Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Slice of Knowledge

Pizza hasn't always been around. In our lifetimes it has, but not forever like apple pie. Pizza was fairly well kept secret that crept overseas, through Ellis Island and ended up in places like New York City. Gradually it showed up in general stores, made in the back room by the in-house baker and fed to the workers in a crude form somewhat resembling what we know as pizza today. It was an Italian peasant comfort food. World War II opened us up to other cultures by taking us back to the old countries that so many of our fathers, and grandfathers had left. Back then this country was very much isolationist. When the war came and G.I.'s ended up in Sicily with Patton and up the leg of the boot, they discovered the little Italian mamas who would feed them from time to time with a very inexpensive food that was still available even at war time. Some home made cheese melted in a brick fired bread oven over some minced tomatoes with a few spices on a flattened piece of bread tasted pretty darn good to the soldiers on leave. When the G.I.'s returned they remembered that mouthful of flavors and sought it out. The back room pizza makers were catching on with the general population, but mainly in the Italian districts of the big cities. Soon they were starting up their own pizzerias and an industry was born. I'm not sure how quickly the big screen LED TV's moved into the franchises and plastered sports with no sound on every wall of the place, while video arcade games decorate the walls and the sounds of Darth Vader getting shot at for the millionth time, all while you ate your pizza, but those places are relegated to the title of Pizza Parlor. I suppose it gathers the same respect a massage parlor would get as opposed to massage therapy. In any event, a true authentic style pizza place that respects the craft like Tony in San Francisco or that little Italian mama in Rome or Naples is still a pizzeria.
I can remember as a child getting the occasional pizza at a place called 'Gay 90's Pizza'. I'm not sure that name would make it these days, but on the other hand maybe it would be highly successful. I've never stepped foot in a Chuck E. Cheeses but somehow I don't think that place is ever going to end up on the list of pizzerias. Also there was Shakey's who was one of those guys coming back from Italy after WWII and building his pizza empire. For the time I still think he had it right. Saturday nights banjo music by live banjo players would get together and do their banjo version of barbershop quartet music. I hope that wasn't an oxymoron. The servers all had vertical striped red vests on; it seemed to fit the part. Those days are gone. I haven't seen a Shakey's or a Straw Hat Pizza place in decades. I still remember a sign posted at one of the Shakey's I frequented. It read: We made a deal with the bank, we won't cash checks and they won't make pizza. It always made me laugh. Another one I recall now read: Free pizza to all customers over 90 accompanied by both parents. I suppose they didn't give away too many pizzas.
Historically pizza has been a finger food and a communal food. I suppose it would be the New Testament version of breaking bread with family and friends because it always takes a family or a few friends to eat a whole pizza. Eating pizza with your hands is the right thing to do wherever you are. You reach over the person sitting next to you grab a slice and pull it away with that huge stretchy band of mozzarella ready to snap back and wrap around you and the guy behind you. You take a huge bite and immediately burn the roof of your mouth and say man that's hot. Oh no, no, no. Not if you are in London eating pizza. We did exactly that at an American franchise pizza place. Sure there was silverware at our table but we figured that was for the lettuce munchers at the salad bar. Sheri & I were devouring our first slice of pizza and the place went virtually quiet. I paid no attention to the silence but I did notice there was a room full of people staring at us. I asked Sheri If I had cheese hanging from my chin. Was there sauce all over my face? That's when I noticed the silverware in action. The Londoners properly cutting a nice bite size and manageable piece of pizza off their slice. They all sat so straight and rigid too. I think a couple of them even had their napkins tucked into their buttoned up shirts. Nevertheless we decided by then the spectacle was made, so we continued to eat it like cavemen. I wanted to stand up and make a statement about the proper way to eat a pizza is with your hands but to the Londoners that would be like to us, eating oatmeal with our fingers. I say that any food that is thrown into the air when being prepared can be eaten with your hands. That's my new rule!
The first picture is that of a Napoletana Margherita. Pizza has evolved though. I believe there are about 21 official styles of pizza in the U.S.
In Chicago there is deep dish,
In New York there is of course, New York style,

New Haven style.

and the midwest has their versions as well with a very noticeable difference on the right. Family size for sure.
Californians have their style, and we don't even want to go into the frozen aspects of pizza, pizza pockets, or any of the kids meal versions of pizza. Calzones, however are basically a pizza folded in half and worthy of mention. Any place with a pizza oven can assemble and bake a calzone.
As a young teenager with my first vehicle I thought it would be cool to drive across America and have coffee at every Sambo's restaurant there was. What a worthy goal that was! (Remember, I speak sarcasm fluently). Now as I am older, wouldn't it be cool to drive across America and try all 21 styles of pizza? Who's with me?


  1. Remember the time we drove across America–partway, anyway, stopping at every Radio Shack we came to collecting free batteries? We brought a whole bagful to your father! I'll sign on for the pizza trip! Sheri

  2. This time I will try commenting from opening the blog by clicking on my pic, because I am NOT Chef Vincenzo! Gail's pizza crust recipe produced a very bread-like crust with a robust rustic texture. See, you can describe pizza dough with as many adjectives as you can wines!