Pizza Obsessives

Slice interviews with folks who are mad about pizza.

Pizza Obsessives: Jim Bonomo, Slice Portland Contributor

We've had a lot of new contributors join the Slice ranks in the last couple of months. So we'll be devoting the Pizza Obsessives column here and there to featuring them. I always think it's a nice way to get to know the new names appearing in the bylines here. Let's get Jim Bonomo in the hot seat, stat. —AK

20110104-po-jim-bonomo.jpgName: Jim Bonomo
Location: Portland, Oregon
URL: slice.seriouseats.com

What type of pizza do you prefer?

Stylewise, I will generally gravitate toward anything described as "thin-crust" and avoid anything hinting at "Chicago" style — unless, of course, I'm in Chicago. I prefer fresh tomatoes to a cooked-down sauce. I like the presence of a pungent, sharper cheese accenting fresh milk mozzarella. I generally like a bit of burnt carbon char flavor on my crust, but want more of a chewy thing happening inside my crust. I can generally find something good in every pizza that's been crafted with love, but I most enjoy eating pizza that I've made at home. It's a pride thing which elevates my otherwise average pies. I don't believe that there is such a thing as "white pizza," nor do I believe in "dessert 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?

The two places that shaped my love for pizza as a child are still around, Pasquale Pizza and Mama Teresa's in Milford, Connecticut. I can't remember which I tried first. I do know that I selectively avoid them when I'm back in Connecticut visiting because I'd rather let those sense-memories exist in the realm of nostalgia. My taste in pizza has not really evolved too much, besides being able to accept or understand different flavors. When I taste pizza that I imagine tastes like Mama Teresa's or Pasquale's, I love it more than anything else.

What's your favorite topping or topping combination?

I'm a straight-up cheese and tomato guy, but forced to choose, I'd go with breaded eggplant on a cheese pizza, maybe a touch of ricotta or fresh garlic. The eggplant slice from the now-defunct St. Mark's Pizza on Third Avenue in New York City got me through many a hungry, beer-soaked night during my college years. Nowadays, mostly cheese. But if I could get one slice of anchovy on every cheese pie I ordered, I probably would.

OK, so we know that you pretty much go all over for pizza in Portland and its environs, but what's your regular haunt there?

Every other Tuesday night you can find me at Apizza Scholls. I usually get in line about 4:45 p.m. I'll grab a seat at the counter and typically order some variation on their Margherita along with a Mexican Coke or two. If I'm not eating pizza at Scholls, or reviewing, I'm making it at home.

Ah, so you make it at home do you? What recipes and techniques do you typically use?

I make pizza at home once a week. I'd been using the cast iron skillet method until recently acquiring the Lodge cast iron pizza pan on the advice of fellow Slice reviewer Adam Lindsley. Still doing a bake/broil method to cook 'em. I'm pretty lazy about dough, and usually default to Trader Joe's on that front, although 'make starter' is on my to-do list this week. I'll usually get a quality canned tomato, strain & deseed them as much as I can. Cheesewise, I'll switch up blends of fresh & aged mozzarella, grana, parmesan, and even some Calabro smoked mozzarella from Connecticut, which I can thankfully find at New Seasons here in Oregon. I tend to go for easier, lighter toppings at home, like Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, or red onion. I switch up my finishing methods depending on what kind of olive oil and/or salt I've got on hand, but usually one or both is involved. If I screw up a pizza, I typically do my best to flip it into a calzone.

What one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?

I always thought chicken should never go on a pizza, until I had a really tasty buffalo chicken slice from Giovanni's in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Broccoli has replaced chicken as my most-hated pizza ingredient. There is just something about the texture of a broccoli floret, especially when (over)cooked at such high heat, that is both mushy and grainy. Undercooked, fatty bacon also has no place on pizza. Oh, and sun-dried tomatoes, which remind me of chewed-up, hardened pieces of tomato-flavored bubble gum, are also pretty disgusting. The more I think about this, I could probably go on all day. Perhaps I should quit while I'm ahead, but I'll offer up a few more in my next answer.

Most unusual pizza you've ever eaten?

The most unusual pizza I've ever eaten was one from Serious Pie in Seattle, topped with rind-on slices of lemon and dried chili flakes. The lemon was undercooked and completely overwhelming in its acrid, rindy bitterness, and the chili flakes were so large, dry and leathery that they were practically inedible. I think we paid something like $20 for that personal-sized pie, and definitely left that place shaking our heads in disbelief. For straight-up bizarre, see 'gluten-free'.

What's the farthest you've traveled for pizza?

Last summer, I traveled to Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware for an annual bocce tournament. Instead of flying directly back to Portland, I made a side trip to New Haven for Sally's (they were on unpublished vacation, I had to settle for Pepe's) and flew back out of Hartford. That little detour was about 275 miles, and probably the furthest I've traveled for pizza. I will attempt this same trip this coming September, hopefully with more Sally's pizza and less anger, disappointment and aggravation.

I'm feeling lazy. Feel free to make up a question to ask yourself.

I'd like to take this space to name my top three brewpub pizza and beer combinations. After all, the only thing more magical than great pizza is great pizza alongside a well-crafted beer:

  • Mashed potato pie with bacon and garlic and Damn Good Stout at Bar/BruRm in New Haven, Connecticut
  • The plain and a Dysfunctionale at Piece Brewery in Chicago
  • The Jersey Pie and a Vaporizer at Double Mountain in Hood River, Oregon

If you're reading this, and these places aren't on your pizza radar, they all should be.

Anything you'd like to get off your chest?

Zuppardi's, Papa's, Modern, and Bar are ALL BETTER than Pepe's, which is way overrated. And don't even get me started on the Pepe's franchises, or satellites, or whatever they're called. Awful. Oh, and thank God for Apizza Scholls.

Who would you like to see interviewed next?

First, I'd like you to bring the person who put lemon slices on my pizza to justice. After that, I'd like you to track down and grill all former pizza cooks from Sally's in New Haven so that their secrets may finally be revealed. Finally, I'd like to see my friend Terry interviewed here. Perhaps then he'll be forced to set a date for the grand revealing of his backyard pizza oven that he's been putting off for months.

Without names, I'm useless. So the first two might be a stretch. Terry, however, sounds like he'd work for a My Pizza Oven. Maybe the glory of a Slice interview will motivate him? Thanks for playing, Jim. It's nice to have gotten to know you better here. Hasta la pizza!

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