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By Wendy Migdal / Photos by Mark Gilvey
Just around the corner from the Harris Pavilion resides one of Manassas’s most recent denizens, Benny Capolago’s. If you haven’t seen people walking around with pizza boxes the size of Montana, then be forewarned: The pieces are huge. A full pie measures 28” and may be difficult to get in some cars. A
single slice requires two paper plates to hold and two hands to eat. And all of this for a reasonable price.
Benny’s claims to be the home of the Virginia slice. In case you were unfamiliar with your commonwealth’s style of pizza, it is similar to New York style. The crust is thin and crispy, and the traditional way to eat it is to fold it in half. Manager Julio Lara Bernal explains they make the entire pizza on site, from the dough to the sauce. They also have a proprietary five-cheese blend. Do you know which cheeses? “It’s a secret,” he says.
Also secret is the identity of the original Benny. There are 26 Benny’s locations, most of which are in Virginia, and each one has a different “last name.” There’s Benny Deluca’s in Charlottesville, Benny Ventano’s in Richmond, and so on. (There’s one as far afield as Wyoming.)
The company chooses a name that ties in with the area somehow. The name Capolago pays homage to a railroad that runs from Italy to Switzerland, just as the Manassas Junction railroad once traveled between Alexandria and Orange. The original founder is named Benny, but according to the website, he keeps his identity a secret. He had to leave New York for unknown reasons after many years working for Italian chefs, so the story goes, and decamped to the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where he began turning out his soon-to-be-famous pizzas. Is Benny real, or a marketing scheme? “I don’t know anything about him,” insists Lara Bernal. Hmm.
Benny Capolago’s opened in June and has been doing quite well. “Business is awesome. Especially on the weekends, we get a lot of families coming through here,” says Lara Bernal. It’s also filled a niche that was shaped exactly like a pizza in Manassas. “There was no pizza place like this before, in Old Town Manassas.” says Lara Bernal. “We’re right next to the Harris Pavilion, and on First Friday, people can come here and
get something to eat without spending a whole lot of money, so it’s perfect for that. And we have a great beer selection.”
Lara Bernal has been with Benny’s for nine years, and came from the Fredericksburg location, Benny Vitali’s. Fredericksburg is the most popular of all the Benny’s, and Lara Bernal and several other experienced crew members from there brought their experience with them to open the new store, which made for an easy transition.
There are currently 13 employees who labor nearly full time to whip up these amazing creations. Lara Bernal says it doesn’t take long to become competent, but witness one of these leviathans being made, and you’ll see evidence of skill perfected with much practice. Staff members sling pizzas in and out of four huge ovens with paddles that would suffice for Paul Bunyan’s crew. They whip them out partway through cooking, pierce the air bubbles, and slide them back in. Finished pizzas are then quickly cut into perfectly equal pieces and plated, and then slid to the person on counter, who sings out the name of the lucky customer. It’s like watching a latter-day blacksmith or glassblower.
On any day, you can choose from cheese, pepperoni, or sausage. But there’s always a special for the more adventurous, and they change monthly. Veggie specials could be roasted red pepper with pesto, garlic/mushroom, or pineapple, while meat specials might be pulled pork, bacon cheeseburger, or chorizo queso.
Each location chooses its own specials. In addition to soda, the drinks cooler contains ciders, local craft beers, and domestic beers.
If you want to come when it’s quiet, Lara Bernal advises coming during the week. But, although you may have to wait in line on a weekend, the food comes out pretty quickly. The dining area is relatively spacious, with booths, a bar, and a back area. There’s sort of a midcentury automobile vibe going on, with vintage
license plates, hubcaps, and steering wheels on the seafoam green walls.
Lara Bernal says there were regulars in Fredericksburg who would come in, and the staff knew what they wanted “to the dot.” If you give Benny’s a try, there’s a good chance you’ll become one of those people.
Wendy Migdal is a freelance writer who has lived in the Northern/Central Virginia area since 2000. She has written extensively for The Free Lance-Star and also works for online educational companies. Wendy enjoys traveling around the area to learn about parks,