Three kinds of pizza
The most memorable slice of pizza I ever had was served at 11,274 feet above sea level.
It almost certainly began its life as a frozen pie and, once baked, was left to roast under a heat lamp until a young man liberated it with a pair of tongs and dropped it on my tray. I was visibly shaken when it rang up $12.
But after hours of exhausting myself on the ski slopes of Breckenridge, I devoured it in seconds and immediately forked over twelve bucks for another slice. It was everything I needed in that moment—piping hot, salty, crispy, gooey, and filling. I’ll never forget it.
The unequivocally best slice of pizza I’ve ever eaten came from Antico Pizza Napoletana in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.
The line to order a pizza at Antico typically extends outside the nondescript building and wraps around the block. Brick ovens imported from Italy cook entire pies in 75 seconds, which means your pizza is usually delivered to you before you can find a place to sit at one of the crowded communal tables. The menu is limited and substitutions are not allowed.
None of this matters because the pizza itself is divine. The hand-stretched, thin and crispy crust, is charred to perfection. Plump, sun-ripened San Marzano tomatoes are crushed in-house into a sweet, tangy sauce. Slivers of creamy, melted Bufalo mozzarella and fresh, aromatic basil complete the experience.
One of the worst slices of pizza I’ve ever had is one I continue to consume roughly once per week.
Rarely is this pizza cooked long enough to fully melt the cheese and the crust has the consistency and flavor of cardboard. The sauce, which comes from an industrial-sized can, is runny and bland. The uninspired topping options sit all day in plastic bins waiting to be spread on a pizza. Service is mediocre at best.
However, the pizza joint serving this atrocity (which shall remain nameless), is within walking distance of our house. The beer on tap is always ice cold and it’s one of the few restaurants in the area where young children are welcome. Most nights the entire place is taken over by families and it’s not uncommon for a game of freeze tag to break out on the patio.
Three kinds of pizza, doing three different jobs.
Ski slope pizza needs to be tasty for guests to keep shelling out $12 for it, but it has a massive built-in advantage. Incremental gains in quality that would come from importing fancy ingredients or installing an Italian pizza oven on top of a mountain would be lost on famished skiers. At some point perfect becomes the enemy of good.
Antico, on the other hand, has no choice but to make the pizza itself the star of the show. The owner was once asked by a food critic why they didn’t offer salads and his response was telling—any attempt to make a great salad would detract from making great pizza. That’s fanatical devotion to creating a masterpiece.
And then there’s “kid friendly pizza joint pizza”—which really isn’t even about pizza at all. My local place could redo the menu entirely and start serving tacos or hamburgers tomorrow and parents would still come out in droves to sit on the patio and enjoy a cold beverage while their children run around. While I certainly wish the pizza was better, as long as the owners understand the real draw of their establishment, they’ll probably be fine.
Three kinds of pizza.
Which one are you making?
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