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Pizza Obsessives: Matt Olson (aka 'olsonmatt')
Each week on Slice we get to know our fellow pizza obsessives a little better by sitting them down in the hot seat. My Pie Monday flushes the truly obsessed out of the bushes, and if you've strolled through those pizza galleries, then you are no stranger to olsonmatt. Get to know him here! —MS
What type of pizza do you prefer?
I like lots of types of pizza, including Sicilian, grilled, Neapolitan (or what I think Neapolitan pizza is like — never actually been there), and New Haven style, but my favorite would be a regular New York Slice.
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'm sure I don't remember my first slice, but I do have great memories of my parents bringing home pies from Pizzeria Regina in the North End on Friday nights. Being in Massachusetts, there was also a lot of Greek style pizza, which I will still eat on occasion as there's so much of it around here. Regina's is definitely the first pizza I thought of as seriously great pizza though.
In terms of evolved tastes, I don't think I had anything besides plain pizza until I was well into my twenties. Now, I'll think nothing of ordering, or even making a fresh clam pie. Also, I've learned it's best not to limit yourself to just one type of pizza — as Slicer's know, there's so many great styles and great people doing interesting things with pizza.
What's your favorite topping or topping combination?
The standard: cheese pizza. I strongly agree with the theory that a plain pizza is the only true way to evaluate a pizzeria. After that, I'd probably go with sausage and caramelized onion, or clam and bacon, or chili oil and sausage. But definitely cheese pizza.
Where do you go for pizza in your area?
As much as I like Regina's in Boston, my go to spot is Armando's in Cambridge. I love the people working there. They're a family that now has three generations running the place. Michael is Armando's grandson and does a fantastic job managing the oven and the, how do I say, somewhat particular customers from the neighborhood. I was actually there about an hour ago enjoying a regular and a Sicilian.The slices at 'Mando's, on a good day, are amazing. On the worst day, they're very good. Today was a good day.
My Pie Monday has been a window into your pizza-making life at home. How did you get started making pizzas?
I was a grill fanatic before becoming a home pizza maker. My brother, Alex, and I have been grilling together for a long time. A few years ago we got the idea, maybe from a cooking show or the Weber cookbook, to grill pizzas. I started with dough bought from local pizzerias, but last year I finally bought a stone and a couple of peels, started making dough regularly, and have become more and more obsessed since.
What are your favorite recipes and methods?
I usually use the Lehman dough calculator and the methods described in Peter Reinhart's Neapolitan dough recipe. For flour, KA Bread Flour, and I never use oil or sugar. I recently started playing with Jim Lahey's no-knead recipe and I think it's pretty great. For sauce, I use the best canned tomatoes I can find and pulse them with salt in the blender or food processor. Occasionally, I will "doctor" the tomatoes with garlic, oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, etc. — like Kenji's NY recipe (plus vinegar). That topped with the best cheese I can find, cooked in the oven as hot as I can get it, and always drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.
So what do you think should NEVER go on a pizza?
I can't say what should never go on a pizza, but there are a lot of things that I would certainly never consider. There are many creative Slicer's out there doing different things and I enjoy seeing them all on MPM.
Weirdest pizza you've ever eaten?
My tastes are pretty traditional, so I've really avoided unusual pizzas. I once had a pizza at a brew pub in Portsmouth, NH that had barbecue sauce and dill pickles — that was not a good pie.
That made my stomach turn. I'll say it: Barbecue sauce and dill pickles (especially the pickles!) should never be on the same pizza. I hope that you didn't go to NH just for that pizza. What is the farthest you've traveled for pizza?
This is a tough subject right now — my wife's going on a business trip to Phoenix next week and I've been going back and forth about trying to tag along to go to Pizzeria Bianco — a dream of mine. It looks like it won't happen this trip, but it will soon.
Other than that, when I lived in Manhattan, my friend Sean and I regularly took trips in his old Buick to Long Island (Umberto's), Staten Island (Denino's) and Avenue J (DiFara's) to eat pizza. Those are great memories.
Anything else you'd like to get off your chest?
Putting something edible on top of something edible and cooking it does not make it a pizza. I have seen people on TV doing things like putting vegetables and bagged cheese on a tortilla and calling it a "healthy pizza." That's not pizza, it's something else.
What does your family think of your pizza madness?
My wife loves it, or she says she does. But, I think she probably gets annoyed when there's only us at home and I decide to make four pizzas. Recently she did actually ask if maybe we could have pizza a little less often. But there are no complaints from Finbar, our lab. He's a pizza-hound and he's always underfoot when we're cooking, or eating. I definitely give him more pizza crusts than I probably should.
Other family members definitely like having pizzas made for them & mash; my mom actually asked if I'd come over and make pizzas for Mother's Day, so that was a nice compliment.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I'm constantly inspired by everyone on Slice, both the staff, and the great community members.
Who would you like to see interviewed next?
Have you done Slice staffer Andrew Janjigian? It's always good to read about some local people, and he's done great reviews on pizzerias both familiar and unfamiliar to me.
Agreed! I'll get that in the works. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us and for dishing on your obsession. On a personal note, it's great to have you in the Boston pizza ring!