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Pizza is king

| Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It is, perhaps, the greatest food invention of all time. The Italians have given a lot to this world, from Michelangelo to DaVinci, but when it comes to the top spot, I’d have to say that pizza is king. But Italy just started the process. America perfected it. The blend of tomato sauce, dough and plenty of oozing mozzarella cheese is enough to make a man forget his meager existence on Earth for just a few short moments, until all eight slices are gone. Then it’s time for another!

As a kid from Long Island, I was pretty spoiled growing up. Most people only have a few choices when it comes to a good pizza, but in New York, there’s a smorgasbord of great places. The combination of an overwhelming population of Italians and small, family-owned and operated pizza joints equals a product that can’t be beaten. I’ve had many — sometimes heated — conversations with those supporters of Chicago-style “pizza,” but honestly there isn’t a comparison.

Chicago-style is literally a pie loaded with meat and cheese and sauce, and while delicious, it doesn’t offer the same, simple style that New York pizza provides. Plus, you can’t fold a deep-dish slice. It just can’t be done. This summer, I worked in Chicago, and several times I had for dinner Giordano’s, a staple in Chicago. Each time, it hurt my being that I couldn’t fold my slice and enjoy the sweet utility it provides. Past that, I think there’s a reason places like Domino’s, Pizza Hut and the other fast food abominations offer interpretations, albeit horrid, of thin-crust pizza — it’s the true form.

What makes pizza great? You can ask a group of people and get a million different responses, and to each his own. Personally, I think the crust is the biggest part. A great house needs a good foundation, and the same goes for pizza. Good dough leads to a good crust, which is not too thick but can hold up the melodious harmony that is cheese and sauce. I was on a food tour in New York City once, and one of the stops was Joe’s Pizza, which in 2009 was named one of the “Best 25 Pizzas on Earth” by GQ Magazine. It was about as classic as it comes, just a plain slice with cheese and sauce. Their website reads, “At Joe’s, you won’t find any pretentious concoctions nor do we serve bargain pizza made with who-knows-what.  It’s just the old-school, real deal New York Pizza.  No string-bean, asparagus covered, wild turkey surprise pizza here.”

After having a slice, it was clear that they could back up the talk. The guide then explained what made the crust — which was unbelievable — so good. It’s the water, pumped in from upstate, that gives the dough such a good, clean base. And Long Island has one of the best aquifers in the country, as surface water is barely used for drinking. It was a neat fact which explained a lot.

But the crust isn’t everything. The cheese and sauce are also essential, and they bring the flavor that has hooked millions of people for years. One cold night a couple years ago, I was in Brooklyn for a light show. It was a cool performance, but what made that night memorable was the show that went on after. It starred Grimaldi’s pizza, another New York staple that only serves by the pie, and it was quite a memorable experience. The warm, gooey mozzarella was just enough to keep the fresh tomato sauce from swimming on the crust and combined they made a real A-team. It was an hour wait outside before a table freed up, but after eating that delicacy, I’d be willing to wait a whole lot more.

In the end, there are plenty of good pizzas, all over the world. Naming one is impossible. What really resonates with people are the experiences they have eating good pizza. It might be the old Italian owner lovingly forming each pie, or sitting by Lake Michigan with the skyline at your back and a thick slice of deep-dish in your hand. Pizza is good, but sometimes, even the memory is better.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Tobias Hoonhout

Toby served as Managing Editor in the 2018-2019 term.

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