What makes the perfect pizza? Who is to say? It’s a question for the ages.
For me, the perfect pizza is the style an individual likes from childhood. I grew up in upstate New York, in the country-side, with mountains and crystal clear streams. Most of my friends from high school were Italian, their families having moved up from the city. Along with this migration came fantastic pizza, known by many as “New York Style.”
On a recent trip to NYC with my wife, I thought for sure I’d be in pizza heaven. I’d be able to gorge myself on my childhood memories for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.
My wife, ever the doting spouse, got us tickets for one of Scott’s Pizza Tours. We met our guide, Alexis, at Lombardi’s wedged between Little Italy and China Town. Lombardi’s holds claim to the first pizza restaurant in NYC. It has a huge, coal fired brick oven, with interior dimensions of ten feet by twelve feet. I know, huge, right? When it get’s busy, the guys in the kitchen are flipping pizza dough, and shuffling a dozen or more pizzas at a time around a dance-floor sized stone oven floor. With the temperature kept at 1000 degrees, pizzas cook in about 3.5 minutes.
I was so looking forward to a cascade of childhood memories. Our tour group’s pizzas came out, and… (slam on the brakes) “errrrrrrrrr!” Wait, that’s not what kind of pizza I used to eat! Mind you, Lombardi’s had won award after award for the best pizza in NYC. But it was different! Yes, the crust was thin, the sauce red and zesty, but the cheese was a natural mozzerella that looked like melted scoops of ice cream. It was delish, certainly, but not what I was expecting.
On to the next pizza place. Alexis Guerreros, who does stand-up comedy by night, is very serious and unbelievably knowledgeable about pizza by day took us to Rubirosa. He gave us some ideas of the differences to expect in the way of crust, cheese, sauce, and history of how Italian families used to make different sauces for pasta or pizza. Good, I’m ready, cuz I’m hungry again.
After a pint of Brooklyn Lager, the pizza comes out. WAIT, “errrrrrr!” That’s not my pizza! The mozzerella was, indeed, different, and the method of prepping the dough made for a crispier, tasty crust, and the sauce went all the way to the edge. It was also good, but not what I remembered.
Before our last stop Alexis told us about the story of Sicilian pizza and how the early days of Little Italy was divided by originating regions. The Sicilians were settled by Elizabeth Street, which was, at the time, next to the stock yards, and told by the already established Italian groups, “You canna no make-a pizza like-a this!” Something about proprietary methods, or some such. But the Sicilians out-foxed the establishment by making a different kind of dough and smooshing it into square pans, rather than flippinng big circular pies in the air. Well, the dough rose and baked differently, creating a light, thick, airy crust. Prince Street Pizza was the smallest shop we’d been to, with only a few bar stools and elbow tables, but man did they have a crowd. A steady stream of people came through for a square slice of zesty heaven known as the “Soho Square”.
Crazy good? Yes! But still not what I remember.
Alexis wrapped up the tour and listened to my quest for a floppy crust, heavy on mozzeralla, with grease dripping down your arm and great zing to the flavor. He sent us to NY Pizza Suprema across from Madison Square Garden in which I would realize by childhood pizza dream. We eventually made the trek up there later that afternoon, but, because it was way past the lunch crowd and too soon for the dinner crowd, their pizzas had been sitting around too long. It lost it’s flop, or river of grease, or zing somewhere. Close, but not what I was looking for. Not wanting to dash my belief in the perfect slice, I tried no others the rest of the time I was in NYC.
I’ve had my dream pizza in a few other places in the 30 something years since I left. A place in Houston near my sister’s house is spot on. Another great one is “Yo’ Pauly’s” in Scottsdale. Maxwell’s in Park City, Utah is always a favorite when skiing. There are many others that come close, but they get a 9 out of 10 so the quest continues.
What’s your favorite style? Is it the same kind as you grew up with? A completely different style? Where would you order from if you were on death row?