We haven’t even gotten to Halloween, but the yuletide season is in full swing … if you’re in the right place.
A giant red bauble, sparkling in a gleaming silver halo, is cast against a field of deep kelly green. With the holiday season’s most repulsive color scheme thrust upon us–even on this warm, glorious, early autumn afternoon–one can almost hear bells a-jinglin’, cash registers a-beepin’, and maids a-milkin’. You’d expect a lunch this special to be hand-delivered only to The Nice by ol’ Saint Nick himself, rewarding a full year’s-worth of good deeds. The Naughty get a lump of coal … or maybe Papa John’s.
But! Nerves need not be a-tanglin’ nor moods a-swingin’, uncles a-drinkin’, or temperatures a-sinkin’ because Christmas exists this time of year only in the mind of the lucky diner who finds him-, her-, or they-self in that Valhalla of American regional pizza, the mid-Mon Valley.
Why, it is here that Santa’s elves train year round in flour-dusted workshops on knife-scarred cutting boards. Classic rock will have to substitute for caroling and mountains of grated mozzarella are as close as we’ll get to the ice floes of the North Pole–but that’s all just window dressing to the main event.
Mon Valley red top pizza is it’s own thing. We went on and on about the greatness of the double-decker red top at Anthony’s Italiano, so we’ll not bore faithful “red heads” with another recitation of this unique style’s it’s-a-pizza and it’s-a-way-of-life transformative powers. No, we’re here today in Charleroi, at Armando’s Pizza, to once again chase the dragon, fly through the eye of the needle, and capture a moonbeam right in the palm of our collective hand. That’s what you get with a red top.
The pizza is all we could ever want: sustenance and gathering point, sure, but also good friend, consoling advisor, and life of the party. There’s a crusty dough on the edges where it’s been exposed to direct heat and a gloppy center as the red sauce ceiling has inevitably caved-in on the cheese and “toppings” innards.
Red top purists will tell you there are no additions to this pie. It’s pizza simple, they say: dough, cheese, and the eponymous red sauce. Yeah, that’s great if you’re a monk, but when Armando’s is giving away four toppings for an extra dollar-fifty, we’ll take that deal all day long. [Note: Armando’s online menu shows the price difference between the Original Red Top and Red Top Supreme at an absurd 50 CENTS!?!]
Like Anthony’s, the Armando’s in Charleroi isn’t fancy. (The pizzeria also has a sister location across the river in Monessen.) You order from a counter up front and grab a drink from one of many mostly-empty coolers. The dining room appears to have last been updated in the ferns-and-stained-glass 1970s and feels like it’s lived a number of lives since then. At this point, with its dark wood and pendant lighting, one might call the style P.J. O’Pootertoot-retro.
But you’re not at Armando’s to impress a boss, or parents, or your budding Internet romance. No, the hot date here is with a sublime style of pizza pie that one can only find in the towns along the banks of the Monongahela, where Santa decided to center all of his pizza-making divinity … OK, maybe God did that, not Santa–but you get the idea.
We’ll be back again … and again. There are other red tops to try and more of the gospel to spread. Just don’t tell Anthony we cheated on him.
Getting there: Armando’s is located at 583 Fallowfield Ave. in Charleroi and 201 Tyrol Blvd. in Monessen. It takes most of an hour to drive there from Pittsburgh.
4 thoughts on “The Pizza Chase: Mon Valley Red Top at Armando’s, Charleroi”
It is worth every bit of the effort to get there! You’ll want to take some Ho Ho Home!
yo bros and brags – – i dig on red jam za! glad you looking into this sorta spec. many a folks dont enjoy the red top, they seem to feed it to them owns dogs. but a good red top need baked in parm dust. broiled under such high heat that the parm turn black!!! yo mang, back in my cubby hole, i used to dig out homade pizza oven. i would throw all this coal and ash in there, and i dindt make it level, i wanted it underground. see. so i threw ash and hot ass coal down in the depths of the cave i was staying in, and i fired it up. i also would find old tires and plastic bags, which helped burn HARD. what you gatta do is lower in the “loaf” on a hook, down into the depths. say 10 mississippi’s and then start swanging!!! the fire pit could reach a good 1000 degree, so you gotta make sure you use good hook, and good line. (telepone line / cable best) YALL START SWANGIN down in that tire pit, you get good redux / reaction – – the dough BURNS, and MELTS. but makes a good casing for layered RED SAUCES.
THEN ADD RED SAUCE – PLUS GARLIC / BASIL – thats all. with salt. lotsa salt. then, all you gotta do is use shaker parmesean cheese (nestle or kraft), ALL OVER THAT DANG THING BRO, and then lower into pit again for about 2 mins.and the tire fire will turn all that cheese to burnt up rubber band flavored delicious!!!
BEST RED DISH ZA ROUND. you can do it. home town? that how we do in BRANCH RANCH JIMCA AKA : THE BLUR SANDS – – love your news reports!!! been seeing from busted flip phone which i hooked up to lap top. keep on!
JAMCENTRIC: you know it, brother! From PULSE GULCH aka OBSCENE RAVINE we’re going to keep bringing the ZA TA DA TA PA!
Thanks! High Quality photos. Always delightful read.