January 10, 2014
Every month, TEAM SPT gets together for an evening of intense pizza study. Past events have brought us to New Haven, canned tomato tastings and pizza making workshops. Last month we agreed it was time to get our hands dirty and do some serious trench work, so we ordered pizza from all the major chains within delivery distance of my Brooklyn apartment and conducted a not-so-scientific chain pizza showdown.
First up was Little Caesar’s. I thought they had gone out of business years ago, but it turns out they’re the third highest grossing pizza company in the country! Locations are scattered in NYC and really only in low-income neighborhoods in the outskirts of Brooklyn and the Bronx. I get it — they have a “large” pizza (it’s just 14” as opposed to the usual 16-18” large) for only $5 and there’s little to no wait time to get a pizza. It’s clearly going to be a low-quality pizza, but not everyone wants imported Neapolitan flour and San Marzano tomatoes. Fast food pizza is a necessary evil.
Truth be told, I had only had LC’s once before and I completely forgot about it until weeks after we tried it - so this felt like it was my first taste. It was the first pizza of our test because LC’s doesn’t deliver (they’re take-out only) so we picked up a HOT-N-READY® pie. I have to admit, I was pretty excited to finally try Little Caesar’s. It’s the closest pizza to my apartment and I felt guilty for walking past it every day. I was also pretty hungry, so they clearly had the best positioning of the night.
While I’d never eat this again on purpose, I thought it wasn’t the worst of the night. The CSR (cheese-to-sauce ratio) was pretty even. I might even say it was the sauciest of the night. Shredded low-moisture mozzarella has a tendency to slurp up sauce and I was surprised at LC’s moisture level. The crust was floppy and soft, as expected from the conveyor oven bake, and the cheese had a reasonable pull without getting in the way. The pie’s temperature upon arrival was 130 F, which (SPOILER ALERT) turned out to be the average for the night.
Overall, I’d call this a very solid desperation pizza, one you only fall back on when all else fails. You’ll feel guilty immediately upon taking the first bite, but you’ll move on with your life and pretend it never happened.
The second pie of the night was from Domino’s. We wanted to order the exact same pie from each place, but I think this one’s technically a specialty pie. I have a longer history with Domino’s than I do with the others we ordered for this test. My family never ate it when I was a kid. I remember the family mantra “Domino’s tastes like cardboard” and that alone prevented me from ever ordering it even in my darkest hour. Then Domino’s famously changed their recipe in 2009 and I felt it was my job — no, my responsibility — to give it a go. If the new version was an improvement, I’m glad I never had to deal with the old version. A couple years passed and decided it might be fun to get to know the pizza industry better by working some pizza jobs, one of which was as a delivery boy for my local Domino’s. I worked for about three weeks and made just over 100 deliveries.
This year’s holiday card is appropriately pizza box themed! Design by Kristina Filler.
Just some of my favorite holiday-themed generic stock pizza boxes to wish you all a Merry Christmas!
For more beautiful pizza box art, check out my new book Viva La Pizza! The Art of the Pizza Box.
December 11, 2013
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I spent a total of two days in Chicago last month and managed to visit 19 pizzerias. It was my first time in Chicago since 2003. I’m not a big fan of restaurant reviews, so think of these more as abbreviated recollections of my experiences at each place. I might do more in-depth reports later but people ask me about pizza in Chicago so often I just want to use this as a quick reference guide. It’s split into two parts because Chicago pizza is too massive to fit into one post. See part 1 here. The post is organized with a description first, then a photo below. Enjoy!
Marie’s Pizza & Liquors
Marie’s is an absolute gem, owned and operated by the same family since 1940. It’s a good 20 minutes north of the Loop, so don’t expect to stumble upon it if you’re wandering around downtown Chicago. This is a real joint -oozing with the “this is who we are” honesty that makes me fall in love with some restaurants even before I taste the food. It’s more like a bar with tons of seating than it is a pizzeria. The seating of which I speak is luxurious plush red vinyl and I really do need to post more photos of the interior. The pizza is typical tavern style thin-and-crispy cut into squares. Truth be told, it’s not the most remarkable pizza in the world, but Marie’s is off the charts on the vibe-o-meter and a real piece of Chicago’s pizza story.
Pizzeria da Nella Cucina Napoletana
Regardless of the city’s reputation as a deep-dish town or its true roots as a thin crust refuge, Chicago has some very non-Chicago pizzerias. Nella is a traditional Neapolitan pizzeria. They have it all: the wood-fired oven, “00” flour, imported tomatoes. But sometimes having all the goods doesn’t necessarily make a great pizza. Keep in mind I am basing my entire opinion on one visit in the middle of the day, but this was not a stellar pizza. The oven seemed low and the pizza, which usually takes about 90 seconds in this oven, clocked in at 2:30. That’s a big difference and resulted in a dry crust. Some might even prefer this over traditional Neapolitan but I give a low score on execution of the style.
Want a serious deep dish pizza the locals actually eat on purpose? Pequod’s is it. There’s cheese shoved up between the crust and the pan (like Detroit style) and it caramelizes in the most beautiful way imaginable. Some even order it with extra carm for a degree of intensity rarely displayed by mere mortals. I had a pie with sausage and pepperoni, (aka just the basics for a meaty midwestern appetite) and really loved how the crunch of the crust combined with the soft padding of its cheesy surface. It had less sauce than other deep dish pizzas and generally felt like the badass of Chicago’s pizzerias.
Here’s another non-Chicagoan pizzeria in the Windy City, one that’s all about New Haven, CT. If you’re not familiar with the style, you need to head to Pepe’s and Sally’s on Wooster St or Modern Apizza on State Street in New Haven RIGHT NOW! Piece dishes up huge dense-crunchy crust pizza in big trays like Frank Pepe’s. Their pies are topped with restraint rather than maladroit. The place has a very active feel, almost like a sports bar but without too many televisions. I thought the pizza was totally solid and I’d definitely be here all the time if I lived in the neighborhood. It’s the kind of place to enjoy with a big group of friends, as I did with my buds Patrick and Kristy, the wonderful couple who designed and built my beautiful pizza tours website!
Sunday, December 8 - It’s a pizza party with Wiener discussing his book about pizza boxes - Book Court
Tonight at 7pm I’ll be talking about how we made VIVA LA PIZZA! THE ART OF THE PIZZA BOX as well as how I keep 625 pizza boxes in my Brooklyn apartment without attracting an army of vermin.
AND there will be free pizza from Sam’s Restaurant!!!
December 2, 2013
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I spent a total of two days in Chicago last month and managed to visit 19 pizzerias. It was my first time in Chicago since 2003. I’m not a big fan of restaurant reviews, so think of these more as abbreviated recollections of my experiences at each place. I might do more in-depth reports later but people ask me about pizza in Chicago so often I just want to use this as a quick reference guide. It’s split into two parts because Chicago pizza is too massive to fit into one post. Description first, photo below. Enjoy!
I hate to start this way, but Uno was the worst deep-dish I tried in Chicago. We ordered the Chicago classic onions-peppers-mushrooms-sausage-pepperoni (someone referred to it as “sticking to basics” — WHAT?!?!) and it was a soppy mess. You can see the runoff in the photo. Veggies were basically raw because they’re topped toward the end of the 45+ minute bake. I don’t need to ever go back.
As its name suggests, Pizzeria Due is the second location of the more familiar Pizzeria Uno. They’re located a block away from each other. Even though the managers claim the pizza is identical, my experience found otherwise. I tried them both back-to-back and liked everything about Pizzeria Due MORE than Pizzeria Uno. If you’re on a Chicago pizza pilgrimage you’ll have to go to both, but save more room for Due. It’s a serious deep-dish pizza.
This was the first pizza I had on this trip and I was really jazzed up when I got there but I still think it would have been my favorite pizza in Chicago even if I tried it last. I know what you’re thinking, this is basically a New York coal oven pizza and NOT a typical Chicago style pizza. You are correct, and maybe that’s why I loved it. But it’s in Chicago so it belongs on this list. It’s a domed wood-burning oven but they keep a mountain of bituminous coal piled into the back of the oven for that dry heat. We use anthracite in NYC but Chicago doesn’t have easy access so they go with the lighter coal with more moisture content by default. Great crunchy-yet relenting crust paired with creamy fresh mozzarella, a sharp sauce and post-oven basil.
December 2, 2013
"…delightful and informative." - The New York Times
“A little slice of art.” - The Wall Street Journal
“[This] fascinating book shows pizza boxes like you’ve never seen, emblazoned with artful images so original and unexpected they would be at home in a food museum.” - The Sacramento Bee
“The detail to which Wiener chronicles the boxes is kind of insane.” - Hyper Allergic
“…one of the most effusive displays of love for corrugated cardboard the world will ever know.” - The Independent
“[This] new book answers questions you probably never asked” - USA Today
*Find out more about the book and where to buy it here.
I’m going to be a guest on Running Late with Scott Rogowsky, a great live talk show in NYC. I’ve been on the show before with guests like Andrew WK and David Cross, this time I’ll get to meet Regis Philbin and Lizz Winstead. Should be a hoooot!!!
Get your tickets here.