Monday, September 18, 2006

If they bring it to my door in a flat, square box, then IT'S A PIZZA!

Ahhhh, the Pizza Wars are starting again!

Initiated by this site (which I saw on MeFi, but hadn't got round to blogging yet, and which is as of this writing down because it got FARK'd and BoingBoing'd and MeFi'd all in the same weekend -- but mirror links are provided there) wherein some fellow relates his obsessive effort to produce a New York City-style pizza, Alan and BuffaloGeek take their shots.

Says Geek:

However, there is nothing we disagree more vehemently on than the definition of good pizza. As you know, Pundito is a a fan of thin crust Neapolitan style and foldable NY Style Pizza…both are crimes against pizza.

I’m a fan of local Buffalo pizza for one reason only, it’s what I grew up eating. Nino’s, Bob & Johns, Bocce Club, Abbott, Avenue, Mister Pizza…all pizzas of my youth. While tasty and laden with crispy pepperoni memories, these pizzas fail the test of “Best Pizza in America”

When asked who makes the best pizza in the country, my answer is very simple. Lou Malnati’s, a Chicago institution and purveyor of fine deep dish pizza.

If God came back to Earth and asked to see evidence of gastrological perfection, I would take him to Lou’s for a slice of buttercrust deep dish pepperoni with mushrooms and hot giardiniera. If God is a vegetarian, I’d get him “The Lou”, which comes with basil and garlic spinach, mushrooms and sliced tomatoes covered with a blend of mozzarella, romano and cheddar cheese. Pizza perfection.

Retorts Alan:

He calls New York style / Neapolitan pizza a "crime against pizza". Oh, no you di’int. Since the Neapolitans invented it, it is the default; the standard by which all other pizzas are measured.

"Stop the Madness!" says I.

We actually had a mini-discussion of this before in the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan, back in the days when Alan was still on Blogger. My thoughts, encapsulated here and here, have not changed:

Personally, I like NYC-style pizza just fine. But then, I like all styles of pizza just fine, really. Thin, foldable crust? Sure. Deep-dish Chicago-style, with the cheese tiled at the bottom and the tomatoes on top? Great. All styles in between? Bring 'em on.

"There are more pizzas in Heaven and Earth than are dream't of in our philosophy," wrote Shakespeare. And he was right. (Although, now that I think of it, I'm not sure the Bard was talking about pizza at all. Hmmmm.)

And a bit later on:

But what interests me is this (as I comment on his blog): everybody I've ever met who grew up on NYC-style pizza, with that type of pizza being their virginal pizza experience, loves it to the point of loathing every other kind of pizza that exists, anywhere. On the other hand, every person I've ever met who loves pizza but did not encounter NYC-style pizza first tends to love NYC-style pizza when they discover it, but they don't drop every other style of pizza in its favor. I don't know why this is, but it's true. Talk to a native eater of NYC-style pizza, and they'll react with horror at the idea of consuming any other kind of pizza. But talk to a non-native eater of pizza, and if they'll likely say, "NYC-style? Yeah, that's pretty good. So's Chicago...."

I think that's still the case. I'm always baffled by the notion that NYC-style pizza is some kind of Platonic ideal when it comes to pizza; pizza is a food that has evolved over many centuries, starting long before the folks in Naples with spices and meats served atop flatbread. There is no more a "standard" for pizza than there is a "standard" for chili, to name another food that varies wildly by region. (Don't believe me? Order chili in Dallas sometime, and compare what they serve you to what comes in the bowl when you order chili in Cincinnati.) Or wine. Or beer.

Note my verb there: pizza evolved. Nobody "invented" pizza. The folks in Naples may have developed the historical dish that's closest to what we now call "pizza", but they didn't "invent" pizza. At least, they didn't in the same sense that Thomas Edison "invented" the incandescent light bulb and the phonograph.

As an aside, though, would it matter anyway if the Neopolitans actually did "invent" pizza? Who ever said that inventions should never change? I used to listen to music on my record player, but no one ever told me that I wasn't really utilizing Thomas Edison's invention just because the record was a flat disc as opposed to a wax cylinder. And as another aside, Neapolitan pizza wouldn't exist at all as such if not for the importation into Italy of the tomato, which is originally indigenous to the Americas. (In fact, tomatoes were thought poisonous in Italy when they first arrived there, brought back from the Americas by the Spaniards; they were grown strictly as ornamental plants before they found their way into peasant food. Pizza, like so many other dishes, is originally a peasant dish that is now being fought over by the gourmet types!

So I'd say that the Neapolitan pizza is not the "standard by which all others are judged", since the Neapolitans did not "invent" pizza and even if they did, merely being the inventor of something doesn't imply that the thing will remain the exact same for the Rest of Recorded Time. So there.

I'd also take exception to Alan's contention that a Chicago deep-dish pizza is not a pizza at all, but rather a casserole. I don't frankly see on what basis deep-dish pizza can be denied to be a pizza, or on what basis it is a casserole. It's a leavened flatbread-style crust onto which is loaded cheese and whatever other toppings are used. It is casserole-like in that it is baked in a dish and then typically served in that same dish, but merely sharing some qualities with a thing doesn't make it that thing, right? An apple pie is baked in a baking dish, but that doesn't make it a casserole. Neither is a quiche. Chicago deep-dish pizza is pizza, and like all pizza, it stands squarely in the pie family of dishes, and not in the casseroles. QED. (Heck, I have some recipes for "casseroles" that aren't baked at all, but cooked in a slow cooker! Take that, Rigid Food Definition Police!)

Not, however, that I'd endorse Geek's view that NYC-style pizza is a "crime against pizza". I love a good NYC pizza. I also love Chicago deep-dish. Although, frankly, my personal preference tends toward the Chicago, because I adore that flaky crust. Oh man, that crust is just beautiful. But I'm not going to turn my nose up at a NYC pizza, either. And I love Buffalo's pizzas too. (Well, most of 'em, anyway.) So I get the best of all worlds: I don't have to turn up my nose at entire categories of pizza goodness! So, once again, I am supreme in the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan. 'Twas ever thus!

And now, judging by the chirping crickets, I shall change the subject.

UPDATE 1-23-07: This post has been receiving several search engine hits per day for a while now, so for readers just coming, I more recently wrote -- with photos -- a post wherein I made my own Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Enjoy!


Erinna said...

I love pizza, but I'm not loyal to any particular kind.

I like pizza that's spiced well. I like a good crust that doesn't have a cardboardy texture, and while I'm not opposed to thick crust, I don't like it doughy. I like cheese.

I'm not a fan of the Chicago-style pizza, mainly because I'm not a fan of tomatoes. I like tomato sauce just fine, but chunks of tomato? *shudder*

Call me Paul said...

My in-laws are from Sicily, where pizza is a crust drizzled with fresh pressed olive oil, sprinkled with parmesan cheese, or more likely, peccorino, and topped with fresh oregano. Sometimes they put anchovies on it.

No sauce. No meat. No veggies. Sometimes whole roasted garlic, but not always.


Roger Owen Green said...

But when I visit my mothe in Charlotte, NC, the pizza sucks. I'kll tell you how badly: Pizza Hut is the best tasting stuff they can offer.

Traci said...

Did no one mention the Greek pizza. Where I grew up many Greek immigrants ran pizza/grinder shops. Great crust, amazing amounts of cheese! But I have to say that I love all pizza. Style is not terribly important!

LC Scotty said...


Anonymous said...

I was disappointed in NY style pizza. We lived in NY for several months and tried pizza from all over the place trying to find that legendary New York Pizza. I kept thinking, "Surely this crap can't be IT!"