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Is College-Town Pizza A Recognizable Style?

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

In case you haven't noticed it, for better or worse, we're pretty into pizza taxonomy 'round these parts (do you know these 30 regional pizza styles?). After all, how could anything worth eating not be made even better if you can dissect, break down, classify, and label it?

On a recent trip to Ithaca for my sister's graduation, I found myself craving a decent slice of pizza. This is not an easy thing in Ithaca, for while it may be home to The Hot Truck where French bread pizza was supposedly invented, the crisp-crusted, saucy-cheesy kind is pretty thin on the ground. After some poking around the internet and Twitter, I found myself at The Nines, a well-loved bar/pizza joint located right near the prime residential row off Cornell's campus.

They serve two styles of pizza, round and square, and toppings seem to be their thing, so I ordered fully-loaded versions of both. After waiting the 40 minutes I'd been told it'd take to bake them (and popping back a few fried creamed corn nuggets to pass the time), I opened the boxes.

What looked back at me was... frightening. Thick, thick mounds of melted cheese with huge handfuls of topping resting on top of a dense, thick slab of pale golden crust. The toppings and cheese, amoeba-like in appearance, were engulfing the crust the way a pile of dirty laundry and beer cans slowly grows over a college freshman's bed.

The square pie fared no better, nearly identical in texture and cheese-to-topping ratio as the round. Picking it up from the floppy crust was an exercise in futility. I may as well have been trying to store cheese sauce on a wire mesh shelf.

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It was... not what I wanted at the time. But oddly enough, after taking it back home and pouring myself a few (too many) glasses of wine, everything suddenly became crystal clear: Pizza near college campuses exist in a realm completely out of the influence of the rest of the pizzasphere. They are not meant to be judged by the same standards, nor can they even really be compared at all.

Indeed, I'd go so far as to say that the only person qualified to judge the merits of what I'm dubbing "College Town Pizza" is a college student, properly self-medicated on a strict regimen of cheap beer. It also might be one of the few forms of pizza that is equally good (if not better) when consumed cold the morning after.

When I first saw the pies, I was afraid they'd never get finished, but after I got myself into the *ahem* right frame of mind, I had no problem polishing off the pizzas.

This rigorously tested and proven conclusion leads me to one logical question and a correlated theory: are the citizens of Chicago drunk on cheap beer all the time? We may finally have an explanation for the existence of deep dish pizza. (Only slight offense intended ;) )

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer 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.

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