When we drive long distances together, my kids have one iron-clad rule: don’t let Mom choose the radio station.
That’s generally okay with me because if I can’t sing, then we have to converse. And on this drive, I had a lot to talk about.
We were headed to my daughter’s college graduation and apartment move-out in Boston, which is an eight-hour drive from Mt. Lebanon. We had not all been together for months, so I had a lot to catch up on.
My kids’ rules also limit discussing—or, more specifically, limiting Mom’s discussion of—anything personal, educational, informative, emotional, political or controversial, which leaves out everything except maybe ‘dinosaurs’ and ‘Things Dad Doesn’t Do Right.” (Even ‘salad’ incites disagreement in our house. And we can’t discuss tomatoes at all.)
So, as we headed northeast toward the Poconos, we had already exhausted most topics of conversation. Talk turned to tv shows, specifically ‘The Office.’
“Name all the branches of Dunder Mifflin in five seconds,” says one son.
“Utica, Syracuse, Rochester…” the other one starts. “Are there seven?”
“Stamford. Jim left for Stamford, remember? Then they merg…”
And lo and behold, at that moment the sign on I-80 says that Scranton is about an hour ahead of us. I took it as a sign in more ways than one, so we had to stop. Plus, it was lunch time.
“We have to go to the right restaurant, though,” they remind me.
“Remember when Michael ordered pizza and got it from the wrong Alfredo’s, and…?
“…it was like eating a hot circle of garbage!”
My children do not like road trips and they do not like taking chances on restaurants on the road. So, when I announced that we were driving to and from Boston, nobody got excited. In fact, they unanimously voted to fly, including my husband.
Scranton is a weekend trip from Pittsburgh and about halfway to Boston. Yet once we exited I-81, we were instantly in familiar territory. A mural at the exit welcomes us to Scranton, The Electric City, because Scranton was THE first city in the nation to run its streetcars solely on electricity. We instantly spy the clock tower from every episode’s opening scene, as well as the nearby Radisson Hotel that was mentioned but never seen. We follow the GPS and head straight to Alfredo’s Pizza Cafe.
It turns out that Alfredo’s Pizza Cafe of “Office” fame—not Pizza by Alfredo, the bad pizza place— is mere minutes from the Scranton exit, so we have enough time to both stop for pizza and tour Scranton, which apparently breaks another of my children’s rules: No diversions; if you are going out for pizza, you go for pizza, not a tour of the nearest metropolitan area.
“There’s a Chili’s here, you know.”
“There’s also a Hooters,” they add.
“And we’re not going there, either” I say. But we always agree on pizza.
Alfredo’s, our waitress tells us, serves Old Forge Pizza and you have to order it by the tray. Old Forge pizza is rectangular and is made on a rectangular metal tray. It has a light, crispy crust that’s soft and fluffy in the middle. It’s topped with a combination of cheeses, including American cheese, as well as the usual pizza toppings. We are all-in to try it, so we order a tray. (A medium amount of good pizza, not all-you-can-eat of pretty good pizza).
We also order mozzarella cheese sticks, zucchini planks and sodas and shop for souvenirs (including an Office/Alfredo’s hoodie for the college graduate) while we wait.
Old Forge Pizza was created in Old Forge, PA, a coal mining town of about 8,500 residents, five miles from Scranton. Legend has it that in the mid-1920’s, Nonna Filomena Ghigiarelli started making pizza using a mixture of whatever cheeses she had on hand as a late-night snack for the Italian coal miners who came to her husband’s tavern. The style caught on, and today every restaurant has its own special recipe for their Old Forge-style pizza.
In fact, the town of Old Forge, PA is THE Pizza Capital of the World. Albeit self-proclaimed, it is a well-deserved title and doubters are welcome to investigate it’s veracity by following the official Lackawanna County Pizza Trail and having their Pizza Passports stamped by more than 60 participating pizzerias.
I know: Detroit thinks it is the Pizza Capital of the World, but there is no official Detroit Pizza Trail nor pizza passport stamps to support that claim.
Our pizza arrives hot and perfectly baked. The cheeses on top meld into perfect cheesy, stringy bites of deliciousness as we dig in. The crust is perfect, the sauce is perfect, and we gobble down half a tray in no time despite the hefty portions of appetizers. We completely understand why The Office staff was not happy when Michael ordered from the wrong Alfredo’s.
When our stomachs are completely full, we pack up our leftovers and hit the road again, this time spotting the real-life University of Scranton and taking a quick photo from the car as we drive by.
On the way back to Pittsburgh we will take more photos of Scranton, including Lake Wallenpaupack (which we passed but no one would let me stop to see,) Cooper’s Seafood House (of course we took photos!) and Lackawanna College—also all real places.
We reach Boston in time to meet my daughter and husband for a late seafood dinner (he flew). Before sleeping, we watched a few episodes of The Office in the hotel room and I talked about the drive home, on which the halfway stop would again be Scranton, PA. Fortunately there are 201 episodes of The Office to discuss.