Pizza Party!: A Contest and Ode to Optimism

pizzapartyYesterday, my boss said, “I declare today a pizza day,” and my mood instantly improved.

Even people who have fairly neutral feelings about pizza as a food item have to admit that there’s a mystical quality to the phrase “pizza party.” Think of the power those words held over you and your classmates in elementary school. In third grade, my teacher Mrs. Medwid made an announcement one day that my mom (My mom! The secrets that woman could keep…) was going to bring in pizza, and we were going to watch Return to Snowy River on videocassette for the rest of the afternoon instead of doing stupid math homework.  It was maybe one of the best things that had ever happened to me. I don’t think it was even a reward for anything in particular; I think Mrs. Medwid was just awesome and thought we deserved a pizza. I still think of that day sometimes when the world feels harsh.

Look, everybody, winter is tough. The days are short, and the cold winds blow, and a lot of people are feeling down. So let’s bring a little levity to the blog in the form of pizza party anecdotes. Send your best pizza party story to by next Friday, January 30. I will post my favorites here, and the winner will receive a pizza-related prize specially devised by me. Now go eat a slice.

The (Almost) Ageless Tale of the Brooklyn Slice


Scott also holds the Guinness World Record for owning the most pizza boxes. One more reason to be jealous.

There is almost nothing better than a good slice of Brooklyn pizza—the molten cheese, the piquant sauce, the chewy crust. But I would argue that listening to Scott Wiener of Scott’s Pizza Tours talk about pizza might be even better than eating it.

During a recent lecture in the Brooklyn Collection of the public library, Scott won me over, not just because of his enthusiasm for pizza (which is considerable) but also his willingness to forego the easy route of merely touting the merits of various pizza joints and instead diving into the more complex terrain of pizza history. You should have seen the way his face lit up when he pulled up the PowerPoint slide of the preserved communal ovens from 1st century A.D. Pompeii. Or the way he elatedly traced the web of relationships that connected Lombardi’s in Little Italy to Totonno’s on Coney Island. (It’s true that I got a little lost during the part of the talk in which he discussed the physics of coal-burning ovens, but that might have been due to the monster pour of white wine a librarian had given me just prior to sitting down. Man, I love the library.)

Judging from the reaction of the crowd, I wasn’t alone in being wooed by Scott. There was an audible groan when the words “Papa John’s” were uttered, and crows of delight when he revealed a stream of research that hinted that the original Ray’s might well have been in Brooklyn, not Manhattan. I was a little concerned that one peculiar old dude might kidnap Scott just so they discuss the details of oven construction, about which the old dude seemed passionate.

The story of how Scott Wiener became the crowd-pleasing pizza maven he is today turned out to be almost as good as the lecture itself. Continue reading

Lunch at the End of the Line: New Haven Pizza Dream


Ethan meets Frank Pepe

Our friend Ethan Bernard is a man of conviction and of absolutes. So when a nutritionist told him that he needed to lay off the gluten, he decided to go cold turkey. And when he was planning his pre-fast gluten-filled blowout, he knew that no ordinary slice of pizza would pass muster. Instead, he boarded the Metro North with Jason and I in tow, bound for a city where the pizza was said to be not only unusual but also the best that many have ever tasted. We were headed for New Haven, Connecticut with someone who truly knew the meaning of lunch at the end of the line.

New Haven is best known, of course, as the home of Yale University, but to hear Ethan tell it, the pizza came in a very close second as a mark of distinction. He had first heard about it on a Food Network show and, researching it further, found that “New Haven-style” pizzerias were starting to spring up all over the map, in cities as far away as San Diego and Key West.


That's one impressive pizza spatula.

All of which begs the question: what exactly is it? New Haven-style pizza is cooked in a coal fired oven to give it a crisp-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the inside texture. “The char is very important,” Ethan explained. But it’s more complicated than a simple crust distinction. The pizzas are sometimes called tomato pies, because the originals consisted of sauce and a light dusting of pecorino cheese, no mozzarella.

These days you can get your pie cheesed or uncheesed, so when we put in our order at Frank Pepe, the oldest of the New Haven pizza establishments, we opted to try both. (Note: Fans of Sally’s, the other longtime New Haven favorite, will undoubtedly criticize our choice of Pepe over Sal. Let me just say that these decisions are never easy.) Continue reading

Lunch at the End of the Line: Making Frankie and Albert Proud

Sinatra's MugI’d heard Morris Park, near the end of the Eastchester-Dyre 5 line, was sometimes called the Little Italy of the Bronx. Given that, there were certain things I expected to find there (pizzerias, Italian bakeries, cigar shops with young Sinatra’s mug shot blown up and displayed prominently), and I was not disappointed. When I spoke to a couple of Morris Park natives, they gave me some tips about the longstanding neighborhood favorites like Patricia’s (a classy Italian joint famous for its Spaghetti à la Frank Sinatra), Emilio’s (a pizza place that they assured me was “cheap but really good”), and Hawaii Sea (an Asian fusion restaurant where one of them had worked as a busboy when he was sixteen).

What I hadn’t anticipated was that the entire eastern side of the neighborhood would feel like an urban university campus because it was home to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Students are notoriously good at ferreting out good and inexpensive lunch spots, so I did some asking around. A young man of imposing size and thoughtful sincerity told me that “everybody” went to the pizza place named Coals. Several others had mentioned the same place, and when I walked past, the fragrant promise of copious amounts of garlic coaxed me inside.

This, perhaps, is a good time to address the problem of pizza snobbery that is rampant in New York. Continue reading