What makes a great pizza town?
I don’t think New Haven is a great pizza town. WAIT! Before you throw your magazine across the room or close the browser tab, allow me to explain. There’s a big difference between a great pizza town and a town that has great pizza. New Haven has incredible pizzerias, but they all make the city’s indigenous style of “apizza.” I love New Haven, but aside from a couple exceptions it’s a one-trick pony. In my opinion, a great pizza town has a mosaic of styles and formats that offer unique experiences and tell unique stories.
Take New York for instance; this is a city with deep pizza history and style diversity. As far as we know, NYC had pizza before any other city in the U.S., with records showing pizzerias in lower Manhattan by 1894. This alone doesn’t make New York a great pizza town, but the fact that New York spawned multiple pizza styles since the late 19th century sure does. In the 1940s, pizzerias switched from the earlier coal-fired brick ovens to smaller stainless-steel gas-fueled ovens. This brought the advent of the classic New York slice, which has been replicated across the globe. Even today, NYC continues to welcome foreign pizza styles like those from Detroit, Naples, Rome and even Chicago.
Now that I’ve summoned the beast of the Windy City, it’s time to join the choir of voices already singing the praises of Chicago as a great pizza town. Tune out the propaganda about deep-dish being the city’s signature style and listen to the locals telling us how much more there is to their humble Second City. Food journalist Steve Dolinsky has made it his mission to spread the gospel about Chicago’s various styles, namely the cracker-thin “tavern style” served across the Midwest. Just last week, The New York Times ran a detailed article about this style, paving the way for what’s already starting to look like a bonafide trend. It’s crystal clear that we are leaving behind the time of singularism in favor of the depth and diversity these great pizza towns have to offer.
In the past, pizzerias identified themselves as representatives of their city’s respective styles. They claimed to make a similar pizza to the place down the block, only better. That created an atmosphere of competition rather than one of cooperation. Now pizzeria operators are gaining confidence and proudly calling out how they DON’T fit into the same category as their competition. Their differences are their assets!
Diversity in pizza styles helps promote a more collaborative industry. Pizzerias in Las Vegas have formed an association to support one another. São Paulo, Brazil, a city with an estimated 6,000 pizzerias, has at least two such organizations. Portland, Oregon, a city that doesn’t have a storied pizza culture, hosts the annual Portland Pizza Week to encourage the public to try the city’s unique pizzerias. Even in NYC, a city infamous for being gruff, pizzerias regularly lend flour to their “competition” when they run out. It’s only possible because great pizza towns don’t boast about uniformity — they boast about diversity.