Book Report: 'Everybody Loves Pizza'

20071112everybody.jpgWith a cover reminiscent of a retro pizza box and contents almost as tasty as the real thing, Everybody Loves Pizza, by Penny Pollack and Jeff Ruby, has earned a place on the Slice Bookshelf.

Full disclosure: I know one of the authors. Mr. Ruby and I were in the same journalism program at university. Still, that didn't stop me from turning a critical eye on this book. In fact, my initial reaction when hearing about it was, "Oy! Another pizza book!? What more can be said?"

Fortunately, Penny and Jeff find plenty new to say, particularly with some interesting history and facts that, surprisingly, I haven't read elsewhere. Concerning one of Slice's favorite pizzaioli, Dom DeMarco, for example, the authors tell us that he ends each pizza-filled day by drinking a "$100 bottle of Amarone Valpolicella—he buys 1 bottle a day and 2 on Saturday because the liquor store is closed on Sunday." Who knew!? (More important, how does Dom get himself into work by 7 a.m. after drinking a bottle of fine wine post midnight?)

At 143 pages, it's a quick read—made even more so by the use of interesting historical photos and plenty of "you don't say" factoid-filled sidebars. What's more, the book handily divides the nation into four pizza regions: New York, New Haven, Chicago, and California. Everybody Loves Pizza largely ignores Neapolitan style except in establishing the dish (as we know it) as having its roots in Italy. You get the history and characteristics of each genre as well as a rundown of its major players. In New York, you get Lombardi's, John's, Totonno's, Di Fara, Nick's. New Haven, Sally's and Pepe's. Chicago, and it's Uno, Due, Gino's, Malnati's. California: Chez Panisse, Wolfgang Puck, and California Pizza Kitchen.

Going beyond the obvious names (well, names that are obvious to pizza freaks), ELP examines the major chains and the frozen pizza industry. (Who knew that Tombstone got its start in a Wisconsin bar that overlooked a graveyard?) And this is where lies my only complaint about the book: It celebrates the subpar along with the sublime. Do we really need the Papa John's origin story? Still, the book is called Everybody Loves Pizza, and it really is a book that everybody, not just pizza snobs, can enjoy or—dare I say?—love.

Everybody Loves Pizza [Amazon.com]

The 'Everybody Loves Pizza' Top 10

It seems like a Top 10 list is always obligatory in food guides, and Everybody Loves Pizza is no exception. And this is gonna piss off a lot of Gothamites: Only one of our pizzerias made the cut. And though excellent, Una Pizza Napoletana owes more to Naples than New York. We talked to Jeff Ruby, and he said, "We went round and round on the New York question, and in the end agreed that nothing there knocked us out—except UPN, which was by far the best pizza I've ever eaten in the U.S. And my colleague agreed with me. If we'd expanded it to a top 20, John's would've most likely made it in, and probably Di Fara. But none of the other biggies—Patsy's, Grimaldi's, Lombardi's, et al.—really hit home runs on our visits there."

1. Una Pizza Napoletana, New York City
2. DeLorenzo's Tomato Pies, Trenton, N.J.
3. Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix
4. Pizano's, Chicago
5. Punch Neapolitan Pizza, Minneapolis
6. Wells Brothers Italian Restaurant, Racine, Wisc.
7. Sally's Apizza, New Haven, Conn.
8. The Cheese Board Pizza Collective, Berkeley, Calif.
9. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, New Haven, Conn.
10. Metro Pizza, Las Vegas

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