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Why is pizza glorified so much?

  • f

At the risk of getting some flak, I'm really curious as to why pizza and finding the perfect slice or whole pie is such a chowhound obsession. This question came up for me after reading so many posts about Mario Batali's new place Otto plus the recent thread on Pizza Fresca and of course DiFara's. I like pizza as much as the next person and a good slice is satisfying but I'd rather search out a 'real' meal. My mom told me when she was younger that she found wonderful whole pizzas in many Italian restaurants. She'd look for the little chubby chef doll in the window who was holding a pizza. Then numerous pizzerias opened and many restaurants stopped serving the whole pie.

I believe pizza as a meal craze originated with Wolfgang Puck. When I first visited California my European friends were surprised that so many places in southern California served a whole pizza as dinner. Well, the craze caught on and here we are shelling out double digit dollars on pizza and discussing it like it's worthy of Michelin stars. Of course, this is only my opinion but I'd rather sit down most of the time and have wonderful American, French, Italian or Spanish food that's pretty to look at and has many different tastes and flavors. I mean pizza is dough, cheese and whatever designer ingredients the chef slaps on it.

Am interested in other 'hounds opinions and theories about why pizza has been so glorified. Be gentle folks! :-)

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  1. I was under the impression that if you were going to drink beer and watch a ballgame, there was a law that said you had to eat pizza. Not wanting to break this law, I figured I might as well look for the best since I had to eat it anyway.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Bobfrmia

      Only if watching at home. If at the game the only legally permissible foods are big fat sausages, peanuts, and cracker jacks.

      1. re: Bobfrmia

        I believe the OP was referring to pizza as a haught cuisine. Putting it in the same realm as cheese sticks, potato skins and chicken wings is perfectly acceptable - but not in my opinion what the post is about.

      2. It falls under the "most fun things you can do with one hand" catagory...you know, like drinking a cold beer from the bottle.

        ;-D

        1 Reply
        1. Pizza as a meal craze started with Wolfgang Puck? You are joking, right?

          13 Replies
          1. re: AlanH

            No, I'm not joking. Of course, people ate whole pizzas or slices for meals before that California pizza period but I think Wolfgang Puck elevated pizza into another category. For example, we don't see hot dogs as a major theme where restaurants open one to glorify the all-American frank - they're fast food and can be satisfying as well. However, I bet if a top restauranteur glorified hot dogs, we would see many more theme places that basically served hot dogs.

            1. re: Flynn

              please don't give Daniel Boulod any idea's...

              1. re: Flynn
                s
                Stanley Stephan

                Now listen here, I will TOLERATE this in California, but I'm going to throw a major hissy fit if the entire COUNTRY starts considering what they serve in California as pizza. Bad Mario, bad.

                Call it gourmet flat bread. Call it whatever you want, but it ain't pizza.

                A REAL pizza with tomato sauce, cheese and the perfect crust is heads up in it's classic simplicity to those overpriced gourmet pieces of crust. And the topping had better be sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers, anchovies, olives, onions or other classic ingrediants.

                I blame the first person to screw with things by putting ham and pineapple on top. It gave people ideas about being creative.

                Now that's not to say I don't enjoy a good California flatbread. I will get a craving for those gorgonzola / walnut types.

                My hysteria has to do with the fancy types totally replacing the pizza classic. Although there seem to be rumors of real pizza up north of SF, there is NO good real pizza in SF.

                The passion comes from the sheer goodness of an excellent slice of pie. It's amazing how such simple ingrediants can produce such a satisfying experience.

                So when you get the people who try to cut corners with the bad dough, cheap cheese and flavorless sauce, well, it invites comment.

                And then when you have these California pizza wanna be's ... this too shall pass.

                1. re: Stanley Stephan

                  Here here, Stanley, I agree about the unbelievably sad state of affairs in San Francisco when it comes to pizza.

                  Not sure if your "gourmet flatbread" name will catch on -- it's still a pizza-ish-type substance.

                  I know -- one of my friends, who had lived with me in Chicago during the same years and therefore she knew better than this -- actually suggested going to the California Pizza Kitchen one day for lunch. She told me she liked the Thai Chicken pizza, or maybe something with zucchini. I mean, come on!

                  Also: I totally agree with the poster who brought up that pizza is an early childhood memory of non-homemade food. Also, for many of us growing up in households where spices and strong flavors were rare, pizza was way out on the flavor tolerance scale for us as children. It was probably one of the most strongly-flavored foods that we ate as children that we actually liked. This, I'm sure, created a pretty strong taste memory. Perhaps, for some children, it was a primal experience of enjoying food, rather than just consuming it for hunger. It's definitely a "trying to get back home again".

                  Gosh -- I wonder if that means that a whole bunch of children are going to grow up yearning for the Thai chicken or white-bean pizza of their youths. Egads!

                2. re: Flynn

                  Actually in the 70s at least in the midwest there was a chain called Lum's that served nothing but hotdogs. It was a regular sit-down TGIF-y kind of place with about fifty different kinds of dogs with cutesy names, if I remember correctly. Not gourmet, but fun for wiener lovers.

                  1. re: Amy B.

                    Lums - hotdogs steamed in beer!

                    1. re: Suzanne

                      Wow, if you read these boards long enough, you'll see every joint you ever set foot in.

                      Lum's was our big Friday night post-basketball-game hangout. This was in Rhode Island.

                      1. re: Bob W.

                        I don't like hot dogs so much, but loved Lum's beer battered cod. Everything there was cooked in beer, and they didn't even proof you ;-}

                    2. re: Amy B.

                      NYC has plenty of hot dog as meal type places. Just check out the menu for Crif Dogs below.

                      Link: http://crifdogs.com/menu.html

                      1. re: Amy B.

                        Lum's! Hot dogs steamed in beer! Now that brings back childhood memories.

                      2. re: Flynn

                        Personally, I think that pizza as a restaurant entree became popular with the advent of the food network and the renewed interest in the cuisines of other countries. In Italy many restaurants serve a variety of wonderful pizzas with fresh ingredients of the day as part of their regular menu. I think people here liked the idea and it caught on.

                        Sorry, I think Wolfgang Puck's pizzas are nothing to write home about. The only excitement about them, was when he started seeling frozen ones and that fizzled out pretty fast - they were disgusting.

                        1. re: Tatyana

                          The pizzas at Spago when it opened were absolutely glorious. Mind-bendingly good. Life-changingly good. You had a slice of pizza with fresh white truffle and you were ready to die.

                          And in fact Puck's wholly original pizzas were almost instantly copied all over the country, to the point where as early as '84 or '85 you could get duck sausage pizza in airport hotels in Ohio. It's hard to remember back that far sometimes, but the instant popularity of Spago's pizza was one of the signal events in the evolution of New American cooking.

                          And while Puck's pizzas may be available frozen and in chain restaurants now, Spago was intended to be a simple late night trattoria, a chefs' hangout inspired by a restaurant named Chez Gu, near Marseilles. Sometimes the right idea hits at just the right time.

                        2. re: Flynn

                          I'm sorry, that is simply not the case. If anything he BASTARDIZED it.

                      3. pizza is in many ways the hallmark food of the chowhound ideal.

                        the ubiquity of pizza, and the almost uniform quality of it makes a superior execution notable (and rare). really the only difference between good pizza and bad pizza are the ingredients (and not even more expensive, "gourmet" ones, really)and the desire to make "good" pizza.

                        Good pizza is almost entirely a result of giving a damn, and that is what this whole thing is about.

                        23 Replies
                          1. re: matt

                            Much the same thing could be said, btw, about the other two members of the American Chowhound Trinity: burgers and hot dogs.

                            1. re: matt

                              Matt, I hear what you're saying about pizza being the hallmark of a chowhound ideal. Guess I disagree with ya on that one because not all chowhounds come in one size, taste preference or flavor.

                              I guess pizza, hot dogs and burgers are as American as apple pie but I still can't see pizza being elevated to its lofty position among the majority of hounds. Pizza can be delicious if made properly and one is in the mood for it. I still go back to my original question of why pizza has been glorified so much where other fast food like hot dogs and falafel sandwiches have stayed within their place of being what they are and not something else.

                              1. re: Flynn

                                once again, i think it comes back to ubiquity. the united states, particularly some of the cities highlighted here on chowhound (NY, SF, Chicago)has a long enough history with pizza that people have actually developed opinions on it. There aren't pizza discussions on the texas board the way there are on the outer boroughs board. there are far fewer discussions of dim sum on the new orleans board than there are on the san francisco board.

                                pizza isn't so special, it's just something that most people know enough about that they've become able to develop defendable opinions. more opinions=more arguements.

                                re: hotdogs/hamburgers-- pizza is almost exclusively consumed in restaurants (we're just gonna leave the frozen stuff out of this) wheras hotdogs and hamburgers are more generally prepared at home, making for less relevant arguments (far as this board is concerned)

                                1. re: matt

                                  I think it also has a lot to do with the obvious room for creativity. Hot dogs and falafel have fairly prescribed ingredients and though you can vary the condiments you serve them with, they really don't offer the same sort of palate for experimentation that pizza does. I think part of the reason pizza has become such a gourmet type food has to do with the fact that it can be made into an interesting experience by using surprising or new combinations of flavors. I think you would be hard-pressed to say the same of hot dogs.

                                  (And I think Daniel Boulud might disagree that the hamburger can't be elevated to loft restaurant food!)

                                  Pizza as a meal has been pretty much standard throughout all of my 30 years. Growing up in a fairly Catholic region where we didn't eat meat on Fridays during Lent, all the local pizza places were filled with families having dinner. So I am assuming that by pizza as a meal you are talking about fancy pizzas.

                                2. re: Flynn

                                  Have you ever tried cold falafel or hot dogs the next morning?
                                  (They might be great, but I've never had left-overs)
                                  Pizza seems to hold up to the abuses of time and temperature better than a lot of other fast foods and probably has at least some effect on its popularity (despite the 'avoid the noid' hysteria of some years back).

                                3. re: matt

                                  This statement rings truest of all the responses I've read (although many of them make other good points).

                                  I have a question, though.

                                  I'm a SF Bay Area native. I don't have strong feelings about pizza. If someone told me I would have to give up pizza for the rest of my life, I would not be particularly upset. I've eaten pizza I've thought was delicious, absolutely execrable pizza, and lots of pizza I've considered perfectly decent in between.

                                  On the SF Board, there are almost monthly diatribes by transplanted Easterners claiming (sometimes quite rudely) there is no decent pizza in the SF Area. Having heard it often enough, I'm willing to accept on faith that East Coast pizza is superior in every way to California pizza (even well-made California pizza).

                                  The question I have is -- is this passion for "authentic" East Coast pizza primarily a factor of what one grew up with, or do Californians transplanted to the east feel as passionately that East Coast pizza is the only pizza worthy of the name?

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    I can't speak for Californians but I think NY/East Coast Pizza is superior and it is not what I grew up on. I have lived in Texas all my life and I like pizza okay but I would never have gone out of my way for it really. I had an Italian friend transplanted to Texas who constantly complained about not being able to get decent pizza here. When I accompanied her to NY once she took me to a pizzeria for a slice. I had to agree - it was sublime. It was plain cheese but the cheese was different - much tastier, more fat content - the sauce was better and the ratio of cheese to sauce was perfect. And the crust was greatness. Not too thick & not too thin. A good chewiness but the bottom was crisp. Unfortunately, it ruined my taste for the pizza I had known. The good news is about 5 years ago a NY style pizzeria opened in my city and it is the real thing! Their pizza is just as I remember what I had in NY. They are not in my neigborhood and I have to get on the tollway and drive 10 to 15 minutes but it is so worth it. The only pizza I will eat now. Friends have taken me to their favorite pizza places in SF and southern Cal and while the pizzas were good - they were nowhere near the greatness of NY style pizza.

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      If it's any consolation, transplanted Californians often dis the inferior burritos and other cal-mex foods when the move east...

                                      Personally, I think it's best to seek out what a place does best, and not try to recreate the experience of the place you just left or left long ago...

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                        r
                                        RickInOakland

                                        Well, I grew up in the "belly of the beast", New Haven, and for my mom, dad, and me, Friday night was always pizza night out, usually at Sally's. Seems like my family was on first name basis with the owner... something about a Jewish-Italian connection that seems to come up often.

                                        New Haven pizza was and still is a simply made and presented food item.... no peking duck on it, thank you. And I remain loyal to that simple Friday night pleasure of a fresh from that oh-so-special oven lovely thin and slightly burnt crust, fresh tomato sauce, light topping of cheese, and maybe a simple extra... some sausage? mushroom? anchovies?

                                        'nuf said!

                                        1. re: RickInOakland

                                          What I miss most is the clam pizza, a Pepe's specialty. Oh how I miss New Haven pizza. I love the Jersey stuff I grew up on, but you're right, the New Haven stuff has an honesty and simplicity to it, like it's been reduced to pizza essence.

                                          Was that waxing a little too rhapsodic? Perhaps because I just had an unpleasant reminder of what passes for pizza in Redmond.

                                          1. re: RickInOakland

                                            Yum. Sally's and Peppe's. You've got me drooling here in SF, where, while there are some decent pies, nothing even approaches the sublimity of New Haven pizza.

                                            But if I moved back to Connecticut, I'd be missing the amazing Mexican, Vietnamese, Thai, etc. food here.

                                            I think regional cuisine is a good thing. If everywhere had pizza like Wooster St., New Haven, it wouldn't be anywhere near as special (and we'd all die of corony disease by the time we hit 40).

                                            1. re: RickInOakland

                                              My (Jewish) mother's first job was in a "pizza joint" up in Philly. The first priority upon moving to Central Florida - chain heaven - was to find a local "pizza joint" that met her standards.

                                            2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              Unless the plane has a layover in Chicago, in which case they leave town not knowing what pizza is at all.

                                              1. re: annieb

                                                Huh? Pardon me, but I fail to grasp your meaning. Who are "they"?

                                              2. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                s
                                                Stanley Stephan

                                                There's only one way to answer this. Airlines are practically giving away fares recently. Get one of those $199 rt fares to the East Coast. There's actually an airport in New Haven. Visit the greats like Sally's. I could recommend a few great fried clam places as well and some wonderful grinders. Come to think of it, you might only need $99 for a one way trip. Surviving the fried food, sausage and cheese is questionable. But what a way to go.

                                                I know I've reverted to rude again on the subject, but I recently had one of those great pizzas and the reality so exceeded the memory.

                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                  I lived in the Bay Area for over a Decade and the pizza is not good. I lived in North Beach, maybe a block away from Tommasso's. just ok.

                                                  Once, there was a small shop that made some good pizza that was getting there and then it closed up. It was called La Coco's (Union @Grant) and they were making thin pies with a spicy sauce that had some flavor. aha ! I thought there was hope. They were Sicilian, and I liked there chances. They went under. Problem is that most people on the West Coast don't know what good pizza is. I know they understand good food when they see it, but they don't see good pizza. If you brought them to Difara's or Lombardi's they'd recognize the beauty. No doubt about it.

                                                  Now I live in NYC and when friends come to town I make sure they have some good pizza. The great thing is, when they see the pie arrive at the table . they smile. Then they bite into and start making sounds, and you can almost time it to a stopwatch when they finish chewing and say: Oh my god. I swear. They always seem to bring it up in conversation.

                                                  It's just that they don't really have a frame of reference. The EXACT same thing could be said for Burrito's or Mexican food in NYC. I used to have friends say that they liked Golden Boy or North Beach Pizza. Now I love the guys that own Golden Boy dearly, but they are not making good pizza. Same with that slop they serve at North Beach Pizza. eighty pounds of cheese and fifty pounds of dough. you know the one good thing about North Beach Pizza. I could buy dough from them for 3 bucks and make my own pizza.

                                                  Man, I could go for a Pancho Villa Burrito now...

                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                    Stanley's right, Ruth -- don't accept it on faith -- c'mon out and visit!

                                                    I see what you mean, though... my SoCal-bred spouse, while conceding the superiority of East Coast pizza, never did get the bug. 'Course, he hasn't had the *really* good stuff - yet...

                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      Well, I can partially answer your question, which I hope will help to identify or debunk a pattern.

                                                      I, a midwestern girl with many older sisters, spent long vacations in New York's Greenwich Village in the 80's. I had always loved pizza. My sister who moved to NY and lived there for 10 years always loved pizza. Then we had NY pizza. And I was indoctrinated. It was, as I recall, one of the fake "Original Johnny Ray's" where I had it first. My sister Peg knew it was fake, but took me anyway because she had found that at that particular shop it was delicious. We learned about folding the slice. We learned about having just cheese pizza (and not feeling deprived but rather recognizing it as the original kind of pizza heaven). We learned about having to (or not) blot olive oil and cheese grease off with a napkin, since there was a crispy crust rather than an absorbent one.

                                                      I had loved pizza before that, but then I became rabid for it. We'd sample place after place and compare them. One summer when I was in high school I stayed with her for the entire month of June. We probably ate pizza every second or third day that month. We never tired of it. I didn't truly know what pizza-love could be before my jaunts through NYC with a 'houndish big sis.

                                                      Then I moved to Chicago,and was introduced to the totally different and every bit as delicious phenomenon of Chicago pizza. I tried them all, finally settling on Carmen's (Evanston) spinach and garlic stuffed pizza, or any other flavor at Carmen's, as my favorite. A meal in a slice. Inches deep. 500 calories easy per slice. Voices hush when it comes to the table, and no one hears anything else during the first slice. Closing your eyes and sinking your teeth through what seems to be miles of soft, chewy, flavor-packed deliciousness. A totally different experience, and every bit as satisfying in it's way, as NYC pizza (with the exception that you couldn't eat it while walking). Pizza was a passion. All my Chicago friends had favorite thick-slice places, and opinions on which one was better.

                                                      I've been here in SF for almost 5 years now, and have found pizza almost never to be a topic of conversation. No one swaps pizza-find stories "I was waiting for my drycleaning and walked down to the corner for a slice"-type stories of finding great pizza in unexpected places. People don't even get super-excited about the (very good) pizza at Zuni. People make it at home with micro-greens and whole wheat crusts and goat cheese, etc, which is wonderful but doesn't create the kind of visceral longings that the NY and Chicago varieties have inspired. Those homemade, often vegetarian or low-fat creations are more the Stanley Stephan gourmet flatbread, and never never never have I seen people go into fits of rhapsody and longing over pattypan squash/prosciutto/arugala pizza like the iconic slices I had in those two bigger cities back east.

                                                      It's just not a huge passion here -- but things like wine and crab cioppino are for most people here, so it's just a regional tradeoff.

                                                      Also, we've such biodiversity here that it's easy to listen to the healthful muses and fall in love with kumquats (like many posters here), year-round fresh herbs from the back yard, heirloom tomatoes, Meyer lemons, and sand dabs. Also, the emphasis on healthful eating here in the Bay Area makes some people, I think, a little self-conscious about getting all worked up over eating mozzarella and pepperoni frequently and in quantity.

                                                      Footnote: abovementioned sister eventually moved to Boston, and took me to North End for pizza at that place that still uses the super-hot coal-fired oven. The name is escaping me right now though I was there only last June. Gosh it was fantastic.

                                                      1. re: Mrs. Smith

                                                        That would be Regina's, the favorite of the most descriminating Boston hounds! Thanks for the lovely peaen the ultimate food...

                                                        1. re: Mrs. Smith

                                                          Mrs Smith, reading your writing was as good as having a good slice.

                                                          1. re: Mrs. Smith

                                                            I think the real difference is people in NY especially, and in Chicago as well, still walk. In California, everyone seems to drive everywhere (not true, especially in SF, but it SEEMS like it). One of the sublime joys in life is walking down the avenues in NY, watching the passing parade, while enjoying a perfect slice of pizza. The whole ritual, from standing in line to order (and if you hemmed and hawed while ordering like the Prez did when he went out for burgers in Washington, the counter guy would just look right past you and yell "Next!"), to those few minutes of anticipation while it heated up, to the moment when it was passed to you, and you still had to wait 'cause it was too hot, and then stepping out into the bright sunshine and just enjoying the energy and cacophony of Manhattan as that first bite makes it way into your mouth. I wonder what percentage of pizza that's not delivered in NYC is eaten while walking, and what percentage is eaten sitting down.

                                                            I don't know why Toronto has such lousy pizza. I know New Yorkers claim it's the water in the dough; I'm not expert enough to know. But in Toronto, the cheese isn't quite right, the sauce is often just a bit acrid, and even though you can get all kinds of options for your crust - thick, thin, well-done, whole grain - it never reaches the heights for me. I'm inured to it now, but that doesn't mean I still don't remember those summers I worked in Manhattan.

                                                            1. re: FrankD

                                                              I was thinking exactly what you described but couldn't put it into words (I was going to say something about the deisel fumes and horns honking for some reason), thank you very much for your lyrical explanation! Now I'm dying for a slice....

                                                      2. I think that pizza is one of the first take-out foods that children have with families.

                                                        I have very distinct memories of Sunday nights my father would bring a Cheese Pizza from Alfredos (a non-descript pizza place in Somerset, NJ) and a six-pack of Briar's Birch Beer (Still the best compliment to pizza IMO). We'd sit and watch "Emergency" and "The Wonderful World of Disney" and eat. This experience is the groundwork of aesthetics of all pizza I consume.

                                                        So I think it has to do as much with recalling earlier times as it does the pizza itself.

                                                        A similar arguement can be made for all the fuss about hamburgers...

                                                        11 Replies
                                                        1. re: Gary Rolin
                                                          j
                                                          Jennie Sheeks

                                                          Wow you just brought back all these Sunday night memories for me of Mom's homemade pizza (with wholewheat crust) eaten on an old blanket (to protect the carpet) on the living room floor, watching "The Wonderful World of Disney" and "Masterpiece Theater" (Roots & Upstairs, Downstairs come to mind).

                                                          1. re: Gary Rolin

                                                            Back in the Fifties, when the parents entertained at home, they would serve pizza brought in from Barone's Italian restaurant in Sherman Oaks, California. That is my first memory of pizza and it is a wonderful memory. That distinct but subtle aroma that was unlike anything that ever came out of our kitchen perfumed the whole house. The thin crust, tomato sauce with fresh herbs and melted cheese perfectly melded together were simple yet exotic and so enticing. I have never been able to totally replicate that experience with pizza since, but obviously those first experiences were inculcated in to my psyche. So to me pizza is a combination of a familiar comfort food and a food that is a small glimpse of the mysteries and adventures that await my palate in the world that is beyond my door.

                                                            Wonderful pizza is not just about ingredients, it is about quality ingredients, appropriate ingredients, thoughtful, careful, caring preparation, technique and equipment.

                                                            "Gourmet flatbread" as coined by Stanley Stephen in this thread, or as I have come to know as "designer pizza", is I believe, originally the product of entrepreneurs (sp?) and people very successful at marketing products, and is simply a natural progression in the continuum of American culture and commerce.

                                                            Whether it is an overall positive evolutionary process or a negative evolutionary process or just a passing phase with no lasting impact remains to be seen.

                                                            I have never eaten in a California Pizza Kitchen, and never intend to. I prefer to find my pizza's at establishments that are owned and actively operated by persons of Italian heritage, using recipes that have come from familial connections.

                                                            Wonderful pizza is not a regional thing, it is a local, personal thing. Wonderful pizza is not only found on the east cost, it is found anywhere in the country where the persons preparing and serving it are thoughtful and true to the cultural origins and essence of pizza and where diners, (discriminating 'hounds), support the efforts of those artists who toil as beacons in the dining wilderness.

                                                            1. re: Chino Wayne

                                                              I believe that the NYC water has much to do with the quality of the pizza. Of course dedication to detail and care add to the mix, but, without the type of water that makes that singular crust and sauce seems to me to eliminate most other locations in the country from the elevation to the sheer magical joy that is enjoyed and revered here. I had spent years in L.A. and never found anything remotely acceptable and 3 years in Dallas becoming a doc with no excuse for pizza or bagels for that matter.
                                                              As to the popularity depending on Puck, Pizza Kitchen or other products of the '80s or '90s. It is to laugh. Dominck has been on the same corner at DiFara for 45 years.

                                                              1. re: phantomdoc

                                                                There are a few places here in Central FL that advertise they have the NYC water trucked in to make their dough.
                                                                We have not been- I just get this sinking feeling that even if they DO have the 'right' water, I will still be disappointed that it doesn't taste like I want it to taste...

                                                                1. re: phantomdoc

                                                                  The water myth is ridiculous. I think it does a disservice to the pizza cooks who develop the skill to make great crust.

                                                                  1. re: dagrassroots

                                                                    but they tested the water myth on ted allen's food detectives show, and the tasters each chose the NY water crust over the crust made with local (purified) water, but the same pizza cook. the mineral content *could* make a difference in flavor, i think that is apparent from just understanding minerality in water. (not all purification removes minerals -- only distillation does).

                                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                                      Was the cook blind to which water s/he was using while preparing each pizza?
                                                                      I wouldn't be convinced by a mere single-blind test.

                                                                        1. re: alkapal

                                                                          So the cook was also blind to which pizza was made with the NYC (vs Chicago vs LA) water.
                                                                          Still not enough to convince me that it's the water that makes a difference, since I've had many crappy pizzas in NYC and great pizzas in other cities.

                                                                          Assuming that that Food Network show presented an honest test (and let's not delude ourselves into assuming none of the panelists had a vested interest in confirming the water "myth") - a single run of this kind of test, with a single group of panelists no less, isn't enough to deliver the final word.

                                                                          Have you never found that the flavor of your favorite dish at a certain restaurant varies from visit to visit? I'd need to see that blind tasters consistently choose the same pizza before I accept that the water is really the deciding factor.

                                                                          1. re: alkapal

                                                                            A more recent (and more thorough) Food Lab article on Slice concludes that the water doesn't matter:

                                                                            http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives...

                                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                                              That article should be required reading for pizza fanatics.
                                                                              (I've bookmarked the article and will refer anyone who brings this topic up again in the future to it.)

                                                              2. didn't the pizza as a meal craze start in naples?

                                                                i think what wolfgang did was start the "gourmet" ingredients on pizza craze.

                                                                at any rate, i think pizza is wonderful because it is so versatile. it is almost the perfect food: bread, tomatoes, cheese and any meat/veggie you want.

                                                                it is a meal in itself.
                                                                and you can eat it with your hands :)

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: archway

                                                                  Archway, you hit the nail on the head! Pizza is only as good as you make it and you can make it anyway you like it. It is a one slice meal!

                                                                2. Decent pizza is ubiquitous but great pizza is really rare. Yes, great ingredients matter a lot, as an earlier poster mentioned, but I think the key, as Jeffrey Steingarten has written about, is a super hot oven, much hotter than the vast majority of commercial pizza ovens we're likely to encounter. To me, it's the crust of pizzas coming out of ovens like these that make great pizza sublime. Yes, pizza is comfort food, yes it's easy to eat with one hand, but really good pizza is just excellent food, and you can do pretty much anything you want with it. All the fuss over searching out the best pizza is well justified, IMHO!

                                                                  1. Just this afternoon I spent some time in my Mother's house and did some cleaning. While cleaning out one of the kitchen drawers, I came upon our old silver sugar spoon, the one that had been in use since before I was born. Sugar bowls came and went, but we always replaced a broken one with the type that had a cutout which would accomodate that spoon. It remained in use probably til my late teens, but at some point it had tarnished and got thrown in the back of the drawer. I hadn't lain eyes on it in at least 25 years. I spent about 45 minutes with a chamois cloth and silver polish and lovingly restored its luster. The nostalgia running through me was very satisfying.

                                                                    I think nostalgia for pizza similar to what we had in our youth is in some way comparable to the nostalgia I felt in the above incident. The quest for the perfect slice is like trying to go home again. Searching out a 'real' meal, as you put it, yields better results in a much higher percentage of tries than one experiences with pizza nowadays. The quality of ingredients and the dedication just is not there in most cases. Trying to recapture what you once had is not necessarily more chowhoundish than discovering new tastes which you've never had, but in the rare instances where I've met with pizza success, the part of me which tries to go home again is more pleased than when I discover, say, a new Thai to rave about.

                                                                    1. Finding the perfect slice of pizza is the same to me as finding the perfect glass of wine (for that day) or the perfect rendition of bolognese or the most savory and complex version of any other fine dining item.

                                                                      Every food has its time and place! And I for one am dedicated to finding the best examples of all...

                                                                      I don't quite understand what constitutes a "real meal". I spent as much time obsessing over finding the best pastrami sandwich and the best pizza when visiting NYC as I did over which fine dining establishments I was going to eat at. It's all fun... and delicious!

                                                                      1. I (gently) disagree strongly with the wording of this post. The introduction of gourmet pizza toppings by Puck and others is simply trying to put an upscale spin on a simple and beloved food, not coincidentally for monetary gain. In other words, if so many people like pizza, maybe they'll spend big bucks if I throw some gourmet junk on top.

                                                                        Pizza is different than the other 'everyday' foods. For many years, pizza was the only food listed as a separate category in the Yellow Pages, and may still be. This was simply because the majority of restaurants that primarily served a single item sold pizza. Lots of restaurants because lots of pizza eaters.

                                                                        I see no obsession with searching for a pizza that I really enjoy (without fancy ingredients). Why is this any different than finding the best dim sum or pho or any other food? Although I won't, if some people want to pay big bucks for the gourmet varieties, let 'em.

                                                                        And I do think the line "I mean pizza is dough, cheese and whatever designer ingredients the chef slaps on it" is a little silly. You can just as well say this about any food.

                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Suzanne

                                                                          I 'gently' disagree with you. About 10 years ago, my future gourmet husband invited me out for dinner. I chose pizza and he looked at me like I was a bit off. "No he said I want to buy you a real meal and not fast junk food."

                                                                          I think I 'get' what the original poster was saying. Batali and Co made pizza a grand palace when it's really only an apartment. Now people are waiting on line at Otto for hours just to eat pizza because it's a Batali place. Lemmings.

                                                                          1. re: Chowgal

                                                                            I'm surprised that anyone would consider pizza to be "junk food". Sure, it may be "convenient" food, because you don't necessarily need a plate or utensils to eat it, but that doesn't make it "junk food". And it is only "fast" if you go to a place where the pie is ready when you order. Places like Otto (which I understand has very different, and generally not favorably received, pizza) and La Pizza Fresca prepare pizzas to order, as do many general Italian restaurants that happen to include pizza on the menu.

                                                                            When you said "pizza" to your future husband, if you had specified a place like Otto (had there been one at the time), I don't think he would have had the same reaction. He (and you, it seems) categorizes the food by the environment in which it is served. A corner pizzeria was probably not his idea of a good place for the type of date he wanted. Just because the "traditional" environment where pizza is served is less than upscale doesn't mean it is inappropriate to rethink that approach.

                                                                            There is nothing wrong with a more formal environment for pizza and I'd be very happy if pizza of the quality of DiFara's or Grimaldi's were served in a formal Italian restaurant. Yes, pizza doesn't have to be served in such an environment because, quite frankly, it is cheap to make and therefore can be produced and eagerly consumed in small, dingy shops. But that doesn't mean it has to be.

                                                                            1. re: Abrocadabro

                                                                              I, on the other hand, am not surprised that someone might feel that pizza is just junk food.

                                                                              A while back I had a pizza-eating injury. Due to the fact that there was too much sauce on the dough, and the cheese layer was too thick, and the cheese was too rubbery, when I took a bite, the cheese slid off the top, and attached itself to my chin. Instant second degree burn. I related this story to a guy who noticed the mark on my face, and he was unable to understand how a person could get burned by pizza. He had never had a fresh, hot pizza in his life, only takeout or delivery.

                                                                              Combined with the fact that in most areas of the country, there is only mediocre pizza available at best, I can see why some people might think that going out on a date for pizza is the equivalent of hitting your grocer's freezer case.

                                                                        2. "I mean pizza is dough, cheese and whatever designer ingredients the chef slaps on it."

                                                                          this "dough, cheese, and some other, optional toppings" thing is one of those archetypal combinations that are so basic and wonderful that they crop up in most cuisines, usually as one of the humbler examples of that cuisine. dough and cheese are relatively cheap and very nutritious and i think they possess a visceral goodness because of that. our bodies recognize them as allies.

                                                                          there are foods that you eat every once and a while because they are rich and hard to come by and are therefore surprising and delightful; that's one kind of food pleasure. there are foods that you eat almost every day and that become part of the experience of your life and the expression of your culture; that's another kind of food pleasure. i personally am more interested in the second kind of food experience because i think it is more evocative and meaningful and healthy.

                                                                          1. How to explain?

                                                                            You pass a pizza place everyday on your way home from school. The aroma is intoxicating. You arrive home to your Irish mother's well-intentoned but BORING food. She makes hamburgers, she makes hot dogs, but pizza - never. You discover that to sample one small piece of this mysterious and exotic food, you need twenty-five cents. You can afford this!!!! You enter, taste, and you will **never** be the same. You have tasted manna from heaven....truly, an almost religious experience. You discover that food can be delicious, sensuous, soul-satisifying......

                                                                            Madeleines are only flour, eggs, sugar and butter, oui?

                                                                            1. "I mean pizza is dough, cheese and whatever designer ingredients the chef slaps on it."

                                                                              And caviar is just fish eggs and foie gras is just liver.

                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                              1. re: Hunter

                                                                                That's true and if caviar and fois gras were as cheap as pizza, there would be a Ray's Original Caviar and Andre's Foie Gras on every corner!

                                                                                1. re: Flynn
                                                                                  s
                                                                                  Stanley Stephan

                                                                                  Oh will you stop giving people ideas. I can see it now ... the $41 fois gras pizza with caviar.

                                                                                2. re: Hunter

                                                                                  Fine wine is just rotten grapes and a Gibson Les Paul guitar is just plywood and wire.

                                                                                3. Pizza was a family take out or delivered treat we had growing up esp on a friday night
                                                                                  i do the same now but also in the summer after doing work on our house or gardening all day we dont want to cook or go out
                                                                                  during the winter on a snowing night, order a pizza start a fire and were good
                                                                                  pizza in ca never had it
                                                                                  but chg pizza or ny pizza is the bomb - not a garden pizza, otherwise get a salad

                                                                                  1. I'm sorry - 35 years ago, long before anyone in Ontario had heard of Puck, we were eating pizza as starter, main, and dessert, all at the same dinner. It's easy to handle - no knives and forks - heck, you don't even need plates, just napkins - it's cheap, and it's tasty. It's the perfect street food, as you can easily hold it in one hand while you make your way down the avenue.

                                                                                    And there are a ton of varieties, so you don't get bored with it. Pizza rocks!

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: KevinB

                                                                                      The pizza "craze" was a post-WW2 phenomenon, long before Herr Puck ever saw a kitchen. In some parts of the country there'd been pizza kitchens since well before then, but it came to widespread attention when pizza parlors started popping up all over the country. Though our nearby "big city", Terre Haute IN, had had a place called Ambrosini's for quite some time, my first pizza experience was a kids' party where we made pizzas from Chef Boy-Ar-Dee boxed kits, under some adult supervision. It was several years before I finally tasted REAL pizza, and awoke to its existence as a Major Food Group all its own.

                                                                                    2. To connect a few of the dots in this dated post, Frank Pepe's coal fueled oven in New Haven was first fired up on June 16 1925; twenty-four years and 22 days before Wolfgang Puck was born. Both have been in continuous operation since.
                                                                                      Another factoid probably of interest to almost none of you: pizza accounts for 17% of restaurant sales in the US.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: Veggo

                                                                                        A kid from Jersey just opened a restaurant in my town in the Midwest, selling real NYC pizza by the slice. I am in heaven. Whenever we go to NY, I look forward to dinner at Daniel/Jean-Georges, and several slices of great pie. It's all great chow.

                                                                                      2. As I've said a number of times (I don't get it): http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5943...
                                                                                        Easy-sleazy. Filling-greasy. Lousy frisbies!

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: Scargod

                                                                                          Tex, ya gotta understand, it's religion. The way you feel about real chile and Q is the same others feel about real "Za". Some would say through some meat, beans and Tabasco in a pot and it is good chili. Or boil some ribs, throw 'em on the fire, slather on the BBQ sauce, mmm,mmm good. But you know better. Texas Uno pizza ain't pizza. You gotta open your mind, tilt your palms up, cross your legs and repeat the mantra: Pepe'sorModern, Pepe'sorModern, Pepe'sorModern. Find enlightenment; clams no mozerella, please.

                                                                                        2. Chowhounds obsess over finding the best pizzas because when pizza is prepared well, it is one of the tastiest foods around.

                                                                                          There is a helluva lot of mediocre and even downright bad pizza out there. (Kind of the same situation as with French fries.) So it doesn't surprise me that some people "just don't get" why others are so passionate about it. If I'd only eaten bad pizzas, I would feel the same lack of enthusiasm about eating it.

                                                                                          1. Wow! A six year-old post revival.

                                                                                            I'd be really amazed if there were much agreement here that anyone over 40 years of age would support the belief that pizza as a meal began with either Wolfgang Puck or the Food Network. Actually I'd be really amazed if more than a handful of people at any age would agree with that. I mean seriously eyes-rolling-back-in-head amazed!!!

                                                                                            Puck didn't come to the US until 1973 and Food Network began in 1993. My family was eating pizza as a meal in the 50's and I know WE didn't begin the trend.

                                                                                            More to the OP: Pizza, bagels, BBQ and chinese food (among a short list of special things) are very personal for a huge mass of people. They probably should be added to the list of things you should be careful about bringing up...... right behind religion and politics.

                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: Midlife

                                                                                              But wouldn't you agree that Puck was the first chef in the U.S. to start putting it on the menu at high end restuarants?

                                                                                              1. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                                                                                                Sure, but that wasn't the point of OP (which is what I was responding to.

                                                                                            2. let's let sleeping Pucks lie.

                                                                                              Pizza is almost the perfect food. Jfood loves pizza

                                                                                              6 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: jfood

                                                                                                And I envy jfood because a Toronto slice is just a weak, pallid imitation of a NY slice...

                                                                                                1. re: KevinB

                                                                                                  jfood counts his blessing on pizza. He has lived in NJ, CT and Chicago. three best pizza places in America.

                                                                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                                                                    jfood...really!?! Almost the perfect food? Where does Osso Bucco, Fettuccine Alfredo, Zuppa de Mare, clam chowder, Caesar Salad or for that matter, tortilla soup fit in? Are you saying you could eat pizza day in, day out like I can eat Mexican food?
                                                                                                    People talk about the 'za that has a blackened cracker-like base. Yea, like I want to eat giant hors d'oeuvres all the time!
                                                                                                    Where do veggies fit into the equation of pizza? I can't live on flatbread, cheese and greasy meat! You sure?

                                                                                                    1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                      Oh S.

                                                                                                      Gotta chill buddy. All the other foods you list are perfect foods as well. One does not limit the list of these beautiful creations at the expense of others. And nowhere did jfood state the he would eliminate others from his perfect category.

                                                                                                      And he is glad that he is not the only one that delves in the hyperbole:

                                                                                                      "...day in, day out like I can eat Mexican food?" ... "I can't live on flatbread, cheese and greasy meat!" Most would call Mexican the latter as well, but not jfood.
                                                                                                      :-))

                                                                                                      1. re: jfood

                                                                                                        That might be one point for your side (and twice I've been accused of hyperbole), but as we well know, only Tex-Mex is (cheesy-greasy) that way!

                                                                                                        I think I'm smelling a new topic... "Of one food type, how many meals, of it alone, have you eaten in a row?" Mex/Tex-Mex: 4 (I think I skipped breakfast)

                                                                                                        1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                          Over-under on pizza with jfood probably 4 as well. Only because he ran out for breakfast on day 3.

                                                                                              2. There are many kinds of pizza.

                                                                                                In the UK, an advert for Mccains frozen pizza still enrages me. I was reduced to eating one from my girlfriends freezer once (nothing else there), and it was one of those rare cases of eating purely because you must. Let me explain: these pizzas are a loaf of bread piled high with as many ingredients as possible. they don't even work together. You have greasy pepperoni, tasteless cheddar, an abundance of peppers, salty tomato puree, and all you can taste is bread.

                                                                                                There are Greek places which do delicious pizzas, but they're still not quite right. It's basically melted cheese. If you ever see the left-over slices the next day, you don't want to eat all that congealed fat.

                                                                                                There are chain places, obviously the good ones having pizza ovens. Sometimes it's hit and miss; a margarita shouldn't be complete trash because it's cheap, I should be able to judge a place on it's margarita.

                                                                                                There are traditional family run italian joints, and usually, they're awful (in my experience).

                                                                                                My favorite joint in my hometown has hands down the best pizza, here's why:

                                                                                                o balance; the ingredients don't fight one another, they work together. Like ham, artichoke and olive. Or buffalo mozzerella, 'italian mountain ham' (delicious and rocket. The rocket really goes somehow.

                                                                                                o The dough; it's cooked in a pizza oven properly for the right amount of time. It's crisp but not burned and thin. Snap off a crust and eat, and it has a creamy, bready note. Perfect.
                                                                                                o Proportion; Less is more sometimes. One bite will yeid a slightly different combination of toppings to another. And the tomato sauce supplies a gentle constant background, the cheese a level of salt and texture.

                                                                                                I've had NY pizza before (although not loads) and it was good, but not the best I've had. In fact it was kind of loaded.

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: Soop

                                                                                                  What do you mean by "loaded"? NY pizza shouldn't have any toppings at all really. Just plain cheese is the way to go.

                                                                                                2. man cannot live on bread alone.

                                                                                                  he must add cheese and bake it first! ;-).

                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: alkapal

                                                                                                    Pizza is wonderful because you can have your "meal" in one hand. Like George, on Seinfeld, could I eat pizza during sex? That would be perfection (and I'd have one hand free...)!

                                                                                                    1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                      Good to have that hand to turn your knob.

                                                                                                  2. IMO Pizza is the perfect food.

                                                                                                    It could be a meal, a snack, or an appetizer.
                                                                                                    You can eat it sitting, standing, or walking.
                                                                                                    You can share a pie or eat it all by yourself
                                                                                                    It's not that expensive to pick up a slice*
                                                                                                    It can cause a great debate--Chicago vs NY, DiFara's vs Patsy's, Pappa Johns vs the local guy
                                                                                                    Pizza is like sex--even bad pizza can be good.
                                                                                                    People will travel out of your way for great pizza.

                                                                                                    *except DiFara's and their $4 slice --OUCH!

                                                                                                    (Except at DiFara's)

                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: MrsT

                                                                                                      DiFara's slices are only available in the city where cupcakes cost $4.
                                                                                                      (So it's all a matter of perspective.)

                                                                                                      1. re: MrsT

                                                                                                        Pizza IS the perfect food.

                                                                                                        There are so many different kinds of pizza that can be sublime...from the NY slice...to a charred thin pie...to a "Sicialian" square, to a pie at Otto with white truffles.....
                                                                                                        Each one can be a sublime experience.

                                                                                                        Although, I do not agree that bad pizza can be good....bad pizza is BAD and un-called for!

                                                                                                      2. I think pizza is so interesting because overall, it is a very simple dish. However, because it is so simple, attaining "perfection" is like trying to herd cats.

                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                        1. re: MattInNJ

                                                                                                          One of my favorite pizzas was the first Margherita I had, which so far is also the best of all the other ones I've sampled. It was at the Bosco's brewpub in Nashville, and was their little 12" wood-fired crust, brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with parmesan. Slices of Roma tomato and fresh basil leaves were the only adornment. Rich and austere at the same time, with a perfect crunch and small flashes of flavor from the basil and tomato. Both simple and worthy of extended contemplation. And when you consider that my other favorite is a big pie with sausage, onions, olives, mushrooms and extra cheese from Pizza Perfect down the street, you'll have to admit we're dealing with a very broad range of possibilities here...and that's still excluding (please!!) such items as pineapple and tofu.

                                                                                                        2. For one thing, pizza is, almost literally, a blank canvas. Even the canvas, crust, comes in innumerable varieties, each one with its ardent adherents. Then onto the sauce...or does it even need sauce? Cheese? Wait, maybe it should have been cheese first, then sauce? Toppings - the choices are mind boggling. Then into the oven, wood burning, gas, regular temperature, super hot? To cook it soft, firm, or extra crisp?
                                                                                                          So add to this endless list of possibilities, the fact that millions of people each have their own, strongly held, emotionally charged idea of what pizza should be.
                                                                                                          That's why it's 'glorified.' People just love to argue about it.
                                                                                                          For what it's worth, pizza to me is just a format - not like pizza would be like not liking soup.

                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: juantanamera

                                                                                                            Ah, but there's always the canvas to eat! Sometimes I want the ingredients with pasta, rice or nothing. SO wants to watch her carb intake. There's almost always cheese...
                                                                                                            Whether it's canvas or watercolor paper it's still a sheet you eat. That's pretty limiting. Can't eat anything runny on that! I even have a few issues with burritos on the same grounds. Even though you can tinker with it till the cows come home it's still basically "hand food". I find that makes for a limited palate and it gets boring. Plus, I know how to use a knife and fork. I like pizza, but it's not everyday or every week fare for us.

                                                                                                            1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                              Ethiopian food is "hand food" too, perhaps with a much narrower range on the bread involved, since it's always a spongy and quite sour sourdough...and they do eat a lot of very runny things with it! I would not want to eat nothing but that, any more than I'd want pizza every day (or even week), but that's certainly not to disparage either of those things. It's just that there's such a huge lot of other stuff to eat out there.

                                                                                                              1. re: Will Owen

                                                                                                                I guess I was disparaging of hand food. I love a good barbeque sandwich now and then and a Reuben and a BLT and a taco and an oyster po' boy!

                                                                                                          2. For me, I grew up eating pizza from the local deliver pizza places and always understood what pizza to be. It wasn't until my first time in NYC that I had actual real pizza, with a great crust, quality ingredient, baked crisp and coal fired. Now THAT is pizza and it blew my mind. Totally different than anything I'd ever known.