By every subjective standard, I’m not a pizza elitist. I celebrate the five dollar special from Little Caesers. One of my three good memories with my parents involve our trips eating Godfather’s Pizza from K-Mart. I find satisfaction using a knife and fork when attacking a Chicago-style deep dish. I find satisfaction in saying “deep dish”. Anywhere you slice it, pizza is cool. Would it be cooler in Italy? Maybe. Papa Johns? Hell no. New York? Perhaps. But not to as much as we like to think.
But there is truly a special satisfaction that comes from walking down 6th Avenue with a folded space of pizza that can’t be denied. That experience almost justifies everything everything ever written about it. Like a young athlete putting his or her cleats before a game. By the very nature of wearing the shoe, in that moment, one transforms from a acne-laced flounder into an entity greater than the sum of your nonathletic parts. You have become, metaphorically speaking, a baller.
For the meager sum of a dollar from Two Brothers Pizza, I, too, can feel like a baller. We all can. If there is a talent to the perfect folding of a spice to transform a meal into a portable medium of New Yorkdom, in that moment, I’ve mastered it. The folding of the slice sums up so much of what we want, what we need, New York to be. Here’s why. Clearly, I’m too busy to sit and eat my pizza. I do so on the go. Because New York is an On-The-Go kind of place. I’m an On-The-Go kind of person. Still, I am self-aware enough to never be too fast to enjoy one of the plebian’s great pleasures: pizza. We’ve achieved so much and are still so connected to the pleasures when we never did.
But New York City pizza is more of a concept. As it stands, or sits, or flounders on my paper plate, it becomes clear: this pizza isn’t very good.
That dollar slice costs a dollar for a reason. It has no reverence for ingredients or any care for its legacy. It’s entirely an edible thing transformed by the expectations I have of what pizza can be; an expectation that exists because it is supposed to exist.
The more pizza I eat outside of New York, the more tales about how much better the water is and how thin the crust is. 75 percent of everywhere selling a slice of pizza do so under the assumption that they can get the benefit of the doubt that it will be good meaning they’ve a chance to give less effort to ensure that it will be.
Bagels too. There are amazing bagels to be had in the City. But there are so many bagels to be eaten. And they’re terrible as fuck. But between making their margins selling Arizona Iced Tea or your morning coffee, they can shlep bagels bought in bulk from Costco and charge two bucks and sucker an unsuspecting diner.
If you have any desire to eat a bagel or a slice of pizza, go to Long ISland. Go to Bergen County, New Jersey and find a store dedicated to the manufacturing and dissemination of bagels and pizza. Chances are good that their owners are from New York. They understood the expectations of what a bagel can and should be and when they replicate it in the suburbs. Not doing that would disrespect their own memories with pizza from their childhood. That bagel has to be good.
That need isn’t the same in the five boroughs. The corner store haphazardly selling pizza isn’t accountable to its product because that product helps define who they are. They’re now the oracles lazily conjuring their community’s new one. It’s a big job. One many give few damns about.
Which isn’t hard to understand. New York exists because it gets the benefit of the doubt it never has to justify. If New York pizza isn’t New York pizza than New York cannot be the kind of place worth overpaying for. So we tell each other that it is.