Whenever I meet someone from New York and they find out that I’m from Chicago, it usually doesn’t take long before they blurt out to me, in a Turrets-like manner, “You know New York pizza is better than Chicago.” This is then usually followed by one and a half seconds of them staring at me, goofily, as if to say, “Aren’t you going to defend your hometown pizza so we can have that clichéd and oh-so-entertaining New York. vs. Chicago Pizza debate?” My standard response is, “Then go eat it.”
You see, New York, the truth is this: No one in Chicago, ever stopped to think about New York pizza, while eating hot and delicious Chicago pizza. Not once. It’s like a baby draining a bottle of milk. It’s between the baby and the bottle. New Yorkers have initiated this conversation with me over and over, but somehow don’t have the intelligence to frame their thoughts in the form of a question.
Maybe they will read this and finally, leave me alone. Maybe the act of writing this will be my catharsis. Maybe getting this out will slightly reduce the amount of spiritual flux the whole world seems to be in, presently.
So I will break with standard practice and explain to New Yorkers, just this once, why they should stick to Broadway musicals, overpriced apartments and Donald Trump.
This may come as shock to you, New York, but you don’t actually understand pizza. I know that hurts to hear. But sometimes you have to break a bone, so it can properly heal. Your egos are much greater than your pizza. Your pizza is okay, but lacks imagination, ambition and heroism. Here are some general guidelines you might want to follow in order to raise your pizza game. Other regions, get your pens and papers out too. It’s always sad for me, when I find myself in a place like Butte, Montana and I see a restaurant with an overhead sign that says “Chicago Style Pizza”.
First of all, New York, you can’t sell pizza by the “slice”. Nor can you call it a “slice”. It’s a “piece” of pizza and nothing else. Calling it a “slice” undermines its majesty. Selling it this way also wrecks the remaining body, causing a”pizza infection”. A “piece” of something is always more sublime than a “slice”. A “piece” of the action is more desirable than a “slice”. You also call a piece of chewing gum a “slice.” Stop it. It’s duplicative and chintzy. It’s also not a “pie”. It never was. It never will be. A pie is something that contains cherries, chocolate or whipped cream. It’s a pizza. Call it that.
Good pizza should also, always be shiny, reflecting the glorious and delicious cholesterol-elevating grease it bathes in. This isn’t healthy time. You should be able to smell it and taste it with your eyes.
The smell and response should also be so overwhelming that it should be very difficult to drive home without pulling over and eating a couple of pieces (not slices). It should also send your brain to a sinister place, like acting surprised in front of your family, once you “discover” that the restaurant must’ve made an error, by giving you a pizza, two pieces short. It’s also not unusual to sit and slowly watch someone eat their last piece while you have violent fantasies about them, because your pizza is gone. I’ve sat inside “pizza” restaurants where the pizza kitchen was exposed and you couldn’t smell a thing. This is a bad sign. Flavor and smell are close siblings. The smell should be profound from at least two blocks away, sending your hypothalamus into a dopamine frenzy. If the smell isn’t there, then the flavor won’t be either.
With really good pizza, it should be very difficult for you to stop eating it, even though you’re no longer hungry. You should only stop because it hurts. Eating good pizza isn’t about hunger. It’s about gluttony. This is always signaled by the loosening of the belt, the feelings of deep regret, and the falling onto the couch into a deep carb and fat coma.
Good pizza always needs to come in a circular pan — not square, triangle, trapezoidal, or anything else. The pan should be metal, dark, slightly battered and look older than Emperor Hirohito. The pizza and pan, together, should be heavy enough to kill you, if dropped from a 3 story building onto your head. Flat pizza need only be heavy enough to break your neck, falling from the same distance. Preparing or serving pizza on any kind of aerated metal rack, proves only one thing – that its maker doesn’t know what they’re doing. Pizza must cook and sit in its own juice. That’s flavor.
Good pizza should take at least 45 minutes to make (30 for thin). That crust needs to bake like fine bread. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t cook high quality pizza in under 10 minutes. Order some delicious garlic cheese bread, with a fine pilsner, while you wait and don’t whine. Your patience will be rewarded.
Also, if you’re not eating your crust, it’s probably because it sucks. Don’t even think about not eating your crust in Chicago. People will become agitated. They will ask you, angrily, “Are you gonna eat that crust or what?” If you don’t, they will talk about you later. You won’t ever be able to live it down and you will be seen as weak. Engagements have broken up over this. People have been blackballed from clubs. Just eat your crust and there won’t be any problems.
People think that all Chicago pizza is thick, stuffed and deep dish. It’s not. That’s just one kind. Chicago has tons of thin crust pizza. President Obama served Italian Fiesta thin crust pizza at his inauguration. Think about that. The leader of the Free World could’ve had any food in the whole world, to celebrate his historic day, and he selected thin crust pizza from a restaurant on Chicago’s South Side.
Flat pizza should also be cut into small square pieces, not triangles. The square shape seals in the flavor, whereas triangles allow it to escape. Stephen Hawking delves into this in his book on String Theory. It’s too complicated to explain here. Just trust me…
Also, and this is very important, flat pizza should only be served in a cardboard box on thick corrugated paper. The aroma of the cardboard somehow co-mingles and strengthens the aroma of good pizza. The corrugated paper should ultimately become one giant grease stain, which is an indicator of the artery-clogging joy, that you have just put into your body.
Good pizza’s deliciousness is never impeded by it dropping in temperature, even to near freezing levels. Good pizza should always have the same rapturous effect on you, whether it’s piping hot or freezing cold, while you eat it for breakfast.
Also, never trust an Italian restaurant that “also makes pizza”. That’s a guaranteed disappointment, unless you’re living in the Sudan. Then you take what you can get.
So take heed New York and everywhere else. Most regions in the US specialize in something. Know your strengths and weaknesses and don’t try to be what you’re not. If you really like your pizza, then eat as much of it as you want. We don’t care. That should be enough for you anyway. Don’t go looking for fights. In Chicago, it’s between us and the pizza.