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The Crust Eaters

May 28, 2014

What’s the best part of a pizza slice? It’s a telling question.

It’s hard to argue against the cheese. Cheese is delicious; all hot, dripping and salty. Well, there is nothing appealing about a flabby layer of white, lifeless goo. However, when it’s properly cooked and deftly applied, with the sauce underneath giving it a rosy glow and the heat of the oven burnishing its top, the cheese is magnificent indeed.

But what is a slice without the sauce? Cheese is cheese. But the sauce is where a shop can really define the flavor of its slice. Tomatoes can be cooked slowly to concentrate their sweetness, which can play well against the saltiness of cheese. A brightly acidic sauce can cut through the fat of cheese. Sauce can also be a vehicle for proprietary blends of dried herbs and spices which can enchant the eater and turn him into a lifelong devotee.

I know people who will claim it’s the toppings, and I understand where they are coming from. But we don’t have time for that kind of tomfoolery today.

You may have already guessed that I’m saving the best for last. Granted, I will concede that for this question, it really is a matter of personal taste. And I promise that I won’t judge you too harshly if your preferences lay elsewhere. But I’m hoping to convince at least a few of you that the best part of a truly great slice is its crust.

There are few tangible benefits to being a dad. One of the best perks is that after the kids eat a slice of pizza, they’ll hand me over the crust. Score.

The end crust is clearly the most maligned part of a pizza slice. I mean how often do you see people pulling of the cheese and throwing it away? I’ve almost never seen anyone scrape under the cheese to remove sauce from a slice, although there is clearly some reason that white pizza exists.

Still, one sees end crusts strewn around the table after a pizza party that have been thoughtlessly tossed asunder. It’s almost as if people forget the thing is made out of food and isn’t just some kind of handle for the pointier end of the slice.

And I get why people toss them away. I’m not some kind of crazy ideologue. End crusts can be dry, dull, hard, and tasteless things that may in actuality seem less like food and more like an appliance.

Let’s get one thing clear. Those are bad crusts.

Bad crusts are much more common than bad sauce or bad cheese. So it makes sense that pizza eaters have been conditioned not to even try a bite of the end crust. Why ruin a perfectly fine pizza experience with a mouthful of chewy flour? And it’s true that decent sauce and quality cheese can cover a lot of fundamental flaws.

But if you take some time to examine the form closely, there is no escaping the fact, that pizza is bread.

In the summer months, when fresh tomatoes are available, Pepe’s in New Haven makes a pie without cheese to really draw attention to the glory of their seasonal sauce. A cheeseless pizza may be a novelty, but it’s still pizza. And we’ve already acknowledged the existence of white pizzas, so sauce isn’t a defining characteristic either.

Everything rides on the crust.

It’s challenging to really evaluate the flavor of the bottom crust, although it can be deeply burnished and toasted on the oven floor. Mostly it’s about a fine balance between crispness and tenderness, crunch and chew. The sad ones suffer from turning gummy, but let’s focus on the positives.

The only part of the crust that isn’t seasoned with sauce or enriched by cheese is the strip on the slice’s backside. And it can range in width from millimeters to inches, although some truly misguided shops provide no end crust at all. Height can vary dramatically based on style, but I am partial to crusts that puff up a bit and declare themselves to be the bread of their birth.

A good end crust is delicious, and doesn’t need any adornment to be enjoyed. It’s flour and water. Some swear by yeast and good technique, others insist on sourdough cultures. But salt is a critical component to make the dough tasty in and of itself. One of my favorites used to be The Pizza King in Schenectady before its owner passed away. The current generation just doesn’t make pizza the same way.

Recently the Fussies made a pilgrimage to Pizza Town USA. The crust on Pizza Town’s slices is crackling crisp and thin, but also springy and tender. After finishing my slice, I was watching Little Miss Fussy work on hers. As she made her way up the slice to the crust end, I began to look forward to my bonus crust.

But then something unexpected happened. The end crust was so delicious, she ate the whole thing.

I was filled with the mixed emotions of pride and sorrow. Cheated of my last piece of crust, I realized that I must have done something right, because my girl had finally learned about the best part of the slice. Man, you should have seen her beaming.

Of course, very few places can make a crust as good as that. But if you are simply throwing away your end crusts without a second thought, you will never know what you’re missing.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 28, 2014 11:32 am

    Well that answers my question from yesterday.

    The pizzeria I grew up loving (sadly gone) used to have a great marinara pizza.

  2. enough already! permalink
    May 28, 2014 12:25 pm

    I always save the end crusts for last, to dip in the vinaigrette from my salad, or toss torn pieces of them into the salad so they absorb the dressing. This is a de rigeur part of a pizza meal for me. Guess that answers your question.
    (Mmmm….I know what’s for dinner tonight🍕.)

    • June 4, 2014 1:33 pm

      Me too! I love using the crust as a ‘dipper’ or to gather the last small pieces of salad up.

  3. May 28, 2014 3:21 pm

    Whilst I don’t dispose of the crust, particularly if my partner convinces me to have Domino’s with their garlic dip, I cannot ever envisage a situation where it will be my favourite.
    You make a good case but for me, the cheese rules supreme.
    One thing I think we can all agree is that, pizza in most forms is a gift from whatever deity you believe in!

  4. May 29, 2014 11:07 am

    I always eat the crust and I do love it because that’s the best place to really taste the toastiness (official word) of cooking in a pizza oven. But I do maintain that the very best part of pizza is that very first, eagerly anticipated bite. If it’s a good slice (not soggy! Why is pizza so often soggy upstate???) that first triangular bite is perfection.

  5. May 29, 2014 10:21 pm

    My favorite part of the slice is the last two inches — the end crust and the little part of thicker crust with toppings that comes right before it. Yum.

  6. Third Auntie permalink
    June 1, 2014 11:04 am

    I LOVE the end crust if it from a good pizza. If my husband shares his slice with me, I always take a bite from the crust end. We have gone back to Sovrano’s because they are nearby. We ask them to make a thin crust pizza and to bake it extra crispy. It’s not as thin as Pasquale’s was but it is excellent. Their pizza does not taste like bread dough, great chew, great sauce.

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