlook on the city’s pizza scene, I’ve had my fair share of classic, delicious, and perfectly prepared pizza pies. From the “gourmet” pizzas of the Napolean style or those pies garnished with the city’s farm’s most fresh ingredients at a local brewery, there is also a thriving presence of the small shop, quick grab-and-go, takeout for the family on a Friday night staples, and Aiello’s Pizza in Squirrel Hill seems to be the champions of it all.
With a somewhat recently renovated space equipped with a full bar and fridge full of local brews, Aiello’s is giving a whole new meaning to the Friday night pizza ritual: grab a whole pie, or even create your own individual slices, a case of beer, and head home to the fam. What’s more, owners and spouses Cathy and Travis know most returning customers that walk through the door, and the relationships that have been built with over 40 years in business is a big reason why customers and entire families keep coming back.
“One of my favorite things is seeing the kids of long-time customers coming in with their own families, or that they’re just grown up, and I’m like I remember when they were coming in as kids with their parents,” recites Cathy, whose father started the shop in 1978.
Though the nightly takeout crowd is ever-growing, and it’s noted that that’s where a majority of the business comes from, Aiello’s also seems to be growing when it comes to their lunch crowd, especially with the ability to grab a quick single beer and the selection of various slice options, which I have found is very few and far between in the city. Travis takes pride in and is extremely meticulous when it comes to the beers they have both at the bar and in the fridge; it’s important to him to have a variety and large representation of local brews.
Being a family run and owned business, it’s important for the tag team to make sure the family recipes and rituals are kept in-tact and stay weaved into the evolving brand. In a city where the “gourmet” pizza shop is on the rise, it’s important to Aiello’s to stay close to their family roots.
“To be honest at this point, I’m the only one that knows the original sauce recipe… it’s all in my head. The sauce and our Italian dressing and hoagie dressing are all things I only know how to do.”
With two young children in the mix, plus long hours for both owners, finding time to spend together comes from exploring other pizza shops in the city, both to scope out other pizza trends and to support other local pizza businesses.
However, it’s noted that both kids have already grown to have strong opinions and tastes when it comes to their pizza palettes, so spending time as a family comes from spending time at home or trying other cuisines.
Being immersed in the heart of Squirrel Hill is something that is not lost on the shop. When it comes to events and donations, Cathy stresses how important it is for both the family and shop to be as involved and supportive as possible.
“I really enjoy the Wine Walks because it gets people to walk around Squirrel Hill and experience what all of the businesses have to offer.”
Whether a classic plain pie or slice is your go-to, or you’re feeling adventurous and want to dive into one of the newer specialty pies that were not on the original menu, such as the Pierogi Pizza (which I highly recommend to be paired with a nap shortly after), Aiello’s is a one-stop spot for all things pizza, beer, and hospitality, regardless of if you’re staying or going.