Pizza Obsessives: Q&A with Scott Wiener, NYC Pizza Tour Guide
This week's Pizza Obsessive is a face and/or name you may recognize — Scott Wiener, the dude behind Scott's Pizza Tours. As I've written on Slice many times before, Scott's knowledge of and enthusiasm for pizza is nearly unmatched. Taking his tour is like going on the best field trip ever with the coolest teacher at your school. —The Mgmt.
What type of pizza do you prefer?
I'll usually take whatever is in front of me. If I had the choice, I'd probably go for something one the Neapolitan-American end of the spectrum. You know, a whole pie baked in a hot brick oven with fresh mozz and fruity-bright crushed tomatoes. Toss some basil and olive oil on there and I'm a happy guy.
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 100 percent agree with the PCT. My spot is Pizza House in Cranford, New Jersey. We used to get two slices and a large soda for $2.50 and play arcade games in the corner. It's a classic pizzeria. Of course, the building was knocked down and location changed, but I still go there whenever I'm back in town. I've definitely experienced an awakening that altered my concept of what pizza can be, but I'll always go back to House with its simple honesty no matter how many San Marzano tomatoes I ingest.
What's your favorite topping or topping combination?
I love the delicate interplay of a Margherita pizza (crushed plum tomatoes, fresh mozz, basil, olive oil). For testing new places, the barometer is always whatever they consider to be their most basic slice. Of course, sausage tells a lot about a pizzeria as well. If a pizzeria uses low-grade sausage pellets, it's instant death.
Where do you go for pizza in your area?
I recently moved to Brooklyn and sadly have not tried much of the pizza in my new neighborhood. I used to live in Hoboken, New Jersey, and my comfort zone was Benny Tudino's. It gets a lot of flack because it's a "jumbo slice" joint, and most quantity-over-quality spots are rubbish, but I don't care. It has such a good vibe and the pizza makes me feel like I'm home.
What's the farthest you've traveled for pizza?
I took the pilgrimage to Naples last year. That was one heck of a journey. Most tourists carry around guide books, I had my copy of Ed Levine's book.
Do you make pizza at home? If so, how? What recipes do you use?
I'm mostly into researching the historical and cultural aspects of pizza so there's this fear in the back of my head that if I start getting into pizza-making, I'll become obsessed with that aspect and never see the light of day ever again. I usually say that I deal exclusively with O.P.P (Other People's Pizza).
What's most important to you: crust, sauce, or cheese?
What's most important to me is that they're all in balance. One ingredient cannot stand alone; that's like a pyramid with only two sides. The proportions and textures have to be complementary, as does the balance of flavor. If any one ingredient exists without support from the others, it could be a big old mess. But if I had to pick one element to perfect, it would be the crust. Of all the components, crust is the one that's part of every bite. Anybody can buy good cheese and tomatoes, but the dough is living and constantly changing.
Anything you'd like to get off your chest?
I ordered the new Domino's pizza recently. Curiosity got he best of me. There, now I feel like a weight has been lifted.
What one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?
I personally think that anything is fair game. Pizza has been in a constant state of evolution for centuries and I don't think anything is out of the question. I'm confused whenever I see Japanese pizza menus, but at the same time I think it's beautiful that this food can adapt to any cuisine or dietary regiment.
Weirdest pizza you've ever eaten?
It's probably the smoked salmon, sour cream, caviar, mint, lemon wedge pizza I tried in 2007. I wasn't a fan.