Food & Ingredients

The Rhode Island Red Strip: Pizza Without the Cheese

Also called bakery pizza, this style is a celebration of that often overlooked but all-important ingredient: the sauce.

Is pizza really pizza if it doesn’t have cheese? That’s one of the chief characteristics of a style called “bakery pizza” that’s unique to—but ubiquitous throughout—Rhode Island.

Also known as red strips, these pizzas are served at room temperature and cut into rectangles. “So if it’s easier for you to think of it as focaccia, go ahead, but either way, try it,” food-and-travel writer Larry Olmsted once noted in USA Today. “It is a very satisfying, even slightly addictive comfort food.”

So what exactly are we talking about here? Bakery pizza is essentially a tray of baked dough covered in tomato sauce. The crust is thinner than Sicilian-style pizza but thicker than New York- and New Haven-style pies. The sauce, on the other hand, is quite thick, almost paste-like. And the baker might sprinkle a little grated Romano cheese on top of it.

Related: 11 non-pizza items you can make with your existing pizza dough

But bakery pizza isn’t really about the cheese. As Katie Lendeck wrote in the Providence Journal earlier this year, this pizza style “isn’t trying to be like the other pizzas out there. It’s a much simpler celebration of the most often overlooked element of a pizza: the sauce.”

This photo shows three red strips topped with tomato sauce and one white strip.
Colvitto’s Pizza and Bakery / Instagram

Or, as Tasting Table’s Austin Havens-Brown reported on September 1, “If you’ve ever experienced Sunday gravy at an authentic Italian-American restaurant or happen to be friendly with an Italian grandma, this is the type of sauce you can expect [in bakery pizza]. It’s rich and thick, made of tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper and fresh herbs like oregano and basil.”

Brian Boza, owner of Borelli’s Pastry Shop in Coventry, put it more succinctly in the Providence Journal. “You go to Grandma’s house, and the sauce will be perfect,” he said. “It is a culture thing.”

One well-known Providence-area bakery, DePetrillo’s Pizza & Bakery, also offers pizza chips, essentially snack-sized red strips on thin squares of crust. You can also find red strips at joints like the Original Italian Bakery in Johnston, Colvitto’s Pizza in Narragansett and LaSalle Bakery in Providence.