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One Thing

September 2, 2009

I love good pizza.  I love good chicken wings.

Both these foods are similar in the fact that when they are good, it elevates my spirits. When they are disappointing, it really brings me down.  I have high standards for each.  Neither is terribly good for you.  And they both go well with beer.

I suppose they also go well with each other.
And here is where the problem begins.

Before moving to the northeast where chicken wings are deified I lived in pretty much a wing-free zone.  Sure there were a few places to get them, but if I really wanted good wings, I’d ask my friend ADS to make some.

This meant that I was limited to pizza.  And I got pretty fussy about what makes a good New York style slice, why Zachary’s Chicago style pizza was better than any pizza they actually make in Chicago, and why the Cheeseboard Collective pizza really isn’t pizza at all.

But in this, I also really appreciated the skill and the craft that goes into making exceptional pizza.  Having a hot hot oven.  Being intimately familiar with the oven, so that you know its hot spots, and gain an innate sense of its timing.  Deft handling of the dough, so it becomes properly thin, but not too thin, and certainly not tough from being overworked.   There’s more, but you get the idea.  Making good pizza is serious.

And it’s not as if making good wings is a snap either.  Frying is a technique that appears to be a lot easier than it actually is.  Oil temperature is critical.  The outside skin has to get crispy, but not burnt, while the fat completely renders into the meat, which is cooked through just enough to be done, but not so much that it dries out.  This is far from easy.  And then there is the entirely separate matter of the sauce.

What we have here are two completely different skills.

Yet for some reason, people I speak with in Albany continually judge a pizza joint on its pizza and its wings.  This has been bothering me for a while.  And really I think it points to a much larger issue.

Here is what I believe:
If a place does just one thing, and does it incredibly well, in my mind it is an incredible place.

It raises the question, well then, why would they put anything else on the menu?  And to that I answer, “A fool and his money are soon parted.”  It’s on there for the rubes who come in and do not know enough to order the good stuff.

I used to go to one of the best Sichuan restaurants in San Francisco, and almost every time I was there some tourists would come in and order sweet and sour pork.  Assuredly they did not have the same outstanding meal as if they had ordered the cold diced rabbit in chili oil.

So here is what I say:
Do not expect good sushi at a Chinese restaurant.
If you eat at a beer hall, the food is likely to go well with beer.
At a place that is known for its pizza, order something else at your peril.
Do not judge a steak house on its salmon (which is probably farmed).
Say what you will about the place, but McDonald’s has incredible fries.

I certainly understand the desire to order whatever you please and have it be good, regardless of where you are.  But really, that level of consistency, where literally everything on the menu is of equally high quality is truly only found in the highest of the high-end restaurants.  Other places closer to Earth have specialties.

Learn them.  Order them.  Eat better.
Everyone wins.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Tonia permalink
    September 2, 2009 10:07 am

    AMEN!! I totally agree and have been saying this for years. I am SO fussy about pizza and sauce.

    And hello, Ichiban… I do not understand the obsession with this place. Fits your description above. I have not had a good dumpling or lemon fish since Dumpling House on Everett closed its doors years back.

  2. September 2, 2009 10:29 am

    Tonia- I am with you on Ichiban. I do not understand the undying love people have for that place!

  3. September 2, 2009 11:14 am

    This reminds me of comedian’s* observation: Don’t order the lasagna at IHOP.

    Along those lines, I follow Roadfood’s guide that any place that boasts of being the “home” of something is worth checking out. There won’t be a middle ground: it’ll be great or atrocious.

    *Some long-ago HBO stand-up special from the mid-80’s… if I could recall who it was, I’d probably be able to speak French too.

  4. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    September 2, 2009 11:18 am

    I agree that wings and pizza do not belong together except maybe on Super Bowl weekend. I like naked wings, since in my view Frank’s plus bleu cheese=abomination. Chicago deep-dish is a disgusting heart-killer. Almost all pizza places put too much cheese. Asking for extra cheese means you reject any idea of a Platonic ideal. I could go on. Don’t even get me started on the pedestrian tastes of Albany folks.

  5. September 2, 2009 12:27 pm

    how found good wings here? the boyfriend is on an endless search to find the wings of his dreams

  6. September 2, 2009 4:18 pm

    Pedestrian tastes of Albany folks, eh Mr. Sunshine? Well la-dee-da.

  7. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    September 2, 2009 5:15 pm

    Mr. Dave, it’s true of most folks really. Just think about it. Why are fast food joints so popular. There was nothing snobby about my comments. Last year, readers of one Albany weekly voted Pizza Hut “Best Pizza”! So there’s your la-dee-da, my friend.

  8. brownie permalink
    September 3, 2009 3:47 pm

    For hosting the city that gave birth to the Buffalo wing, it’s damned hart to find a decent one in New York state. Too greasy, too chewy, too dry, slathered in too much sauce, slathered in terrible sauce, I’ve experienced it all. By contrast, it’s not that hard to make a decent new york pizza, but plenty of places still ruin it anyway.

    While McD’s fries are indeed wonderful, there is literally nothing else there that stands up to culinary scrutiny of any kind. It must be laced with crack, because sometimes I just crave a salty patty of rainforest meat, sub-wonder-bread bun, and the Heinz foodservice ketchup which is inevitably sweeter and more tart than its grocery shelf counterpart. Ever eaten a McD burger after it’s gone lukewarm? It’s almost enough to put you off fast food. Almost.

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