Piece a Nonesense

By Ben Adler

Matt has provoked me to write the first item in my running “Angry Rant From a New Yorker,” column. Matt claims, ludicrously*, that pizza should be judged ecumenically. “There’s no one ‘best’ pizza in the world,” Matt writes. His rationale is that there are different types of pizza and each has its merits.

This is the sort of nonesense perpetuated by vulgar mockeries of pizza such as Pizza Hut with its never-ending concoctions of “New York Style,” “Neapolitan,” “Medium Thick Crust,” and so on.

Good pizza has the following qualities: thin crust with at least some crispy parts, high quality cheese, but not too much of it, and neither too much nor too little sauce. If it is real pizza you do not need to specify “cheese,” when ordering it to ensure that it will have the aforementioned ingredients. Of course it will, IT’S PIZZA.

If you need to say anything, you just say “plain.” Likewise, real pizza is ordered by the slice or by the pie, not by the pizza. E.g. “I’d like a plain pie,” not, “I’d like a cheese pizza.”

Ergo, most of the places in the country do not serve real pizza, because they use the latter, idiotic locutions. The only distinction worth making between different types of pizza is between the type you order at a pizzeria, which you usually get by the slice and if you get a pie it’s to go, versus the fancy pizza restaurant type. The best examples of regular pizza by the slice are almost entirely found in New York City (see Roma’s in Brooklyn and Joe’s on Bleeker Street) and maybe some of its suburbs, although some passable ones can be found in a handful of East Coast cities such as Philadelphia. They are meant to be eaten by folding the slice in half and sticking your head out so that the oil drips onto your plate (or the ground) and not your shirt. There should be plenty of oil.

The latter type was originally confined to the same locales (see Lombardi’s in Little Italy, Pepe’s in New Haven, and John’s on Bleecker, which Matt mentions.) There should be real grated fresh parmesan at both types of pizza places and if it’s by the slice I also want some garlic powder.

Anywhere that serves soft, squishy or thick crust or excessive amounts of thick cheese is dishonoring the dish. Toppings should be generally Italian in nature and should not include pineapples. Variations on the thickness of crust are not permitted except for Sicilian, which everyone knows isn’t as good as regular and should only be ordered when you’re sick of the regular because you’ve had it so much.

So the examples Matt uses in D.C. are self-evidently absurd. Pete’s is a joke, a total mediocrity. Its crust has nothing approaching the texture or flavor of Pepe’s. And Pepe’s, I might add, is simply a sub-variety of classic New York thin crust. The notion that “New Haven” pizza is really a different category is a silly notion probably concocted by some sad Connecticut booster who was trying in vain to claim some cultural relevancy for his state — or perhaps a businessman trying to sucker you into buying his mediocre pizza. Pete’s isn’t the best of any type of pizza in D.C. Red Rocks and Two Amy’s are the competitors for best fancy pizza, with Radius coming in third. Radius is a good imitation of New York pizza in terms of taste when you order a pie, but a regular New York pizzeria can serve you a slice in under two minutes, and under three dollars. That’s about ten minutes and two dollars less than you’ll get from Radius. For pizza by the slice D.C. has literally nothing. The jumbo slices aren’t real pizza and the few good pizzerias don’t serve slices, at least not with the immediacy and affordability that makes it a true pizzeria experience.

Now I will admit that there is one other “type” of pizza out there. It’s called deep dish and it’s from Chicago. I recognize it as fine tasting dish, although one I cannot have because of the corn meal they put on the crust. I do not, however, recognize it as pizza in the “who makes the best pizza” sense. Whereas New York-style pizza has spawned a thousand imitations the world over and requires no prefix, deep dish is always deep dish and is not found much outside Chicago. So, when a blogger asks “Who makes the best pizza in the world?” there is an answer and deep dish has nothing to do with it unless he asks “who makes the best deep dish.”

Ironically, while Matt claims that there is no answer to the question of who makes the best pizza, the blogger who posed it, Stan Collender, got the correct answer in his very first reader comment: Patsy Grimaldi’s on Old Fulton Street in Brooklyn.

*Upon a minute’s reflection Matt’s argument is hardly ludicrous, so I take it back.


18 responses to “Piece a Nonesense

  1. Yes, yes, *Matt* is the ludicrous one.

    Wow, I can barely muster the energy to respond to such a forceful demonstration of parochial chauvinism in regards to something as phenomenal (in the experiential sense) as food.

    Could you, though, take a moment to look down from your high horse and tell us what sort of language we are allowed to use with respect to pizza that does not conform to the platonic ideal of Brooklyn pizza and yet – despite all odds – is consumed with pleasure? Must we regard all food with reference to your preferences, or is pizza the only area in which subjective taste is an insufficient grounds for deeming something ‘good’?

  2. Indeed, I guess I have never had “pizza” in my life, and after reading the kind of self-absorbed, self-righteous screed that “real” pizza-eaters ascribe to, I truly have no interest in it. I’ll stick to my sadly imperfect pseudo-pizza with basil and goat cheese, I guess.

  3. verplanck colvin

    Wow, were you actually angry when you wrote that? Over pizza?

    I love pizza with pineapple and anchovies. I love pizza bianca. I love the punctuated equilibrium from American Flatbread. All of these are pizza, and the pizza bianca is arguably more authentic than NY pizza. It shouldn’t matter, though.

    Don’t be a pizza hater.

  4. Wow, it only took two weeks for you guys to have this stupid debate?

  5. Echo the commenters above. This is really really provincial. I can think of several places that made really good pizza that are hundreds, if not, thousands of miles from New York. Crozet Pizza in Crozet, VA comes to mind.

    Glad you at least conceded that Chicago deep dish style is at least nominally pizza, even if you’ve traveled so little that you’ve never seen it outside Chicago. We have a pizza shop up the street from our house in St. Louis that serves two kinds of pizza – Chicago style and St. Louis style.

    But I guess St. Louis style isn’t really pizza, even though it has a thin crust, because it uses what would generously be called a low quality cheese – “provel”

  6. If it uses provolone then no, it is not pizza. Pizza has mozzerella on it.

  7. ” New York-style pizza has spawned a thousand imitations the world over… ”

    Hilarious. American Exceptionalism gone mad.

    Of course, it’s possible in Napoli, whence pizza originated, to get classic, very old varieties, with no cheese. Or no tomato sauce. But what the hell would Italians know about pizza, right?

    PS – nobody outside the US calls them “pies”, since they aren’t pies. They’re pizzas.

  8. I’m sure the pizza in Italy is excellent — it certainly in some of the other parts of Europe I’ve been to. However the blog post I was responding to was answering the question of where is the best pizza in the United States.

  9. N’gunna take the bait.

    It seems to me what we’re having here is less a debate about Pizza than a debate over language. I see the same thing with “Mexican Food” here in California. There is absolutely nothing “Mexican” about mexican food served in any number of places around Silicon Valley, but the phrase describes a category of comestibles that are, taken as a whole, delicious.

    It’s fairly clear that it’s not that you don’t like these other “Pizza Imitators”, you are merely taking the position that they are something other than “Pizza” by definition. Now, you are probably going to have to admit that you are merely shouting at clouds here, but perhaps you should consider a campaign to develop a different set of words to describe foods that, while delicious and similar in construction and architecture to what you narrowly define as “Pizza”, cannot in your opinion be accurately described as “Pizza”.

    While your at it, start working on “Tostada” too…


  10. Ben – the quoted line you take issue with is “There’s no one ‘best’ pizza in the world,” and you claim that “the world” is in the business of imitating “New York pizza”.

  11. Oh, please. Sicilian is the best. Or was when I could eat it.

    I went to Wesleyan in the 1990s, when you could go to Giuseppe’s for the best sicilian pizza ever. Thick crust, sweet-spicy tomato sauce, and the toppings! Snowball may have been the best — some mozzarella, but more important, “snowballs” of ricotta, along with spinach. Soooo good. Or the one with just tomato sauce and a dusting of parmesan. God, that stuff was good.

  12. “Anywhere that serves soft, squishy or thick crust … is dishonoring the dish. ”

    You mean like Italy?

    I remember getting delicious thick crusted pizza, sliced from large pans, and sold by weight in Rome, Florence and several other cities.

    And it didn’t always have cheese either. The potato pizza was shockingly good.

  13. That’s funny, MissLaura, I went to Wesleyan too. Giuseppe’s is definitely delicious, but I’m not sure it’s “pizza,” in the same way I have my doubts about deep dish. There was a place called Sorrelle’s, since closed, in Middletown that had some solid classic pizza. Giuseppe’s was good because it had really quality ingredients, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the crust. And at your average pizzeria the Sicilian is way weaker. You’re right, though, that Siclian can be good and Giuseppe’s is the proof.

  14. Giuseppe’s is also closed. I guess that Sicilian-style just doesn’t have the staying power. I also object to the lumping of New Haven pizzarias into the New York-umbrella. Call them what they are, Neapolitan-style.

  15. PSP, what you bought in Rome, while delicious, is not actually pizza. It’s a liberal interpretation of either Foccaccia (from Liguria) or Sfincione (from Sicily). The Italian goverment is in the process of codifying its legal definition of Neopolitan pizza. The law is not finalized as far as I know, but its safe to say that it is going to be a very narrow definition – dough, pressed into a thin crust and baked for a short time at high temperatures with a simple tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and olive oil. That’s it.

    btw, for the fellow Wes kids, Giuseppe’s often labeled their own product as Sfincione, not pizza. Sorrelle’s is gone as well. Too bad. They made a serious pie.

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