Pizza is like a lover. Its circular shape is a hug, the burns at the roof of your mouth are a painful yet satisfying kiss. The simplicity of dough, tomato sauce and mozzarella blasted in a 500-degree oven is the perfect companion to cozy up with after a rough day.
There’s no denying the fact that pizza is universally loved, but why? City Paper sought out a handful of our best local pie bakers to answer this ultimate question.
“I think the reason we like pizza and why most people like pizza is that it’s a very every person-type of food,” said D’Allesandro’s Pizza co-owner Nick D’Allesandro. “It’s accessible for everybody … and it’s not too expensive. It’s just good, easy food for everybody to enjoy.”
Angie Tunstall of Baker and Brewer shares the sentiment: “It’s comfort food. It makes all ranges of people happy in the sense of, it’s something that when you go out with your friends who might be a vegetarian, or your mother or with your kids, everybody’s going to find a pizza, right? So I mean, just that alone, like the ease of it, pizza makes people happy.”
“It’s a complete meal, and I’m not sure if it’s true, but in college, my professor told me a cheese pizza has more nutritional value than liver and onions,” said Baker and Brewer’s bartender Chris DeArmond.
“I mean, I think really, it’s the simplicity of it,” said Emeline food and beverage manager Adam Jimenez. “Overall, right it’s at its heart, it’s a pretty simple idea. And I do think that’s generally what most people enjoy about it. The idea of just grabbing a piece and having at it, so to speak.”
Chef Tim Morton of Frannie & the Fox had a more direct explanation: “Melted cheese on bread is just always delicious.”
Toppings. Some like them hot. Some like them … not.
That simplicity and accessibility of pizza boils down to its roots. According to History, the dish popularized in Naples in the 1700s and 1800s by the poor working class who “required inexpensive food that could be consumed quickly,” and pizza — “flatbread with various toppings” — met those requirements.
“Pizza has obviously evolved over the years,” Jimenez said. “But I think it’s still considered easy even if you know what goes into it and are doing it really well.”
What makes a good pizza, though? Base ingredients are simple: dough, cheese and tomato sauce, so of course, it’s the quality of ingredients that really matters. “Making sure you have the best ingredients really makes a huge difference,” Jimenez said.
“What makes a good one is the care that somebody puts into making it,” added D’Allesandro.
Plenty of other items can top a pie of course. Pepperoni, tomato, mozzarella and basil (Margherita), mushrooms, bell peppers, banana peppers, sausage, olives and anchovies can be found at any self-respecting pizza parlor. But around town it’s not too hard to find kale, arugula, grilled pineapple, roasted cauliflower, squash, pesto, artichoke, sun dried tomato, goat cheese, blue cheese, feta, prosciutto or even locally caught shrimp.
Jason Adelaars, a line cook at Baker and Brewer, said, “There are just so many toppings. Sky’s the limit with customization.”
“The diversity that can go into toppings is incredible,” added Tunstall. “You can get, you know, spicy calabrese on there and then have the acidity of pickled red onions with it. There’s so much diversity on what can go on top of a pizza without it being like a kitchen sink. It could be a thoughtful palette, you know?
Morton calls himself a “purist.” His favored topping is pepperoni.
D’Allesandro is of a similar mindset: “Everybody likes something different,” he said. ”But I think people put too many toppings on their pizzas, and it weighs it down. I think less toppings is better.”
But with that, D’Allesandro offered this qualifier: “Since I own a place, my favorite pizzas are the ones that get messed up. I don’t know what it is. Sometimes you just walk in and there’s a pizza sitting there that got messed up, and there’s just something about it.”
So how do you ultimately know if a pizza spot is legit? Jimenez suggested a test.
“The sign of somewhere that does pizza really really well is how good their Margherita is,” he said. “It’s their sort of ‘plain’ pizza, right? It’s in its most simple form, you know, little basil, tomato, sauce, cheese. Perfect.”
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