Please Stop Calling It “New York Pizza”.
As a pizza enthusiast who spent 25 years living in New York City and then the last 13 living outside of it, I have long since come to terms with the notion that there really is only one general location on earth that produces something that I’m happy to describe as pizza.
This reality is a sad one but it offers me the distinct pleasure of having at least one thing to look forward to when I visit NYC. Even if the underlying reason for my visit is banal, or tedious, or even depressing, I know that no matter what, I’ll have a chance to grab a slice (or five) to hold me over till my next visit.
Pizza is a very specific thing and my snobbery for it knows no bounds, but I’m willing to allow that different people might have different experiences and preferences from me and that just like “Chinese food” in San Francisco is distinctly different from “Chinese food” in Texas — and neither have much of anything to do with what actual people in actual China refer to simply as “food” with no qualifiers, similarly, “pizza” may indeed come in a multitude of variations which can be fairly dramatic in their deviation from the baseline of “circular baked food item containing dough, tomato sauce, and cheese”.
However when you label something “New York Pizza” you then have to adhere to a specific set of properties which are no longer negotiable. New York Pizza is prepared in a specific way, using specific ingredients, specific heating technology, and can be recognized by any New Yorker with a single glance.
I don’t need to taste a New York Pizza to tell you that it’s a New York Pizza. I can identify it from about 10 paces. It looks like this:
Once I hold it in my hand I can tell you if it has the promise of being a good pizza and once I take a bite I can apply my own subjective analysis to where I would rate it on the scale of quality but whether or not it’s a “New York” pizza is a settled matter before any of this happens.
So with all that in mind I need to ask what it is that compels some establishments far outside of New York City to imply either in advertising or worse in their actual business monikers that what they have on offer is “New York Pizza”.
I presume one of the following must be true.
A) They have no idea what New York Pizza is and they just assumed that they can sell anything and call it a New York Pizza — this is highly implausible but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. If you’re reading this and you own a restaurant that offers something described as New York Pizza and you’ve never eaten pizza in New York, please be advised that you are lying to your clientele and they resent you for it.
B) They know what New York Pizza is but they don’t think their customers do. This is highly cynical and if you’re the owner of a “New York Pizza” producing restaurant please know that you’re fooling no one and we the New York Pizza loving community resent the implication.
C) They realize that what they’re making isn’t New York Pizza, but they feel that as long as they meet a couple of the criteria then their customers will either not notice or not mind the discrepancies.
This last one is the one that needs the most consideration and hopefully corrective action, because of course it is the most insidious.
Let me be clear. Pizza in New York is a very specific thing. The chasm in the discrepancies between actual pizza in New York City and the bullshit hocked under the moniker “New York Pizza” is the difference between someone caressing your balls or someone kicking them (ladies please substitute your vaginas in the preceding analogy to understand the severity of the transgression).
Pizza in New York has a specific diameter, it has a specific thickness, it has a specific amount of sauce spread in a specific way, covered by a specific amount of a particular kind of mozzarella cheese. The sauce happens to be raw. That’s right — to all you pizza noobs, “proper” pizza sauce is basically just a pureed and strained salsa of raw tomato, garlic, onion, and oregano. If you cook it first then it becomes a pasta sauce which may be very tasty but wrong on pizza. Proper pizza sauce cooks ON the pizza, WITH the pizza.
It’s not enough for it to be a reasonably thin and reasonably crispy (which is where the similarities tend to end) piece of baked dough with sauce and cheese, there’s a lot more to it than that!
Notice also that I didn’t mention any toppings. That’s because New York Pizza doesn’t *need any toppings. Sure, you can throw them on, if you like, but the interaction that plays out when you walk into a pizza joint in NYC typically goes like this:
You: Hey… I’d like to order a pie.
Tony: Sure thing, pal, that’ll be 16 bucks — it’ll be ready in about 10 minutes.
Firstly, notice how Tony (yes, they’re all named Tony — don’t ask me why) didn’t ask if this will be an “apple” pie or a “pecan” pie. There is only one kind of pie that pizza places sell.
Secondly, there was no conversation about sizes. If for some oddball reason you wanted a pizza pie that was smaller than the industry standard 18" you’d make such a request of Tony and he’d give you a funny look and then, if he’s equipped for such an alteration (which he usually isn’t), he might make a small pizza designed for the handicapped (I presume). More likely he’d tell you that he only makes one size of pizza; That being the size around which an entire restaurant industry has formed, complete with aluminum plates of the requisite diameter, and cardboard takeout boxes which inexplicably, after 50 years of production, are still made just a LITTLE too small, so that one edge of the pizza is almost always bent a little (wtf?) and long wooden spatulas to manipulate the pizza in the ovens, and the ovens themselves which look like this:
The reason the conversation between you and Tony is so terse is that you both know what you’re talking about. You don’t need to say “Can I have a large new york cheese pizza, please” because in New York, all pizza is New York pizza, “large” and “cheese” are implicit and “please” would simply confuse him (that’s a joke — New Yorkers are actually extremely pleasant and polite people, they just don’t have time for your bullshit interpretations of their favorite foods).
Meanwhile back here in California (and specifically on the South West corner of E and 2nd in Davis, which is the site of one “Uncle Vito’s Slice of New York” whose blatant and insolent desecration of all things pizza I have to walk past and suffer the indignity of every single day) we are forced to face the blight of these establishments that cavalierly misrepresent a beloved and deeply honored comestible with no recourse but to spit their names angrily at the sidewalk and hope that one day enough resistance will build in the community that they will have no choice but to alter their names or better still, go out of business and make way for a Panda Express, or Taco Bell or some other manner of authentic ethnic cuisine.
Notice I’m not suggesting that they make a more concerted effort to recreate actual New York Pizza because I have long since given up on the idea that anyone outside of the tri-state area has the ability to produce such a product.
Ultimately I want to help these places be more successful. I, on occasion, will grudgingly eat the “pizza” that is made in california. But NEVER under ANY circumstances will I eat anything dubbed “New York Pizza”. I’m sure I’m not alone in this silent protest. I’m sure oodles of other people know the difference and feel equally outraged by the slight.
So, to all you pizza vendors that think you’re saying something positive about your product by mischaracterizing it as having some semblance of New Yorkiness. Please hear me. You’re not fooling anyone. People who don’t know what pizza in New York is aren’t more likely to eat yours because you call it that (they don’t give a shit) and people who do know aren’t fooled and are disappointed. It’s a lose/lose.
Make your shitty pizza. Call it “Denver Pizza” or “Canadian Pizza” or better yet stop calling it pizza altogether and make up your own name. People will stop by out of curiosity and maybe they’ll like it. Maybe even I will! But not if you lie to me. So cut it out!