Cardella: Pizza Got Complicated

Everybody loves pizza. Good old pizza. Cheap. Delicious. Pizza was Friday night dinner. Pizza was essentially tomato sauce and mozzarella. The most exotic we ever got was to add anchovies. The melted mozzarella was stringy. The stringier the better. A nice crispy crust. Under 10 bucks. One phone call. Forty minutes. Delivered hot to your door. But pizza got complicated.

What happened to those good old days? Pizza has gone upscale. The word “gourmet” was never meant to describe pizza. Nowadays, Inquirer food critic Craig Le Ban seems to write about the glories of pizza twice a month. At one time, pizza was the food of the people. But pizza has become elitist food. Understand. The pizzeria is doing you a favor selling you a slice. One famous pizzeria even has an unlisted number. Another pizzeria requires you to reserve your pizza dough. You should be so lucky. Next you’ll have to have a membership card to buy a slice.  No delivery. You must pick up your pizza. Stand in line at six in the morning. It’s easier getting a COVID shot. There might be a Tibetan monk waiting in line with you who flew in just for the pizza. Say “hello” to the Dalai Lama. Beware. If you offend the owner, he won’t sell you his pizza. He makes the “Soup Nazi” look like Mother Teresa. If he doesn’t like the way the pizza came out of the oven that morning, he won’t sell you a slice for any price. He dumps it. If you bicker about it, you might wind up wearing the pizza. Genuine San Marzano tomatoes and all. There are about as many varieties of pizza as Baskin-Robbins flavors of ice cream. You can get dill pickles on what was once a simple tomato pie. You want pineapple, Uncle Nunzi believes you should beg forgiveness in the confessional. Hope you get a liberal priest. Maybe you’ll get away with 20 Hail Marys and a good Act of Contrition.

Nowadays, the choices of pizza toppings are endless. You can get fresh mozzarella or the store-bought kind. Meatballs, prosciutto, salami and mortadella imported from the old country. You want your cheese steak on your pizza, you can get it. Just don’t tell Uncle. Uncle says you want a cheese steak, order a cheese steak.

There’s Roman-style pizza. Neopolitan pizza. Sicilian pizza. Chicago Deep Dish. New York style. Round pizza. Square pizza. Florida style (you get a pair of sunglasses with the pie).There’s dough that’s described as from a highly-hydrated formula that allows it to rise for 72 hours. About the time it takes your kid to get out of bed and get ready for school. When there is school. I think Julius Caesar favored this pizza dough. I think he was munching on a slice when Brutus and company used knives to vote him out of office. If you want a slice of pizza, ask for “taglio.”

You want a bunch of toppings on your pizza? Be forewarned you can wind up paying $40. That’s with tax, tip, a delivery fee and, I think, a surcharge from Ticketmaster.

A word here about the much-maligned anchovy, or as the Italians call it “la alice.” If you pronounced it like Alice as in Wonderland, you already have two strikes against you. Maybe you shouldn’t even be allowed to eat pizza. Period. Even worse, you should be restricted to store-bought frozen pizza or getting it from Little Caesars.

Anchovies are an acquired taste. Saying that anchovies are salty is like saying the Texas power grid doesn’t work so well. If you’ve never eaten anchovies, you’ve gotta prepare yourself. Take your blood pressure — twice — before your first bite. Make sure your BP is at an all-time low. Make sure your will is up to date. Have a rescue squad standing by or have 911 on speed dial. People who are not used to anchovies have been known to develop a permanent lip pucker. Permanent as in for life. Don’t bother checking the can for sodium information. My favorite brand lists its sodium content as “forget about it.” “Maybe this is why anchovies are no longer a popular topping on pizzas,” I told Uncle. “All the anchovy lovers have died from strokes.” Uncle believes that refusing to eat anchovies is an act of cowardice.

With all the gourmet pizza shops around, some people still order their pizza from outfits such as Domino’s, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut and Little Caesars. It’s Uncle’s belief that only Medigans eat pizzas from these corporate establishments. Says that If we had any standards at all, we’d mandate that their pizzas should be labeled artificial. He’s right. There’s no earthly resemblance between a good slice of pizza from a neighborhood pizzeria and a slice of the corporate stuff. These chains compete with each other with gimmicks. Their crust is ever-changing. Sometimes it’s stuffed with cheese. Or sometimes there’s no crust at all. In several foreign countries such as Australia and Canada, Pizza Hut has offered bits of hot dogs along with cheese inside their pizza crust. Uncle has advocated that we sever relations with these two countries, allies or not. The thickness of a pizza crust has become an issue that has societal implications. The more posh the neighborhood, the thinner the crust. I swear there’s a pizza sold on the Main Line whose crust is so thin it’s transparent.

Follow Tom Cardella on Facebook.