A good pizza is more than some Classico marinara rubbed onto Pillsbury dough with Sargento cheese on top. Or so say the owners of Aiello's and Mineo's, two restaurants among the blocks of antiquated storefronts climbing Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill.
In this neighborhood, pizza is almost like a religion. And just like many religions, each business has its devoted followers -- who consider it a sin to cross the line to the other side.
Mary Murrin, a 47-year-old Point Breeze resident, and creator of the Facebook group "Mineo's or Aiello's?" explains it this way on the group's Web site:
"Pittsburgh's a great town for many things -- count pizza among them. And Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill may be the Mecca of Pittsburgh ZA. Taste buds are sophisticated, traditions run deep and emotions are high."
The group had 92 members within four days of its creation last June. It's now up to 1,187, and many no longer live in the Pittsburgh area.
Ms. Murrin, who went to college at Brown University in Providence, R.I., and has since moved back, said she believes it is less about pizza and more about having a communal place to reminisce about growing up on the East End.
So, although the battle between Mineo's and Aiello's divides, it also unites, bringing together displaced Pittsburghers who long for their home. And their pizza.
"It was a conversation we had in my family often," Ms. Murrin said. "I just didn't know how pervasive it was, that a lot of people out there feel the same way."
She asks members of the virtual group to state their loyalty, and so far about 450 members have fervently done so, some with insults tucked into their votes.
"Aiello's no doubt," said one voter. A few days later, another said, "Mineo's. I would eat trash before I'd eat Aiello's."
Most of the votes have been a bit more subdued, with users focusing on elements of flavor to ground their opinions. Many Aiello's supporters have said Mineo's is just too cheesy, while Mineo's followers complain that Aiello's is not cheesy enough.
Then there are the fence-hoppers. One particular voter, who said he grew up around the corner from both places, has a personal philosophy echoed by many groupies:
For a whole pizza, it's Mineo's. If you want "cuts off the top," you go to Aiello's, which also is where you go for a cheesesteak ("They put barbecue on a cheesesteak. Who else does that?").
Both restaurants occasionally Fed-Ex pizzas to displaced Pittsburghers. Dominic Mineo, who co-owns the restaurant with his brother, John, said that the first thing some people do when they get back to Pittsburgh is eat a slice of Mineo's.
The two businesses are separated by less than a half-mile. Mineo's, which was founded in 1958, is the older of the two. Customers have long wondered if there was ever a connection between them. Turns out there is. Joe Aiello said he worked as an employee at Mineo's for 12 years. In 1978, he left to open Aiello's, where his two sons -- Mike and Pete -- work with him.
Both families said they have heard about the Facebook group from customers, but try not to pay much attention to it.
"Some people say things, you know," said Pete Aiello. "I mean let's say you're a movie star -- someone says something bad, I take it personally."