Pizza is like sex. Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.
The author of that famous adage must have had a low bar for both, because I can count on at least two hands the number of times abstinence would have reigned supreme to a soggy, cold, disappointing experience in my mouth. (To be clear, we’re talking about pizza.)
Perhaps somebody has asked you, “if you were deserted on an island and could only eat one food, what would it be?” For me, it has never been a hard decision. I’ve loved pizza ever since my mother used to come home with copies of Living Books featuring pizza-loving characters who always seemed to profess their adoration right before dinner time.
The obsession only increased come high school. Every week after class, my friends and I would drive twenty miles up the road for an after-school Cisco Networking class. Problem was, two hours of learning about the OSI Model with no time for second lunch meant a group of starving young boys. Fortunately for us, there was a Round Table right up the road. And they delivered.
An actual photo from the battleground after being done in by Round Table’s finest.
At approximately 4:15 every class, each in our group of four would take turns going to the “bathroom” — to keep watch for the delivery person, of course. We timed it perfectly so the pizza would arrive right before our one 10 minute break. The recipient would hide the prize in an inconspicuous location, usually behind a plant or old desk in the lobby, and notify the others that the eagle had landed.
Once the break began, we, despite our primal hunger, proceeded in an orderly clockwise fashion, taking turns each devouring one slice at a time. We started with the largest of course, and finished off with what would later be known as the friend slice. (More on that another time.)
Problem was, if you had not finished your slice after a full revolution plus a small grace period, you were at risk of getting skipped. And as nobody had any interest in ceding their hard-earned spoils to the next in line, each of us honed our skills of pizza consumption to such a clip that even Takeru Kobayashi would be jealous. (My current rate of slice consumption compared to the casual lunch eater still hovers at 2.2 to 1.)
But with great obsession often comes great discernment, and years later during a visit to New York, my life would change forever.
The Original Ray’s
What you didn’t know is that Ray’s is most famous for its shawarma. (image c/o scriptingnews)
On a beautiful spring day, I found myself in the Upper West Side with a week of time to kill. My family was from the East Coast, and during trips back, we would always find ourselves surrounded with delicious pizza. As I sat around my hostel, I heard a discussion upstairs about where to eat lunch.
A French couple, recently landed, was excited to try out the local McDonald’s. But the local front desk attendant would have nothing of the sort. It was pizza, or starve.
It finally dawned on me that the only thing New Yorkers loved more than pizza was telling you how your favorite joint was a closer ancestor to cardboard than Domino’s. But not to let their brisk attitudes get me down, my week’s itinerary was booked: it was time to find the best pizza in New York City.
I filled up my browser with Yelp tabs and old articles from The Village Voice, and eventually stumbled upon this guy.
Scott’s Pizza Tours. Sounds cheezy indeed. The thought of taking a tour bus to every Ray’s in the City sounded dreadful, but lucky for me, Scott made one massive, extremely convenient blunder.
He listed every pizzeria he went to on his website!
That’s like a Hollywood Stars Map having a free PDF download. This is your intellectual property we’re talking about here!
In either case, I appreciated the tip, and after cross referencing the recommendations with a few Zagat listings and other snobby best-ofs, I had my list. It was time to eat.
I shall save the results of this quest for a future post, however after travelling from upscale Pizza Experiences™, to slice windows in the farthest reaches of South Brooklyn, I learned that all pizza is most certainly not created equal, and in its extremely wide variety of shapes, sizes, and amount of burnt crust, there emerged some clear winners — far and beyond anything I had ever tasted before.
One of those was a pie so incredible, that it transcended what I even thought possible with bread, tomatoes, and cheese. (And basil, and olive oil. Do not forget the olive oil.)
I’ve made the pilgrimage to taste this man’s craft over a dozen times now, and each time I’m reminded of what biting into a slice of love tastes like.
But every time, between delicate caresses of sauce and cheese that frankly end up in places where they don’t belong, I wonder. What if we haven’t reached the top of the mountain yet? Is there a higher peak to be climbed? Is this just the beginning?
Pizzaventures is on a journey to find the world’s best pizza.
Spoiler alert: If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a good option.
Through careful consideration and meticulous documentation (and the occasional food coma), I plan to
eat scientifically measure as much pizza as my waistline will allow. You know, for science. Or something.
Stay tuned for the full report as I travel the world from oven to oven. And who knows... Perhaps the best pizza really is The Original Ray’s. (Not the one that tastes like cardboard. That other one.)