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Pizza is one of every bodies favorite food, and everybody has a favorite type (Neapolitan, Roman, New York, Chicago and “the others”…).
Lets start first with the worsts pizzas, or something they call pizza. I had my worst this year driving up the NY Thruway to Montral, and stopped at the New Baltimore Rest Stop, and due to the lack of decent food choices, went for what I thought was the less risky, Famiglia Pizza. I was really bad. The typical NY pizza that you can get in the city for $ 1 per slice woukld have been a marvel beside this one. A bad dough, way too much acidic sauce, bad cheese, all probably made at around 10 am, then held on hot plates till customer comes and it is all gone. I would calculate that the one I had had sat on the hot tables and lamps for at least 4 hours. They must have learned it from Sbarro, which a slice from their Seacacus NJ location took last years worst pizza prize. Only problem there is that the hot table is even bigger.
Then there is the ones that shouldn’t be called pizza, but as they are, they will fall into the worlds worst pizzas (call them something else then it wouldn’t necessarily make it good, but in its categorie probably no the worst). These are the concepts that are springing up now trying to do the serveline (Chipotle style) pizza, and specifically the ones that use a conveyor oven to cook them in. The typical cook time is 2 minutes, which in busy places ends up with the customers backing up and waiting, so then, they don’t really qualify as a FAST casual concept. In these concepts, the dough is pressed in a dough press, or in one location, rolled out in a pasta machine, sauce, cheese and topping are chosen, and pizza goes in the conveyor. To get the dough to bake and brown, they add oil to the dough, which ends up coming out on the serving plate, very oily. The other problem is that they want to be cool and offer hundreds of toppings, that either don’t go well together, load the pizza too much so it doesn’t cook, and look like a mass of something held together by an oily base. Pie Five concept out of Dallas is one of these, same as H and Pizza in DC. One problem is that they advertise themselves as GOURMET pizzas, again, change the name and don’t degrade pizzas.
Then there is the ones that also are supposedly gourmet pizzas, some that use a deck oven, others that use gas or wood or coal fired hearth ovens. Now we are getting a bit closer to pizza, although they are exceptions. There’s a new concept called Skinny Pixzza, that apart from having some “interesting topping and cheese combinations” uses a “skinny” flaky tortilla as the dough base. Definitely not a pizza, and falls apart when you try and eat it. Another two that can be good, but aren’t consistent are Blaze Pizza and 800 Degrees. Both try to be a “Chipotle Style” fast casual, but last time in 800 Degrees I waited 20 minutes for my pizza, and it was 3 pm in Santa Monica, and we were the only customers. Potential, but team training and motivation problems it seems. Pizza also ended up soggy on the bottom (you have to let the bottoms breath a bit). Many are trying, who will succeed in the fast casual pizza world?
Then there is the one Chipotle is promoting or investing in, Pizzeria Locale. By the menu it doesn’t seem to be going for the traditional pizza, but believe the method of service could result in a true fast casual, without falling apart. They use the right kind of oven and will work on getting it right.
Who makes great pizza in the US. I know of three (in the Neapolitan pizza world) , PIzzeria Bianco in Phoenix AZ (now just opened a second in Tucson), A Mano Pizza in Ridgewood NJ and Fortina in Armonk NY (and now they are more Fortinas on the way). Pizza that would make a Neapolitan proud. Thin crust, with a bubbly browned edge, firm toasted bottom, light sauce and cheese, and topping that go together. Pizzas that cook in less than 2 minutes, have balance and are a delight to eat. Not enough time to get into the NY and Chicago Pizzas, leave that for another time. These fall more into the casual dining category of restaurant. Interesting side note, Chris Bianco teamed up with Jamie Oliver and created Union Jack concept in London, and had the grace to call it a flat-bread restaurant and not a pizza restaurant.
Using the traditinal Neapolitan pizza oven, with a cook time of 2 minutes, with one oven, a good pizzero can control 6 pizzas at a time, which gives a production of under 150 pizzas at a time (with loading and unloading). Problems start when you try to get into the fast casual world, where you need to serve over 200 pizzas an hour, and then things fall apart…… Takes a bit of thinking, creating, but it can be done….Google+