Cold-Cheese Pizza: The Holy Grail of Drunk Pizza

And we don't mean the leftover kind

Cold-Cheese Pizza: The Holy Grail of Drunk Pizza
Mike Falco

Cold-Cheese Pizza, not to be confused with cheese pizza gone cold, is a run-of-the-mill cheese slice served with a pile, nay, heap of shredded cold mozzarella cheese on top. But, more than that, Cold-Cheese Pizza is a cultural phenomenon and a linchpin in the central New York college experience. Only adding to its allure is the fact that it’s also virtually the only place where you can get it. But, crucially, you can make it pretty much anywhere, as long as you have access to pizza.

Born in Oneonta, New York, at Tino’s Pizza nearly 40 years ago, Cold-Cheese was conceived in the back of a bar — the Black Oak Tavern — largely out of convenience. The piling of the cold cheese atop a hot slice was, initially, meant to prevent the diner from having to wait for their pizza to cool down or, alternately, burning the roof of their mouth. 

“What would happen would be, the line would form so long and we were selling the pizza so fast — once it was coming out of the oven, the pizza was already being sold. So it was like piping hot. It was being cut and then onto a plate, and then they were eating it,” Tino Garufi, owner of Tino’s, tells me. “My father, I guess, decided to throw some cold mozzarella on top of a slice and then all of a sudden … it just took off.”

Leave it at that — some cold mozzarella on top of a slice — and you’d have an ingenious creation, but now consider that it tastes surprisingly great, too. I speak from experience. As a direct result of having completed the bulk of my undergraduate degree in Oneonta and living directly across from Tino’s on Main Street, Cold-Cheese Pizza has lived uncontested in my heart for over a decade, despite not having had it in almost as long.

Circa 2010, the road to a slice of cold cheese for me typically began with some ceremonious scorching of my sinuses at the hands of few Burnett’s flavored vodka shots on a Saturday night, followed by a frat party in a dilapidated basement, where I’d sip Keystone from a red solo cup that I’d overpaid five dollars for at the door. Then, after a brisk walk through the hills of Oneonta, I’d invariably wind up at a bar standing shoulder to shoulder with seemingly the entire student body until I couldn’t (stand) anymore. Like clockwork, Closing Time by Semisonic would come on, signaling what was, in theory, the end of the night, but for most — including myself — it meant, “Time for Tino’s.”

“When the college kids are in session and everything, we’ll go through, I mean ballpark, maybe 30, 40 sliced pies. Maybe even more, a night,” Tino says. “Probably more.

“[I think] it’s the alcohol combining with the cheese and the pizza just filling you up. Soaking up everything.”

Let the record show that there exists no drunk pizza quite like drunk Cold-Cheese Pizza, and while I’d like to think my sense of taste is a little more refined now, it turns out it’s not. For the sake of journalism, I recently purchased a slice of cheese pizza from a shop in my neighborhood and sprinkled some cold mozzarella on top to see if my memory had served me correctly. It had. When speaking to Tino a few days later, I tell him as much.

“I’m [more of] a pepperoni guy,” he tells me in return.


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