Tale of Three Pizzas
Pizza is a special food. The comforting combination of sauce, cheese, and crust makes it a food that people from different backgrounds love. It is overdone to recite the clichés associated with pizza. From post-soccer game festivities to the end-of-year class pizza party with too-small slices, pizza brings people together.
Pizza has been a constant throughout my life. When I bite into a fresh slice, it brings back fond memories of my dad and me grabbing a slice from the pizzeria near our house – despite his lactose intolerance. It reminds me of ordering Domino’s $5.99 deal and watching the Kung Fu movie Ip Man 2 with my friends in middle school. Beyond the food itself, I have always associated pizza with New York City, and the glamour and grit that city evokes. Watching YouTube videos like Frank Pinello’s “The Pizza Show” cemented this idealized version of New York in my mind – a magical place with delicious pizza.
This obsession with pizza ties back to my childhood. While I did not grow up in a traditional “pizza city” like New York, my hometown of San Francisco has some serious pizza cred. The Bay Area has a long history of food innovation, with chefs like Alice Waters and Cecilia Chiang reshaping the landscape of American restaurants.
This forward-thinking mindset extends to pizza, and the Bay Area boasts some serious pizza offerings. An essential style of pizza found throughout the region is not a style, but a practice. Pioneered by the Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley, several bakeries in California offer a “Pizza of the Day” as their sole offering. This Pizza of the Day usually has a variety of fresh produce on top — corn, red cabbage, mushrooms, and more. The value of fresh produce has roots in the “Farm to Table” movement, pioneered in the Bay Area by chefs like Alice Waters.
This trend in San Francisco pizza entered the popular imagination – perhaps negatively – in the movie Inside Out. When Riley, the main character, moves to San Francisco, her family visits a bakery aptly named “Yeast of Eden.” After arriving, a cashier with purple hair and a prominent nose ring hands Riley a broccoli pizza. This leads “Anger” – the little red character inside her head – to exclaim “Congratulations, San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza! First the Hawaiians, and now you.”
Potato Pizza at Arizmendi’s
As a Hawaiian pizza enthusiast, I disagree with the second half of Anger’s proclamation. But I also want to defend broccoli pizza, as the pizza of the day options with unorthodox toppings are delicious. While I have indeed enjoyed broccoli (or rather broccolini) pizza before, my favorite pizza of the day is the potato pizza at the worker cooperative Arizmendi’s Bakery. Besides the potatoes, the exact toppings on the pizza vary, but there is always a flavorful garlic oil that perfectly complements the hearty potatoes. The potatoes get a bit crispy in the oven, but retain a fluffy interior that balances out the pizza’s crust.
The creators of Inside Out clearly know San Francisco well; Pixar’s headquarters are right across the bay bridge. While the movie’s “Yeast of Eden” bakery may be fictional, unorthodox pizzas are certainly part of the fabric of San Francisco.
After coming to Penn, I was excited to explore the diversity of food the city had to offer. Of course, I wanted to try cheesesteaks, and I incessantly watched videos comparing the different options across the city. Philly natives were also quick to give me their personal recommendations.
At Penn, I quickly learned about the sheer diversity of food around the city. From the excellent Ethiopian restaurants in West Philly to hand-drawn noodle shops in Chinatown, the city continually amazes me with its incredible range of offerings. This diversity extends to Italian foods, and it is well-known that Philadelphia has a sizable Italian influence. I remember my first time walking through South Philly, being mesmerized by the rows of colorful stores in the Italian Market.
This record of classic Italian food translates to excellent pizza. There are many worthwhile pizzerias throughout the city, each with its own specialties. Clarksville’s fancier style of pizza with unique toppings like salmon is the perfect spot to take the parents when they visit campus. Rione’s on 21st Street offers a unique Roman-style pizza in everything from a vodka sauce to potato pizza (my favorite). Even the humble &Pizza can be tasty, especially if you can snag a good discount.
Angelo’s square pie
While these are all excellent pizza shops, the platonic ideal of pizza in Philadelphia is Angelo’s Pizzeria in South Philly. Brought to global fame (or infamy) by Barstool’s One Bite Pizza Review, Angelo’s is everything pizza should be. The classic square and circle pies are the true stars, letting the brilliance of each ingredient shine through. Fired in a wood oven, the crust has a satisfying crunch with a light, fluffy interior. The tomato sauce is rich in flavor, adding perfect sweetness to the pie. The melted, slightly crispy cheese complements the sauce, adding a welcome textural contrast to the crust.
I first visited Angelo’s Pizza during fall break of my freshman year. It was a warm October day, and my friends and I had just visited the anarchist bookstore (Wooden Shoes Books). Because we had heard so much about Angelo’s, we were excited to see what all the hype was about. After picking up the pizza, we walked to nearby Cianfrani Park to eat. The sounds of birds chirping covered the park as we enjoyed the pizza. Unexpectedly, a French horn trio set up on the other side of the park. They played a joyful hymn, making the pizza-eating experience truly unique.
New York pizza needs no introduction. From the first time I visited New York, I was fascinated by the pizza culture of the city. I loved going into a pizza shop, getting a couple of slices on a greasy paper plate, and eating it outside on the sidewalk. Defined by a thin, foldable crust, slightly tangy tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese, a New York slice is what pizzerias everywhere seek to replicate.
Pizza has a rich history in New York City, with Little Italy’s Lombardi’s claiming to be the first pizzeria in the United States. Many of the most iconic pizzerias like Joe’s Pizza feature in Spider-Man and countless other depictions of New York on the silver screen. Even the humble one-dollar slice has become a part of the American psyche.
For many Penn students, visiting New York always includes carefully selecting a few restaurants to visit. And while it might be tempting to go to a fancy French restaurant or the new Japanese barbeque place, classic New York food should always be on the agenda. When discussing New York’s food scene, Anthony Bourdain asks: “What do they do there that is unique to that place, that they inarguably do better than anybody else in the world?” And for New York, pizza is an essential stop on any visit.
There are so many pizzerias in New York, but Pizza Suprema is an excellent option. Conveniently located a few blocks away from Penn Station and the Megabus stop, it is a satisfying meal after getting to New York. With a crunchy thin crust, tomato sauce, and elegant basil flavor, the cheese pizza will satisfy that post-journey pizza craving. The specialty pizzas are similarly delicious, with my personal favorite being “The Fig.” A white pizza featuring fig spread, bacon, and goat cheese, “The Fig” is a combination of sweet and salty that is truly unique.
From San Francisco to Philadelphia to New York, pizza has been a source of joy in my life. Pizza is special – it is comforting but can feel new and exciting at the same time. Go out and try a new pizza place!