This week we're getting David Kover from the San Francisco beat into the Slice hot seat. Let's get to know this Brooklyn native turned Bay area pizza investigator a little better with the hard hitting questions. —MS
Jumping right in, what type of pizza do you prefer?
Either Neapolitan-inspired or New York-style probably represent my sweet spot, but if it tastes good, I'm open to any style.
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 don't specifically remember my first slice, but the earliest pizza that I remember my family ordering was from Smiling Pizza in Park Slope, Brooklyn. And then I probably ate pizza from Pino's (also in Park Slope) two or three days a week for lunch throughout middle school. I was definitely steeped in NY-style slices as a kid.
I get a slice from Smiling just about every time I visit my folks in Brooklyn. It's not something I plan, but it's right there when I get on or off the F-train and I get pulled in by the tractor beam of pizza-smell. Objectively, their pizza is good enough. It fits the bill for a grab-and-go slice if you happen to be walking by, but I wouldn't direct people out of their way for it. However, for me personally, I find that my Smiling slice makes me incredibly happy. I guess that's support for Pizza Cognition Theory?
My tastes have definitely changed over the years. I specifically remember my first pizza at Grimaldi's under the Brooklyn Bridge (it was called Patsy's then), when I realized that pizza could be taken to the next level. And, as I wrote in my Pizzetta 211 review, moving to San Francisco has certainly freed my mind when it comes to the toppings I find acceptable on a pizza. (Though I still have my limits.)
I'm glad you brought toppings to the table. What's your favorite topping or topping combination?
Well, from the standard pizzeria tool kit, I'm a huge fan of mushrooms and sausage (as long as it's chunks of the good stuff). But since the spectrum of toppings in California is quite a bit broader, I feel like I get to sample something new and interesting every week. Amidst all the pyrotechnics, the combo that stands out in my memory is the Atomica at Gialina, with mushrooms, chilies, and red onions. Actually, I haven't had that pie in quite some time—might be due for a Daily Slice!
That's the spirit! I'm just going to note your dedication down here...yep, got it. Clearly you are always at the ready for you next Slice directive, but where do you go when your off-duty?
Do you make pizza at home? If so, how? What recipes do you use?
I do make pizzas at home, but I'm a pretty harsh critic of my own pies. For a while, I was making pizza because there was such a shortage of places to get something good in San Francisco. It created a horrible cycle of self-loathing, because I would be disappointed with my own pies but then have nowhere to go to satisfy my craving, so I'd try again, and get pretty frustrated. Thankfully, the San Francisco pizza scene has changed for the better in the last three years and so there's less pressure riding on what I can produce with my own hands.
As it so happens, about six months ago, I switched over to Kenji's NY-style pizza dough, and that significantly improved my skills, so now I have better pizza at home as well.
What one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?
Do I have to pick just one? At the top of my list is definitely chicken. It's almost impossible to make it so that it's not either dry, rubbery, or both. And that's before we even get into the issue of flavor. Yet my current gig (ahem!) requires that I try a wide range of pies, so I've been forced into eating it on occasion. Any chance of a special dispensation from the Slice overlords freeing me from the duty of eating chicken-pie ever again?
Beyond that, canned olives are pretty awful.
Forced! Hmm, what did I say about your dedication earlier? Come on, if chicken and olives are the worst of it, then you're eating on easy street, friend. I'm sure you've had more bizarre/questionable toppings on pizza.
The sea urchin pizza at Cotogna was pretty unusual.
Yeah, I'll go for that. What's the farthest you've traveled for pizza?
Well, I get pizza every time I fly to New York, but I'd be doing that anyway to visit my folks, so I don't think it should count. I've biked from San Francisco to Larkspur (over the Golden Gate Bridge) to get pizza at Pizzeria Picco. It's only about 50 miles round trip, but I feel like the physical exertion ought to count for something!
What do your family and/or friends think of your pizza madness?
Well, before some decent pizza moved into town, it was probably pretty annoying, because it mostly consisted of me being a cranky New York Pizza Snob, and that's an act people tire of pretty quickly. These days, I don't have anything to complain about, so the situation has improved. I think my wife sometimes wishes that I would spend a little more time paying attention to her over dinner, and a little less time ogling my slice and then snapping 500 pictures, but thankfully she's a patient woman.
Anything you'd like to get off your chest?
I'm sorry to pile on here, but I simply haven't figured out the whole deep dish thing. I'm not writing it off, because I've never been to Chicago, but every time I've tried one of the places in San Francisco that people have hyped, I'm always underwhelmed. So much sauce! I actually kind of feel guilty about the whole thing, because as a true pizza freak I feel like I should like every kind. One day I will make the trip to Chicago and be able to pass final judgment.
Well before any wars break out, we had better wrap this up. Who would *you* like to see interviewed next?
It might be more of a My Pizza Oven thing, but I'd love to hear what Tony Gemignani has to say about his insane catalog of ovens and pizza styles. And how about Sean Penn—in character as Spicoli—waxing poetic about his love for double-cheese and sausage. That should be an easy get for us, right?
Totally, dude! Sean loves to jaw about pies when we're wearing our matching Vans. Not. We are overdue for some some Oven talk on Slice, though. Thanks for going through the drill, David. You've been a real sport! Looking forward to more reports from Frisco.