I was daydreaming the other day about pizza. I suppose this not unusual for a red-blooded foodie, but the object of my reverie was the pizza that I grew up with – the kind with gobs of cheese and a crust miraculously both crispy and chewy.
I wondered why it is so hard to find the kind of pie that used to inspire runs from Long Island to Far Rockaway in the family station wagon, the just-baked aroma tantalizing my brothers and me until my father had to bend the rules and let us wolf down slices in the car. Little did I know that these rolling picnics would mark the beginning of an almost Proustian nostalgia.
Today’s pizza lovers have more choices than ever. Drivers for franchised mega-chains will break land-speed records to deliver a product that tastes like the cardboard box it comes in. At the other end of the spectrum, upscale bistos offer toppings such as herbed goat cheese and mesquite-smoked chicken on bruschetta or toasted lavash. Try feeding that to your inner child.
Even neighborhood pizzerias seem to have forgotten how pizza should taste. I keep trying new places in search of “good dough”. Pizza should glisten lightly and the cheese should no be too firm or too loose in texture. Given that sauce is a matter of opinion, my preference is for fresh tomato taste, a bouquet of garlic, and a hint of oregano.
Recently my wife and I found a new source nearby. One of our favorite Italian restaurants expanded by opening a pizzeria next door. On a recent Saturday night we ventured in, wading through a the SRO crowd, and a ordered a large with fresh mozzarella, pomodoro sauce and basil. Our verdict: very good, yet we couldn’t help wondering how the regular version would rate. The next week we picked up an old-fashioned. Close, I thought, but no cigar.
We try to sample the local product wherever travel leads. On a layover in Reykjavik we were booked into a hotel within smelling distance on an international pizza restaurant. Even without toppings, a large pie and sodas set us back about $40. The next night we ordered from the tourist menu in the hotel and had an extraordinary lamb dinner with all the trimmings that came to $25. We’ve since learned to stick to the local fare.
Every once in a while, I have a consideration with a geographically displaced New Yorker (there is no such thing as an ex-New Yorker) which often turns to the subject at hand, and we will both bemoan the difficulty of finding the good stuff outside the Big Apple. Remember the scene at the beginning of Saturday Night Fever where John Travolta folds two slices lengthwise and struts down the street eating both at once? That was not just staying alive, that was living.
Maybe a road trip to New York isn’t the way to recapture that feeling. Maybe the rare experience of eating in the station wagon would have made anything taste better. If I really can’t go home again, I’ll keep burning the roof of my mouth in the quest for my dream pizza.