A Pizza My Mind: Why You Should Eat More Bad Pizza
Editor's note: In honor of National Pizza Month (aka October), the Serious Eats editors, staff, and Slice writers will top off our regular content with their deepest thoughts on all things cheesy, saucy, and crusty.
A while back I got into Scotch. I'd never enjoyed the taste of it very much, but then I met this guy at a party who happened to be a Master of Scotch (an expert who does whisky tastings in a kilt). He grabbed a bottle from his car, showed me how to properly taste it, and in 30 minutes I was a convert for life. Over the next year, I spent a small fortune purchasing an upper-level education in whisky, one expensive bottle at a time. Now, four years later, I'm in a prison of my own creation. The Scotches served at most bars ("The Glens") taste like watered down Bud Light to me, and upscale bars that actually do carry something pleasing like Lagavulin 16 charge $20 or more a pour—a price I am unwilling to pay since I know the true cost. I love Scotch...but I barely get to drink it anymore. Are you wondering what this has to do with pizza yet?
If you're visiting Slice, there's a very good chance that you're obsessive about your pizza. You've eaten your 10,000 slices, you've developed an excellent palette...and you no longer have any time in your life for shitty pizza. Well, unless you want to be in a pizza prison of your own creation I would suggest you make a little time. Here's why.
1. Great pizza is really hard to find. I went into a deep depression when I got back from my first real pizza trip to New York. None of the stuff at home tasted good to me anymore and I actually stopped eating pies for a while. At the time, Los Angeles was admittedly pizza-starved, but in hindsight I think having one NYC heavy hitter after another gave me a warped perception of what can be done with bread, sauce, and cheese. In reality, the vast (VAAAST) majority of pizza is average at the very best, so when there's a craving, you'll rarely have geographic access to a top shelf pie. And if that's the case, are you really going to let statistics dictate when you can have pizza?
Seriously, even if you live in New York, what's your batting average for really good pizza? .200? .150? Are you required to to go four more stops to insure you get the "right" slice? And if you're not in New York, are you going to drive across town to Great Lake or Apizza Scholls or Delancey every time? Because those are all so crazy good they might be bad examples, but I think you get my point. Eating pizza at the moment of craving is almost always satisfying. That's why a quick, greasy slice, free from expectation, can sometimes be heaven.
2. Pizza isn't always about the food. There's nothing more social than a pizza dinner. If you and your friends and family aren't eating from the same pie, you're most likely sharing bites or slices. Do you really want to give that experience up? I can't tell you how many times I've been invited ("You like pizza, don't you?") to eat at a so-so place that I have no interest in, but I always suck it up because a couple slices in, we're always talking about ordering another pie and wallowing in our soon to be fatness.
Bad pizza can almost guarantee a fun night out. In fact, one of the most memorable eating sessions of the last year was going through seven crappy rounds of various frozen pizzas with friends. It was cringe-inducing at the time, but I remember some of those flavors more than any merely "good" pie from the last year.
3. Bad pizza reminds you how good great pizza really is. I get Mozza about once a week. It's always good, but I appreciate it much more when I haven't had it for a while. Wanna know when I really, really appreciate it? After I go someplace average like Tomato Pie. You can't appreciate the peaks without hiking through some valleys, my friend. Eat exclusively great pizza and the rest of your pizza life is just one long pepperoni-dotted plateau.
I truly believe if I had continued to drink regular Scotch instead of insisting on top shelf stuff during my "schooling," I'd A. still be able to enjoy average stuff and B. love the top shelf stuff even more.
4. Sometimes that bad pizza isn't bad. Okay, I'm just gonna say it. Your definition of "bad pizza" is skewed. That neighborhood place that gets raves? The one that you tried a couple times and that actually sucks? Well, there's probably a reason everyone likes it. Let me put it another way. You know that incredibly boring person you get stuck talking to at a party? The one who makes you wish for the apocalypse? There's only one remedy for them. You have to get curious. Dig a little bit and find the something interesting about them. Now do the same with pizza. Many so-called bad pizzas have a good component. It could be a unique feature like pepperoni that cooks up into little cheesebowls. It could be an oddball combination that hits you right. I threw punches at Casa Bianca but I've still been there about a dozen times because I dig their sausage. As in life, focus on the positive.
Also, there's every chance you're going to get lucky. When I was a working at Toarmina's Pizza, there would be moments in between being a typical teenage dumbshit where I was focused on making quality pizza. Sure, I was dealing with average ingredients, but I knew how to get the very best out of them because I ate there for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I bet there are literally thousands (okay, hundreds) of dumbshits like me out there who actually care enough about their craft to surprise you with a good pie.
5. Sometimes that bad pizza is actually great. Scroll through enough comment sections on Slice and you'll no doubt find plenty of folks taking dumps on Chicago pizza. Everyone has preferences, but if there's a specific pizza style you've written off, in all likelihood you haven't given it a fair shake. I get it, you had Gino's East on a layover and hated it. Fine. There are plenty of other deep dish pizza styles and shops that you might actually like. I've only eaten at 20 pizzerias in Chicago, but every time I go I'm surprised how different they all taste. Putting yourself into a "this type of pizza" or "just these toppings" box really limits you. Same goes for the reverse pizza-cism that deep dish lovers have against New York slices. C'mon guys. All we're saying is give pizza a chance.
There are, of course, exceptions. If your name is TXCraig1 you are exempt from eating bad pizza. Or if it's John Wozniak. Or SkyHighGluten. dhorst. Pizzablogger. Any My Pie Monday star. Or if you spend 1/4 of your week talking shit on pizzamaking.com. Alright, anybody who can craft a pizza better than 99 percent of the world may throw all the stones they wish from their glass house (because that glass is bulletproof). You just have to agree to make me pizza if I am in the area.
Now before every word I've ever written about pizza is scrubbed from Slice, I want to be clear, I'm not criticizing anyone for taking the "life's too short" tact. I've been there, all my friends think I'm a humongous pizza snob, and this post is as much a reminder to myself to be more open as it is anything else. I'm also not saying you should search out Pizza Hut's new "Seven-Layer Pizza with Pepperoni-Flavored Frozen Yogurt Stuffed Crust" when the Del Poppolo truck is parked across the street. But everything in moderation, folks. Even the good stuff.
Nobody should ever stop searching for the next great pizza. I know I won't. But in the long run you're going to be happier eating more pizza with less less expectations.
About the author: Lance Roberts is a writer in Los Angeles. Go Tigers.