Would You Rather Have Good Bad Pizza, or Bad Good Pizza?
As part of my regular Slice-induced duties, last night I decided I wanted to revisit one of the Columbia University-area sit-down pizza joints, which meant either Sezz Medi' or V&T's.
I ended up settling for V&T's, a childhood favorite of mine that I haven't been to in well over two decades, but can still recall pretty precisely as having very greasy, very cheesy, large pies with relatively thick, floppy crusts. I went in expecting that, and son, I was not dissapointed.
The pies were as inexpensive, large, and greasy as ever. Indeed, everything we tried was covered in a lava flow of cheese. The eggplant parm, the meatball, the pizza, everything. My friend ended up saying that if I ever ask him again whether he'd like to go to V&T or Sezz Medi', he'd pick the latter, but I disagree.
There are "good" types of pizza (let's say, real neapolitan, real New York, real bar pies, etc. pizzas prepared with pride and care and an eye towards balancing of ingredients, flavors, technique, etc), then there are "bad" types of pizza (like, ski lodge pizza or cafeteria pizza, or french bread pizza, or chain restaurant pizza, or greasy, college late-night, pre-hangover, stuff-your-face pizza).
Now by typical Slice standards, V&T is not "good" pizza, period. The crust is floppy, it's way out of balance, the ingredients are pretty low quality, I mean, the sauce has some brightness and flavor, but that's about all you can say about it. On the other hand, by the standards of greasy, stuff-your-face, perfect-for-a-night-after-college-style-drinking pie, it's pretty stellar.
It's good "bad" pizza, if you will, and it performs admirably at its task.
A place like Sezz Medi' a few blocks north, on the other hand, aspires to be "good" pizza. That is, it uses the Neapolitan pie as its aesthetic goal, using thin-stretched dough, high quality ingredients, semi-traditional preparations, higher temperature ovens, charred, blistered crust, etc. However, it falls pretty short of the great heights that really good Neapolitan pizza can reach. It's a bit cracker-y and it's got decent charring, but the dough's a little bland. The mozzarella is classified as fresh, but it seems like the low-quality fresh stuff that you can get sitting in cryovacked packages in the supermarket.
It's bad, "good" pizza.
On an absolute scale, Sezz Medi' may be "better"—lighter, fresher, better ingredients—than V&T, but because it falls so short of the ideal of Neapolitan pizza, I actually prefer the greasy stuff at V&T to it. My friend feels the opposite way.
This thought of course, applies to other foods as well: there are times when I'd rather eat a Wendy's hamburger or a Big Mac, knowing full well how pretty crappy they are than to go to, say, Corner Bistro where all the ingredients are better quality and the overall burger is probably better, but it falls so flat compared to what it could be so I just end up feeling disappointed.
Adam: "I feel the same way. A bad Neapolitan pizza is so f***ing boring and actually makes me really angry after a couple bites—because I've just wasted my time and money. They're almost always sit-down, wait-service joints, which means it's not a quick in and out. You're investing a certain amount of time and energy into the deal. It's not like a bad take-out slice where you're out $2.50 and maybe five minutes. The worst thing is when it's a Neapolitan joint that's engaged in a certain amount of ingredient fetishization and still sucks.
"Same with burgers. To me something like Wendy's and McDonald's exist outside the realm of burgers. They're just another life form altogether. So it doesn't bother me that they're not the platonic ideal of a real burger. They are what they are."
Nick: "I won't ever eat "bad" pizza (nor Wendy's, Big Macs or other fast food drek). I suppose intellectually I appreciate the effort made in using better ingredients and techniques even if the result is not what it could be. Price is obviously a factor here as better ingredients cost more money and a poorly made product will appear worse if it costs more.
"At my age I just don't have the calories to spare on bad food of any kind!"
What are your thoughts? Bad good pizza, or good bad pizza?
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.