Artscape: Fellini's Famous Thanksgiving Pizza

Nov 28, 2013

Today is thanksgiving, so for this month’s Rhode Island Artscape, Rhode Island public radio’s John Bender, looked to the culinary arts.

You’re probably familiar with all the traditional dishes of thanksgiving, but once a year, one the day before the big turkey; hundreds of people wait in line for a very specific pizza.

John went over to Fellini’s pizzeria to find out more about their Thanksgiving pie.

The pizza itself, pre-oven.
Credit John Bender / RIPR

Fellini’s Pizzeria on the east side of Providence has your typical pizza fair. 

They’ve got pepperoni, sausage, olives and peppers, and you might be fooled into thinking it just your regular slice shop.

Except for one day each year when a line streams out the door and wraps up Wickenden St.

That’s the day before Thanksgiving, when the store sells it’s now famous Thanksgiving pizza.

“We opened in 1989, I started working here 1992, and I’ve been here ever since.  I bought the business in 2000,” said Kristy Knoebler, the owner of Fellini’s.

In 2006 she sold Fellini’s first Thanksgiving Pizza.

“I would have leftovers from Thanksgiving on Thursday, and I’d bring a plate to work for lunch. I thought, why don’t I throw this on a pizza.  So I threw it on a pizza, and it was incredible,” said Knoebler. “So the following year I made a little bit to serve to local people for a slice here and there just to give it a shot, and it was a huge huge hit. The following year I made more.”

Then an article in the Providence Journal mentioned the special Pizza days before they were going to sell it.

“I couldn’t believe it, I’m back there cooking, and there is a line out the door, wrapped around the building up the sidewalk,” said Knoebler.  “And we were like oh crap we’re gonna run out.  We’re going to run out before dinner, and we sure did.  We sold what we could, and then we just prepared a lot more the following year.”

And with that a new classic was born.  It is by far their busiest day of the year; busier than the days before Christmas, New Year’s, or even the Super Bowl.

Almost a week before they already have at least one-hundred pre-orders for the Pizza.

After hearing so much about it I had to try it for myself, except they only make it one day a year.  The prep work is so labor intensive.

So I head over to Fellini’s the day before Thanksgiving, when they make the pizzas.   It’s early morning; they haven’t even opened their doors.

Kristy Knoebler, owner of Fellini's, gearing up for a long day of Thanksgiving pizzas.
Credit John Bender / RIPR

The whole crew is there, and Knoebler is all ready to get cooking.

“Alright we ready to rock?” she asks.

We move back into the open kitchen, where two massive ovens take up most of the space. 

“There’s going to be about seven us back here.  It is going to be tight.  Thank god we all like each other,” says Knoebler.

And there are already hundreds of orders for the special pizza.  Knoebler has all the ingredients in front of her.  There are a lot.

“I’ve been cooking for about three days straight.  I haven’t got much sleep. But that’s not just me alone.  I’ve had help from all of us in the kitchen. We’ve all been pulling some long hours,” says Knoebler.

She starts with a large patty of whole wheat crust no larger than a Frisbee, which she lays out on the counter and begins kneading.

“Gotta thin out the corners,” Knoebler says.

She twirls it up into the air as it gets larger and larger.  Once it’s all stretched out, she flours the board to keep the Pizza from sticking.

The pizza starts off traditionally enough.

“We’re going to put the cheese on first, the mozzarella, all the way out to the edges, not too much because we don’t want to make it too heavy.”

Then things begin to take a Thanksgiving turn.

“And then the first thing that goes on is the mashed potatoes.  I have these in a pastry bag, and they’re still warm so they squeeze out easily,” says Knoebler.  “Ooh it’s hot!  Probably about 15 dollops of mashed potatoes throughout the Pizza.”

And the ingredients only get more into the holiday spirit from there.

“Next topping is our stuffing.”

I ask Knoebler what they put into their stuffing, and she gives me a wry smile

“It’s a secret recipe.  It’s just a basic simply recipe.  All I can say is lots of butter,” says Knoebler.

And what would a Thanksgiving pizza be without the star of the dinner table itself?

“The last thing to go on is our turkey.  The turkey is the nice slow cooked turkey that we put in the crockpots, it pretty much just falls of the bone, and it’s like a pulled turkey, if you can see it; it looks like a nice shredded pulled turkey.”

Knoebler tops it off with gravy in place of tomato sauce.

“We can’t mix turkey with tomato sauce.  The gravy is our sauce. And last, salt and pepper nothing crazy. Then we go in the oven. So it’s going in now.  And that’s it.  Simple.  We’ve got one down, only two or three hundred more to go,” Knoebler.

Each pizza takes about 5 minutes to bake. 

So after what seems like an eternity, the pizza is finally finished and it’s time to try the very first Thanksgiving pizza of the day.

And though it may sound strange, for this reporter, boy does it deliver.

“Alright we’re all done, there we are my friend. And I’ll get you a napkin and fork and knife because you’re going to need it,” says Knoebler.

The pizza is melty and tastes just like a warm thanksgiving dinner, and comes with a side of requisite cranberry sauce.

“Yeah we’re going to have some happy people today,” says Knoebler.

Sign announcing the imminent arrival of the Thanksgiving pizza.
Credit John Bender / RIPR

If you’re reading this story today, you’ve already missed out on the Thanksgiving pizza, but there’s always time to start planning for next year.