There are many distinct regional styles of pizza across the U.S., but some more well known than others. For example, New York-, Chicago-, Detroit- and New Haven-style pizza each have their own well-defined characteristics. These are the regional styles of pizza that tend to make a lot of “best of” lists.
But there are other lesser-known regional styles of pizza that are no less beloved. Take New England Beach Pizza, for example, which originated in Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts, in 1944. The pizza was first created by Angelo Zappala, owner and operator of Tripoli Bakery. The story goes that Zappala was looking for a way to drum up extra business during the World War II era and decided to try his hand at making pizza. His pizza caught on like wildfire on the Salisbury Beach boardwalk, and the rest is history.
About a year later, Cristy’s Pizza opened two doors down from Tripoli’s Salisbury Beach location. Cristy’s offered a very similar style of pie, and a fierce rivalry had begun. To this day, said Eater writer Hannah Selinger, who grew up in the area, locals have a favorite pizzeria: it’s either Tripoli or Cristy’s. Choosing one almost feels like a lifelong commitment—it’s akin to the pizza version of the Yankees/Red Sox, Selinger said.
The characteristics of beach pizza include a square shape and a thin crust with sweet sauce and sparing amounts of cheese. Both Tripoli and Cristy’s offer an added slice of provolone cheese for an upcharge. If a diner opts for provolone, a circular puck of cheese is tossed on top of the slice before it’s stuck into the oven.
The economic boom that followed World War II was good to Salisbury Beach. It emerged as a destination for Bostonians looking to beat the heat during humid summers. The village’s boardwalk bustled with traffic. Large, expensive beach houses were built, and the place became Massachusetts’ answer to Coney Island or Atlantic City. In fact, Salisbury Beach lays claim to being home to the first modern rollercoaster, The Sky Rocket, which ran from 1922–1955.
The good times didn’t last, with many observers pointing toward the 1970’s as a turning point for Salisbury Beach. Bostonians began frequenting other beach towns, and Salisbury Beach’s economic prosperity quickly dried up. These days, Salisbury Beach is something of a ghost town, especially during the offseason. Yet, the success of Tripoli and Cristy’s carries onward: Tripoli now has five locations, even pushing into Seabrook, New Hampshire, inhabiting a space on the Granite State’s precious 18 miles of coastline.
Tripoli has been a family-run pizza bakery since the 1920’s and will soon turn 100 years old. The brand’s first shop was opened in Lawrence, Massachusetts, about 30-45 minutes inland from Salisbury Beach. Interestingly, Matt Zappala—Tripoli’s current owner—refers to his pizza as “bakery-style pizza” rather than beach pizza. He says that is just one of the things that set Tripoli apart from other run-of-the-mill pizza operations.
“We are a bakery that makes and sells a bakery-style pizza,” Zappala told Seacoast Scene in 2018. “The freshness of our pizza—we prepare it to order, we mix the dough throughout the day, we don’t buy frozen dough or let dough [sit] for a long time, it’s fresh dough. We hand-roll the pizza and we make it to order. We have a unique-texture crust and flavor, and we use high-quality ingredients. We don’t skimp or use things like fillers…quality ingredients give [our pizzas] the rich flavor that it has.”
Cristy’s Pizza, on the other hand, is strictly pizza-focused. The brand now has two locations: one in Salisbury Beach and a second at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. Whether or not Cristy’s dedication to the art of pizza makes its product superior to Tripoli’s is a matter of debate—a topic of conversation that rages on some 70 years after beach pizza was invented.