||[Oct. 11th, 2011|12:09 pm]
Pizza. My dietary Waterloo. Heh. One of. |
I do believe that if you had to pick an unholy triumvirate of things that make America fat, it would be: Pizza, Bagels, French Fries. They are each about 350-450 calories a serving. Mind you, that’s assuming you can eat “A” slice of pizza, restrict yourself to a small fries and eat a naked bagel. Bagels make the list because unlike doughnuts and other fatty, sugary treats, they don’t come with a dose of guilt. A lot of people THINK they’re making a better choice, but typically speaking a doughnut will have fewer calories than a bagel with cream cheese. Now…the doughnut may do a faster number on your blood sugar, but seriously, dietarily speaking we’re now splitting hairs between Hitler and Stalin.
A French fry has to be really good for me to go for it. And I can even stop and leave some in the container. (Unless we’re talking homemade French fries and then I will eat until you or your fryer give in. But that, thankfully, is a rare thing nowadays.) And duck fat and rosemary…well, I’ve got a plenary indulgence* that covers that.
And bagels…I will cave on a really good, genuine, your-teeth-should-stick-to-the-crust-a-bit, authentic New York style bagel, if it’s an Everything bagel. Or I’m starving and that’s the only option. Otherwise, I am safe from Demon Bagel.
But pizza. Sigh. I probably only have pizza maybe two or three times a year. Because let’s face it, “A” slice is not happening. I look at a pizza the way I look at a box of wine. A challenge. I know I shouldn’t…but my stupid manifests itself in either public or high-caloric fashion, so what can I do?
What’s a perfect pizza? Should it be thick, thin, deep, flatbread-y, chewy, red, white, green, piled high with toppings or minimally kissed with key flavors?
It’s pizza right? Like sex, even mediocre is still pretty good.
(Although bad is Bad. And no one should have to suffer that. There is a lot of Bad Pizza out there. And yeah, if I’m going to jump into the caloric abyss, I’m not doing it for a crappy pie.)
My interpretation of pizza includes most varieties, except for thick bready crust. (Or stuffed crust. See where I wrote Bad Pizza up there? Stuffed crust is, by definition, Bad Pizza. You may well like it. I like Hostess Snoballs. But I will never try to convince anyone that they actually TASTE good. They’re just a…thing. A memory, an association. I don’t know what your excuse for Stuffed Crust pizza is – you couldn’t figure a faster way to put more calories and fat in a meal? Whatever. Let’s not get me started on the “flavoring” that is often sprinkled onto said stuffed crust. Pearls on a sow is sort of an interesting look. Cheap plastic beads on a sow…that’s just crap on a pig.)
Where was I? Oh, on the pizza line that must not be crossed.
I grew up eating New Haven pizza. Pepe’s was our family pizza joint. I remember Mr. Pepe taking us back into the kitchen to show us the ovens. I remember one of the guys picking me up and threatening to put me in the oven and “Ima gonna abaka you lahk a pie.”
I’ll admit it, I am IMPRINTED on Wooster Street pizza. (That’s New Haven.) Some would say the best in the world. As a fan of diversity in all things, I can’t get behind that. It’s one type. And it’s the best of that one type. The type being thin, chewy, crust, with char spots on the bottom and char spots on the edge of the crust bubbles. You should not be able to hold the piece by the crust, without dumping all of the toppings in your lap. You should be able to fold it in half, lengthwise, to eat it.
I don’t really care what’s on it. I will eat clam pizza because it’s my heritage, but I’d be lying if I said that was anywhere NEAR my first choice. I like it better if it’s clam and Portuguese sausage. But even better if the clams go away. Anchovies are my one speed bump. Pineapple is definitely a dip in the road. I’m just not sure that fish and fruit belong on a savory pizza. But otherwise, no holds barred.
We usually ate at Pepe’s. Sometimes Sally’s or the Spot (which is gone now, sniff) and dozens of other places that weren’t as good, but close to home, or wherever we were. It was a shock when we moved in my early teens to a town that, although just 30 minutes away from New Haven, apparently was on the other side of the Pizza line. Square, thick, stiff crusts, with tomato sauce just a little too heavy on the oregano for us. Still in the Italian zone, but the influence in Central Conn was definitely more Sicilian.
My father and I embarked on a search, ordering from someplace different, trying out every pizza joint we could find and while we eventually found some acceptable places…we ate a lot of bad pizza. So, from time to time, we’d make a pilgrimage down to Wooster Street. To this day, I see a piece of foldable, charred crust pizza and it all comes back: going through the door with my Dad, the guys in the back coming out to say hello, Mr. Pepe coming by the table if he was in, the warmth emanating from those ovens – everyone always sweating a bit, even in the depth of winter. The aroma of all of that melted cheese and rising yeast, making you smell like a pizza for hours afterwards. Those thin, cheap dispenser napkins that didn’t stand a chance against the grease running down your hand, your wrist, down to your elbow if you weren’t fast enough. Those battered aluminum pie trays. Then my Dad’s hands, folding that slice in half – we weren’t big talkers, my Dad and I, but we bonded over pizza, that’s for certain. Even the post-prandial pizza burps on the ride home…
So, pick out a perfect pizza? Impossible. But Wooster Street pizza? Pizza AND childhood. A heady combo, that.