Pizza Obsessives: Michael Berman, New York Contributor
What type of pizza do you prefer?
It depends. For a benchmark, I like to try plain tomato and mozzarella, and I usually prefer the quality of fresh mozzarella to that of low-moisture mozzarella. But plenty of places have toppings or combinations that stand out above and beyond plain.
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 remember my first slice. But growing up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, there were two pizzerias that I had often: Pizza Oven, in Rockville; and the Pines of Rome, in Bethesda. I'm pretty sure Pizza Oven is gone (they made rectangular pies with thin crust and elevated edges), but the Pines of Rome is still there—and still making great pizza, I should add. (If you go to the Pines of Rome, try both the red and the white pizzas.)
What's your favorite topping or topping combination?
Usually plain. But I like sausage when it's good, fresh garlic and basil are great, and mushrooms when they're thin and not canned. At Luigi's in Brooklyn (Fifth Avenue and 22nd Street) they bring amazing tomatoes from the father's Staten Island garden—unbelievable as a topping. I also love clams, so I am a sucker for good clam pizza.
Also, don't overlook condiments! South Brooklyn Pizza makes a couple of good ones in house (roasted garlic and marinated hot peppers). In Italy, if you ask for hot peppers, they give you hot pepper olive oil. It's great. I think Paulie Gee has that in Brooklyn.
You are in serious pizza territory with lots of great options, but do you have a go-to in your area?
My regular pizza for delivery is the "grandma" from House of Pizza and Calzone. I order it with fresh mozzarella. (I also add a side order of spinach sauteed with garlic, which gets spread onto some of the slices.) I use the toaster oven to reheat slices. It works great and requires no maintenance.
Do you make pizza at home? If so, how? What recipes do you use?
I like to make grilled pizza at home. The dough recipe I use is from Chowhound (here's the link.) I find it needs more flour than the recipe calls for. And you can make it by hand (without a stand mixer) pretty easily. The trick in grilling is to put coals only on one side of the grill (or leave one half off, if it's a gas grill) to prevent it from burning.
What one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?
I know we've seen that here on Slice before, but have you ever been in a position to try a pasta topped pizza?
I've never had spaghetti on pizza, I answered "spaghetti" because I tried to think of something that would be most ridiculous. We live in a day and age where chocolate and eggs can go on pizza (hopefully, separately). Those things aren't my cup of tea, but I'd try them if the opportunity presented itself. I think I tried a Nutella pizza somewhere sometime. It was good. But, you know, I'm just as good with a crêpe.
So, what is the most unusual pizza you've ever eaten?
I guess I don't take too many risks. Or maybe I haven't been anywhere weird enough. I like toppings to be good quality. I'd rather avoid industrial foods—which is what I suspect most pepperoni is, for instance. Maybe I'm naive about the sourcing of much of the sausage, but I like to think that it could be "homemade" by some local place, and that therefore it's a better choice in terms of meat toppings. For sure, there's more variety in sausage.
But pizza's not the healthiest food, and I'm 44, so I do try to steer clear of extra artery cloggers as much as I can. I love clams. I'd guess that 100 years ago clams on pizza might have sounded unusual. In the last decade or so, I think we've become very flexible in the range of ingredients we find okay for pizza.
What is the farthest you've traveled for pizza?
I've been to Italy a number of times but I go mainly to see friends. Pizza is of course a natural byproduct of those visits.
Here in NYC I will get it in my mind to try pizza from some place I've read about and I might drive for half an hour in a rainstorm, having already eaten lunch, because I have to know what it's like right away.
We look forward to getting the first-hand report on your impulse investigations for sure! What about places in Italy? Any favorites?
I've been to Rome several times because I have friends who live there. Several years ago my friend Alexia brought me to a place on the outskirts—it's called Angelo e Simonetta—where she said I've gotta try it because they win awards in Rome. True enough, there are trophies and certificates scattered around the place. And they make excellent pizza al taglio. I go there every chance I get. (I wrote a piece, which includes video, on pizzacentric.
There was a place on Campo dei Fiori that's not there anymore. It was a little room on the long side of the square. An older woman cut your slices to size (as is customary with pizza al taglio), and their mushroom slice was incredible. Room temperature. But that place isn't there anymore.
I haven't been to Naples, but I plan to go this summer.
What do your family and/or friends think of your pizza madness?
They all like pizza too—except for one friend I have who hates cheese. But we do need a break from pizza now and then. It gets to be a little too much from time to time.
Thanks for sitting in the hot seat, Michael! It's been a real pleasure getting to know a little bit more about you, and we look forward to having more of your pizza insights in the future!