The Great Pizza Debate? There Isn’t One
In honor of National Pizza Month, Joe confesses he’s a pizza snob, and takes us for a taste around the country.
If you’re a fan of fine dining and a connoisseur of gourmet cuisine, you understand that there’s one universal truth: Nothing beats good pizza. Unfortunately for anyone who was raised outside of New York or North Jersey, you’ve probably never experienced such a thing.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh. Unless, of course, you speak with a Brooklyn accent or grew up around the corner from one of about three hundred
thousand Ray’s pizzerias in the Northeast. Because, for better or worse (outside the 5 boroughs usually worse), that’s where the great debate begins.
I grew up in Queens and Long Island, spitting distance from any number of pizzerias in both homes. I know from good pizza. Unfortunately, I didn’t really understand this until I was in my early 20s, writing and publishing comic books. That’s when I started traveling around the country, and encountering what other states and cities tried to pass off as ‘pizza.’
To be fair, some places make a tolerable pie. Chicago, for instance, and their beloved deep dish. Not bad—if you can forgive them for not being able to decide if they want Sicilian or regular. But hey, they also have the Cubs, so you have to cut ’em a little slack.
Then, there are cities like Minneapolis, Minnesota, which has a tendency to try and foist off something close to matzo bread with a spattering of marinara sauce and mozzarella the consistency of driveway sealant as pizza. Well, maybe not everywhere, but I spent a week in the Twin Cities for a convention in January of ’91 in such reprehensibly cold weather I swear I stepped out of a cab and kicked a penguin. I must have tried five different pizza parlors, with similar results. Needless to say, my bias would be to leave Minnesota out of the debate during National Pizza Month.
Tennessee wasn’t much better. I think it’s because once you begin with the concept of rolling any sort of dough, the locals immediately look for something to fry in it. Like Oreos. Or corn dogs. Or butter. Yes, I first saw sticks of deep fried butter during a trip to Tennessee. And no, I’m not going to tell you if I actually ate one, or more.
Iowa. I spent a week in the lovely town of George, Iowa in 1986, and had pizza twice whilst in the state. At least, I think I had pizza. It’s Iowa, folks, think about it. If you want a cheeseburger that’s three inches thick with a slab of cheddar on it so good you’d eat it in five pound bricks, yes, this is your kinda place. If you want a good slice of Sicilian pizza with a thick crust, your best bet might be going to the market for some Elio’s.
Okay, so I’m a pizza snob. Guilty as charged. But c’mon, let’s be honest. If you’re from Utah and have ever traveled to Manhattan and gotten a slice of pie down in Greenwich Village, is there any comparison? If you were coming down I-95 from Maine and stopped for a couple of slices near the Throgs Neck Bridge, didn’t it make you consider abandoning your home and moving South for a while? Like, the rest of your life?
California has some places that can churn out a pretty decent pie (but then, they’re used to trying to be like New York). Texas does a surprisingly passable job, especially at the locally run pizzerias in places like Austin and Dallas. Michigan must have some transplants from back East, because they tend to turn out a fairly competent pizza, too. Idaho, well, let’s not go there.
No matter what, though, regardless of where you grew up or what your preference is, pizza is fun food. No other food is quite like it. I’m sure you’ve been to a pizza party before. Ever been to a bratwurst party? A Chicken Pot Pie party? No? What about a herring get-together? Doesn’t happen. Pizza, on the other hand, brings everyone together.
Pizza makes you look forward to lunch. Or dinner. Or—particularly for men—to breakfast, cold, right out of the ‘fridge.
Okay, your turn. Got a favorite pizza memory? Got a reason to stick up for W. Virginia or Rhode Island as opposed to New York? Are you a toppings addict? C’mon, it’s National Pizza Month. Join the party!