The calzone seems to have originated in Napoli in the 18th century. That shouldn’t be too surprising. Flatbreads with toppings on them have been around since we figured out how to mill grain, but the pizza as we currently conceive it came from Napoli too. They are a clever town.
As I understand it, the calzone was concocted so people could grab one on the go, thus the name “calzone” meaning trousers or pants legs since people ate them while walking as opposed to the soft crusted Neapolitan style pizzas that practically require a fork and a knife.
The original calzones were smaller affairs than what we are used to. They were sandwich sized and easy to carry around. If you’ve ever had a pastie in the Nordic tradition you know what they were like. Of course, now we present a monster that takes up the plate. I’m going to attribute that to the same basking in luxury that over took our mid 20th century wave of Italian immigrants. That diaspora saw twenty-three or so million Italians leave the poverty that gripped their home country and head for better pastures. You hear about Americanized Italian food having too much sauce and too much meat. That wasn’t a bunch of Yankees misreading a recipe and overdoing it. It was a bunch of dirt poor Italians arriving in the land of plenty and embracing fully the opulence available to them. Our calzones are huge.
A Stromboli is different. Where a calzone is usually a crescent shape which may or may not have tomato sauce inside (ours does) a Stromboli always has sauce and is a rolled tubular pastry. From what I’ve read no one has been able to find evidence of a Stromboli before the 1950s in America. It likely popped up in New York or New Jersey, I can’t find the exact point of origin, and then was quickly copied.
We have a Stromboli on the menu, but it’s not a Stromboli. What we call a Stromboli is one of the most fabulous concoctions – steak, onions, mushrooms, gravy, and tons of gooey cheese on a hoagie roll – but it’s horribly misnamed. I’m trying to convince the owners to revert to the original, extraordinarily more evocative, name of the sandwich: The Outrageous Steak Sandwich.
Years ago, back when the sandwich was properly named, we used to deliver. Delivery is still available but now it’s outsourced to Waitr, GrubHub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats rather than in house. The delivery crew consisted of me and a few high school classmates. Every now and again the most extraordinary thing would happen. We would get a delivery order from a local strip club.
They would call in five or six orders to be paid separately. The power of a pizza bag is unknown to most, but let me enlighten you. If you are sixteen or seventeen years old and carrying a pizza warming bag you can walk right past the bouncer of a strip club without a hint of an incident. You can stutter through a conversation with bare breasted women as they pay you for their food and tip you obscenely (always in ones) without anyone asking you for ID. You can stand by the bar with the last of the five or six orders until Deseree or Destiny or whatever finishes her dance so she can pay you (again, in ones.)
You’ve never seen three teenage boys fight over who gets to do a bit of work like we did.
I bring up this tangent because by far the most popular order among the dancers was the Outrageous Steak Sandwich.
When someone orders the Stromboli I have to ask if they’ve had it before. I have to make sure that they know what our Stromboli is in case they are expecting a traditional Stromboli and at the same time not let on as if it was an inferior option and I was warning them off it, because it is the most amazing steak sandwich you are likely to encounter. It makes it an awkward sale.
Now the Outrageous Steak Sandwich, Favorite of Twenty-Two Year Old Topless Women with Daddy Issues? That’s an ad campaign. It practically sells itself.
I need to talk to the owners about the name again. In the mean time, I’m going to have a calzone.