Like love, pizza is something about which everyone has an opinion. Everyone is an authority. More poetry might have been written about love, but I am certain equal passion is aroused by the topic of pizza. Don’t believe me? Ask any three people about what makes the best pie and watch the sparks fly. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Americans are passionately in love with pizza. One source claims 93% of Americans eat pizza at least once a month and another study says that each man, woman and child consumes an average of 23 pounds of pie a year.
I grew up in a time and place when instant, convenient and semi-prepared food was seen as “modern”. Chef Boyardee, indeed. Me and pizza, we’ve come a long way, baby. I’ve eaten it in Italy. I’ve had it in New York. I’ve eaten at a number of the revered spots that show up on most of the authorities’ lists. Like anyone else, I can tell you what is wrong about bad pizza (thick, doughy crust or worse, the Bisquik grade school cafeteria style crust) and what is right about good pizza (thin, crispy crust, no soggy, sagging middle, no pooling of grease from cheap toppings, made with great commercial pizza ovens.) I’ve never once seen mention of that venerated Chef of my childhood on any list. Go figure.
The start of pizza in the States
The history of pizza in the US might be generally agreed upon, but once you drill down a bit, claims of authenticity and authority can get dicey.
At the highest level, broad strokes, most would agree that pizza came to the US from Naples, via New York. What much of middle-America gets delivered to their door at halftime, bears little resemblance to the real thing. (Sorry, sometimes the truth hurts.) Some say it came back with WWII soldiers returning from Italy, others claim it came with earlier Italian immigrants.
Regardless of the timing, it’s well established that New York City and New Haven Connecticut are two of the legendary pizza cities. One thing these places have in common is a thin, charred crust from wood-fired ovens. The crust which bakes quickly at temperatures between 600- 800 degrees is impossible to replicate in a regular home oven. A pizza stone helps, but a good oven is the key.