Pizza Obsessives: Shirley Chow, Proprietor of photosofpizzaboxes.com
I have always wanted to do a subsection of Slice that just documented pizza boxes. But I mostly eat in the pizzerias I visit and rarely take pizza to go (I eat it all). There's this obsessive gal, though, Shirley Chow, who documents every pizza box from every pizzeria she visits and posts them on her site, photosofpizzaboxes.com. Surely we had to get her in the hot seat! —AK
URL(s): I post pictures of pizza boxes as often as possible on photosofpizzaboxes.com. I usually announce on Twitter when I have a new post up — @pizzaboxes. I also love food in general and maintain a blog with a few friends here: blog.projectchow.com (on Twitter @projectchow.
OK, so why did you start photosofpizzaboxes.com?
For whatever reason, I love collecting things. In high school I collected (some called it stealing) restaurant menus - not take out menus, but the nicely bound hard cover ones that restaurants offer. I also collect strange pillows and now am trying to collect food pictures through a separate project called ProjectChow.
I started my first post after seeing the Motorino box after ordering delivery from them. Their box was very simple, plain and brown with a striking Motorino stamp on the cover, but something stirred within me and I realized that there were probably a lot more interesting looking pizza boxes out there and it was the next thing I had to collect!
This probably touches on the above, but which places have had your favorite pizza boxes? You mention Pulino's for the vents, but what about designwise?
Above is a sampling of some of my favorite boxes. I like the efficiency of the triangular box from Pizza Pizza in the upper left-hand corner. The Farinella box is probably one of the most stylish boxes I've seen. The box in the middle from Pizza Fusion has a space for the pizziaolo to sign his initials, which is quite unique. I also like the Kesté box because they make the effort to include reheating instructions. Last, the box on the bottom middle is a limited-edition from Not Ray's Pizza (love that name, by the way) and part of the marketing campaign for Jay-Z's book launch where he placed pages of his book on various items.
What's the weirdest pizza box you've ever seen? (For instance, I think this is the weirdest one I've ever seen.)
Wow, what a great article! I've seen this box and definitely stared at it for a while for how strange it was and also thought about the different "worlds" that the two cartoon figures come from. Interestingly, this box slightly resembles that one. I think the weirdest box I've seen is probably this slightly erotic one from Thailand. It's a little hard to tell from the picture, but if you look up close, the female is actually on the older side, which is just interesting to me.
Where do you keep all these boxes? Or is it just shoot-and-recycle?
It's almost all shoot-and-recycle (I still have the Thailand one in my apartment). I don't have the space, and storing a bunch of used pizza boxes in a Manhattan apartment that's near ground level may not be the best idea.
Have you noticed any correlation between cool pizza box and great pizza?
Good question! I don't feel I've seen that pattern. This question made me want to check back on some of my scores — I found that only four of my 90-plus entries have received a 5-box rating and 5-pizza rating. They are Joe's Pizza, Kesté, Motorino, and Rubirosa.
Some pizza places are notoriously, um, persnickety about how they present their pizza. Are there any that have refused serving it at table in the box?
Yes, that's so true, and I can appreciate a chef's consideration for pizza presentation and would want to experience it the "right" way, too, which was the case for Frank Pepe and Kesté. At some places I can already sense it would be too awkward and I don't bother asking and instead will leave a few slices to take as leftovers and request a box. I actually got a waiter in trouble once when he obliged with my request as I was sitting near the front of the house and it looks tacky, I felt bad!
What type of pizza do you prefer?
I love thin-crust pizzas and really any pizza that doesn't have too much doughy bread. When I was younger I loved piling on the toppings, but these days I actually want to taste good ingredients so I avoid loading on the toppings.
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?
Gosh, I wish I could remember my first pizza encounter, but unfortunately I don't. My lapse in memory is not from a lack of passion (all my friends know that I just have a terrible memory). But, it was probably a pizza chain like Little Caesars or Pizza Hut (I know it wasn't Papa John's because I definitely discovered those guys in college).
Having been born in Taiwan and immigrating here with my folks at a young age, I often ate mostly home-cooked Chinese food, and any opportunity I had to have American food such as hamburgers or pizza was like heaven. Haha! These big round breads topped with a ton of cheese and salty meats were a revelation and a special treat for me. One of my proudest memories was having a pizza party at Round Table Pizza when I was in 5th Grade, and I ate five slices as a little girl. Yes, five.
I also have fond memories of eating super taco and cheeseburger pizzas from the Godfather's Pizza chain every summer when I was young, visiting my cousin in Richland, Washington.
After trying so many different pies and experiencing some really great pizza dough, I do believe my pizza tastes have evolved. But, I won't turn away a chain slice.
What's your favorite topping or topping combination?
I love a small, curled up, crunchy, oily pepperoni (a la grimaldi's). I also love greens on pizza. I like the BLT pizza from California Pizza Kitchen and the arugula topped pies like these ones from Pizzeria Mozza and Tonda.
Where do you go for pizza in your area?
I really like the pies at Rubirosa in Soho, Manhattan. It's thin and chewy and has the type of pepperoni I mentioned above. For pizzas outside the area, I often dream of and salivate while thinking about Frank Pepe's clam pie.
Do you make pizza at home? If so, how? What recipes do you use?
I don't make pizza at home for a couple reasons: 1) my New York apartment has a small and old kitchen and 2) I want to see pizza boxes!
What one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?
Tough question. Because so many things work. I'll go with a food I don't like: chicken feet. If you've ever gone to eat dim sum, then you've probably seen chicken feet. To eat it, you have to wrestle with the chicken foot in your mouth as you try to separate the good (the chicken skin and slithers of meat) with the bad (numerous chicken foot bones). This would be very hard to eat on pizza as you couldn't simply bite into the slice. I think most people wouldn't argue with that.
Most unusual pizza you've ever eaten?
Earlier this week I had green curry pizza at Reserve, a Thai restaurant in the Murray Hill neighborhood in Manhattan. It's Thai green curry on pizza crust. It was ok - too doughy.
What's the farthest you've traveled for pizza?
Thailand. I went to visit in general, but had to eat pizza while I was there.
Anything you'd like to get off your chest?
Yes. I think people will hate me for saying this, but to me, deep dish pizzas are a bit overwhelming and a little confusing — I feel like I'm like eating a casserole.
Also I think we need more pizza box innovation. Of all the boxes I've posted (93 boxes), only Pulino's made the effort to source boxes with corner vents to prevent oversteaming of the pie while in the box. I also think the green boxes are really great.
And last, I actually don't order delivery that often. I go to pizza restaurants and always aim to get a photo of the full pizza sitting in the box, which means requesting that the pie is served in the box, usually having a conversation with a server that goes like this: "Yes, I do want to have it in a pizza box and yes, I will be eating here in the restaurant." It's usually awkward.
Now: Who would you like to see interviewed next?
Definitely Peter Genovese, head of the New Jersey Star Ledger Pizza Patrol!
As well as Casey of Casey's Pizza, former New Yorker and now a pie maker in San Francisco.
Um, we already got Casey: http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2010/08/pizza-obsessives-casey-crynes-san-francisco-pizza-party-caterer.html/ But Peter Genovese is a great rec. Thanks! And thanks for sitting in the hot seat!