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The Golden Rule of Slices

May 13, 2014

New York style pizza is only supreme in the overall pizza hierarchy because of the slice. It’s a bold statement, I know. And I’m ready to defend it to the pain.

The real pizza geeks go gaga for Neapolitan pies. Those hand crafted, quickly cooked, blistered rounds of incredible but simple ingredients are amazing. But they aren’t portable, and they aren’t cheap. The iconoclasts may opt for the coal fired pies found in New Haven, and while they are delicious, these charred monsters can be a real mess to eat. Also no slices. And any attempt to eat a piece of Chicago style deep dish with your hands is as ridiculous as pants on a trout.

In pie form, NY style thin crust has some very serious competition.

Now I’ve written in the past about the supremacy of NY style slices, but it’s been a while. Back then, I only touched on what may be the single most important thing about ordering your slice from the person behind the counter. Because even good slice shops sometimes like to think that they are pie shops. And that can lead to disastrous results.

One such shop was my beloved Arinell’s in Berkeley. It was a dirty little hole in the wall, but the owner took a lot of pride in what he did. That pride was well placed, because it was the only joint in Northern California at the time that knew anything about NY style pizza.

The owner wasn’t always there making the pies. Often he left that to the strung out kids who ran the shop. But one day he was teaching a new employee the ropes. And instead of making a crap-ton of pizzas early in the day, as his staff is inclined to do, the owner was anticipating demand so that a hot fresh pizza came out just as the final slice was sold off the previous pie.

That’s a pie shop mentality. And I respect that. I do.

If you actually can get a slice off a pie in the first sixty seconds after it comes out of the oven, that will be a delicious morsel to be sure. But there are two problems with this.
1) It leads to abuses
2) That is not the slice that made NY-style famous

The abuses were what I encountered at a slice shop in Princeton just yesterday. And they are totally understandable if not entirely forgivable. Here’s the golden rule:

Always make sure your slice goes back into the oven for a second heating. Always.

You may hear the clerk say, “It’s hot” or “It just came out of the oven.” Sometimes, they will even touch the edge of the pie with the back of their hand just to confirm their words are true. And it very well may be.

But most likely it’s not hot. At best it will be warm. And the slice’s temperature isn’t even the critical factor. The thing that separates NY slices from every other form of pizza is that impossibly crisp bottom crust. You know, the kind you can fold in half, if that’s your thing. And that’s the result of a magical transformation which happens when a slice is reheated on the oven floor.

Can you have a crispy bottom crust without a second heating? Sure. But not after a pie has sat around on a tray for a couple of minutes. The crust degrades rapidly. Fortunately, it’s easy to crisp back up. You just need to have the will to push back against the person behind the counter when they insist that it’s just fine the way it is.

It’s not.

Like many delicious foods, pizza is terrible for you. Refined white flour, smeared with salty nightshades and covered in cheese? That’s a whole lot of calories loaded with carbs, sodium, fat and cholesterol. So if you are going to indulge, it’s important that you make it worth your while. There may be no greater pizza tragedy than a slice that could have been great, tasting simply humdrum, because some kid talked you out of crisping its bottom.

Now get out there and hold the line.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 14, 2014 8:54 am

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that most NYC-style pizza is served too floppy. It drives me NUTS to have to eat pizza with a fork because it’s too floppy to hold without the toppings all falling off. I don’t know why places can’t just cook the pizzas a little longer in the first place, so the bottom is crisp enough to stay firm.

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