Ladies and gents, if you've been enjoying the coverage from New Jersey lately as much as I have, you probably want to get to know Tim "Pizzasnob" Kang a little better. Let's get this dude in the hot seat, shall we? —AK
What type of pizza do you prefer?
I prefer the best of each type of pizza since it's so hard for me to choose. I tend to like New York–Neapolitan or Neapolitan, but I've really been getting into pies with cracker-thin crusts lately. That said, Chicago deep dish doesn't count as pizza for me. It's great for what it is, but come on — if there's shortening in the crust, it's pie/casserole, not pizza.
The Pizza Cognition Theory states that "the first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes ... becomes, for him, pizza." Do you remember your first slice? Where was it from, is the place still around, and if so, does it hold up? On that note, has your taste in pizza evolved over time?
I first read about the theory when I snagged Ed Levine's pizza book upon first sight at the Union Square Barnes & Noble seven years ago. It immediately brought a flood of childhood memories of eating pizza in Flushing when I was 4, the NYC suburbs in New Jersey, and in the northern Philly suburbs. I can't remember the first slice, but throughout all that time I enjoyed pizza of all forms — Ellio's, pizza bagels, pizza muffins, Pizza Hut, local places, and the roller skating rink cafeteria. But by the time I was at least 9, had already developed an opinionated affinity for independent pizza joints, not chains like Domino's. I used to flip through the Yellow Pages Restaurant–Pizza section and fantasize trying out every single place listed. Man, I was such a pizza nerd even as a kid. Thanks to Ed's book and Slice my taste in pizza has definitely evolved over time due to seeking out and sampling the best of the best in the Northeast region. Samplings of pizza in Florence and Rome showed me that pizza's not necessarily better in Italy.
What's your favorite topping or topping combination?
This is a tough one. It's a split between the typical Margherita combo (especially from Di Fara); sausage/cured meat and thinly sliced onions; or clams, tomato sauce, garlic, and fior di latte. Aside from rare exceptions (like Paulie Gee's Anise and Anephew) I definitely need to have tomato sauce.
Where do you go for pizza in your area?
I live in Fort Lee, New Jersey, which has some decent slice joints that stay open late. Fort Lee Pizzeria reminds me of the places I grew up with — family-run, nothing fancy, but hit the spot. After tasting La Sicilia, I'll most likely go there once a month. However, since I work in the city and live so close to it, I frequent all the biggies — Patsy's in Harlem, Luzzo's/Ovest, Motorino, Sal & Carmine's, NY Pizza Suprema, Totonno's, and Paulie Gee's. Little Luzzo's uptown is the only decent slice place near where I used to work for the past seven years.
We know you make pizza at home because you've shared pics in My Pie Monday. But refresh our memories: What recipes do you use?
Roberta's or Lahey's No Knead, combined with tips from Varasano's pizza recipe on autolysing. I've found that last concept to be so key. The problem with the no-knead, New York Times, or other common recipes lies in the lack of clear explanation of what the dough should truly look and feel like. Last summer, I grew my own yeast. That produced the tastiest pizza I ever made.
As previously documented on Slice, I use the cast-iron broiler method. This holds the pizza 2 to 3 inches from the flame in my current oven, and I let it preheat for about an hour. The dough blisters pretty nicely on the bottom as a result! I never seem to find the right tiles at Home Depot for the terra cotta/quarry tiles hack.
What one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?
Coffee (unless it's some dessert sorta deal). Can you ever imagine having coffee, mozz, and tomato sauce?
OK ... Are you just making that up for the sake of winning the Weird Topping Combo game? I can't imagine that because it's INSANE. ... Um ... which brings me to ... Most unusual pizza you've ever eaten?
Hawaiian's probably the weirdest combination I've tried, but I've always been intrigued by the idea of kimchi on pizza. Roy Choi popularized the long-kept secret through his Kogi Trucks in LA that kimchi goes really well with cheese. I've read about that one place in Flushing that does it, but I bet if a pizza puts a minimalist amount of kimchi purée on a pizza, they'd have a knockout in their hands.
Where's the place in Flushing? There used to be TJ's, but it closed. Is there another? Because I'd love to visit. ... Speaking of traveling way out to Flushing ... What's the farthest you've traveled for pizza?
If you have anything else you'd like to include that we've missed, feel free to make up a question or questions!
My favorite pizza I've had so far in New Jersey is La Sicilia's Palermo Pie. It stands in its own class of awesome.
Anything you'd like to get off your chest?
One interesting trend I've noticed from living in Bergen County and interviewing/reviewing all these places around here is that many of these owners come from or had parents who came from Calabria, the tip of Italy's boot. The similar style of pizza between all of these locations seems a product of '60s/'70s New York regional pizza conventions, sort of the way many Korean grocers ran their stores the same way in the '80s and '90s. I think the story of how the evolution of Italian-American pizza and its relation to this region's Italian-American suburban diaspora is a fascinating historical story waiting to be traced and told by some starving PhD student or eager food reporter.
Maybe you're that guy! ... Now: Who would you like to see interviewed next?
Giuseppe Ali of La Sicilia is a really friendly and warm guy; I'd love to hear more about him.
Next time you go there, maybe you could put him in the hot seat for us? And on that note, thanks for sitting in that chair yourself. Looking forward to your next review ...