Pittsburgh is passionate about pizza. According to a recent study conducted by Rent, the Steel City has nearly 71 pizza restaurants for every 100,000 residents; that’s the equivalent of one shop every 3.9 square miles.

To celebrate our town’s culinary obsession, GoodTaste! Pittsburgh is throwing PizzaFest: A Slice of Delish on Sunday, June 12, at East End Brewing in Larimer. The event — which features offerings from seven artisan pizza chefs, plus beer, vendors and even an accordion player — offers two entry times, 4 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Tickets for the 21+ party are $35. Big appetite? Purchase passes to both sessions.

The first PizzaFest was held in 2019 at the PA Market in the Strip District, followed by a virtual shindig in 2020. Dee Weinberg of GoodTaste! Pittsburgh says she keeps an eye on social media throughout the year to track local pizza trends and picks the top five or six businesses to showcase their fare.

This time around, attendees will find specialties, including rustic, round pies and pan-baked squares to Roma-style flatbreads and traditional slices, from Caliente Pizza & Draft House, Alta Via Pizzeria, Pizza Parma, Colangelo’s, Slice on Broadway, Mediterra Bakehouse and East End Chewing, the host site’s culinary arm.

Brewing and chewing

In November 2020, shortly after becoming East End Brewing’s kitchen manager, chef Sheryl Johnston introduced Sicilian-style pizzas with rectangular, thick focaccia crust to the menu. It was an instant hit and in July 2021, the brewery at 147 Julius St. officially christened the saucy operation East End Chewing.

The industry veteran started her culinary career in the dietary department of a nursing home and has worked in kitchens from New Mexico to Pittsburgh. She finds pizza inspiration everywhere.

“I’ve gotten ‘dream pizza’ recommendations from friends and co-workers, thought about sandwiches or other meals I like that could be transformed into pizza, created pizzas based around an event or specific ingredient, and sometimes if I am feeling at a loss, I search the internet for ‘weird pizza’ and go from there,” Johnston says.

She’s topped her creations with everything from eggplant parmesan and meatballs to sauerkraut and pierogies.

For PizzaFest, she’s planning pies for meat lovers as well as vegetarians and vegans.

Over the years, Matt Hickey has racked up multiple awards at the International Pizza Expo & Conference in Las Vegas. Photo courtesy of Matt Hickey.

Pizza acrobatics

Matt Hickey will be at the event slinging dough as a form of entertainment.

The pizza acrobat got his start in the business as an 18-year-old delivery driver for Italian Village Pizza. Now 34, Hickey is a pizza chef at Pizzeria Davide in the Strip District and tosses dough in competitions around the country, including the International Pizza Expo & Conference in Las Vegas.

While in Sin City representing Caliente Pizza & Draft House, where he served as general manager of the local chain’s Mt. Lebanon location, Hickey won gold in the event’s Largest Dough Stretch category. The dough measured 43 inches long and earned Hickey $1,000 and bragging rights.

Pizza acrobat Matt Hickey won gold for longest dough stretch at the International Pizza Expo & Conference in Las Vegas. Photo courtesy of Matt Hickey.

Hickey will show off his skills at PizzaFest using a modified dough that’s technically edible, but not very tasty. It’s made using ice-cold water, salt and flour and is often supplemented with honey and dough conditioner to give it more elasticity.

In addition to delighting crowds, Hickey says pizza tricks help him deal with stress.

“I practice every day and I have my Throw Doughs with me wherever I go,” he says. “It’s fulfilling.”

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.