Okay, so the title’s a bit of a misnomer here – a pizza shop is not really a restaurant. As such, the rating system will have to be a little different. But the basic principle is still the same – I went somewhere that makes food, paid them to give me some of it, ate it, and will tell you how I felt about it. But first, indulge me as I go off on one of my favorite rants.
I have eaten more pizza in my life than any other food. Probably more than any other five foods put together. As I was growing up, my family had pizza night every Saturday. Sometimes we went local, sometimes chain, sometimes homemade, but always pizza. There were usually leftovers, so pizza would be my lunch on Sunday more often than not. On the rare occasion of a birthday party, wedding, or some other anomaly falling on a Saturday, we’d invariably just shift the pizza schedule back a day. If the rest of the week went by without me eating pizza at least once more, it was a weird one. Yet I’ve never gotten sick of it. The closest I came was after eating it for, I think, eight consecutive meals once. I remember thinking to myself, “Man, I kind of want to eat something else.” Then I realized I was being a fucking idiot and ate more pizza.
You get the idea. I love pizza, and I’ve eaten enough of it that I’m not afraid to call myself an expert, or connoisseur, or aficionado. Depends how pretentious I’m feeling at that moment.
Anyway, I’ve been in Pittsburgh for almost nine years now. Which is a shame on a few levels, one of which is that the pizzerias in this city are woefully mediocre*. Now, it’s still pizza, so it’s still worth eating. But the majority of the local joints in this city barely rise above the level of a piss-poor national chain like Papa John’s, and the worst part is that, by and large, they all taste exactly the same. It is fucking eerie.
*To clarify: I am not including places like Piccolo Forno, Dinette, Il Pizzaiolo, etc. Why not? Because those are restaurants, not pizza shops. They have tablecloths and menus and take reservations and won’t send food to my house when I’m too fucked up or lazy or unwilling to put on pants to go out. This is an important distinction.
What makes your typical Pittsburgh pie so middling? Oh, let me count the ways:
1. The crust. Look, after decades of industry, the water here is probably still at least 50% chemical runoff, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the joke that passes for pizza dough around here. Imagine if cardboard had even less flavor and a more unpleasant consistency. And this is not me being a New York style/thin crust snob, because I’ve enjoyed all manners and styles of pizzas and crusts. This crust? Worse than AIDS. Scientific fact.
2. The sauce. Tomatoes, at least the good ones, have an excellently balanced flavor of sweetness and tang. Here is what should go into your sauce to compliment them: a few basic herbs, a decent grated cheese (no, that powdered Kraft garbage at the grocery store does not count; buy some fucking romano, you moron), a little bit of dry red wine. Here is what should not: Two five pound bags of sugar. Sweet Christ almighty (sorry…for the pun, not for blaspheming), what is wrong with you, yinzers? Besides the obvious, I mean. I feel like I need to eat a bag of pork rinds and chase them with a gallon of seawater to cleanse my palate of this sickly sweet slime you call pizza sauce. Or I would, if you put more than a few drops of it on each slice. It’s the cheapest part of the pie, and you’re bogarting it! Are you afraid it might overshadow that rubber cement crust? At least the sauce has flavor, even if it’s the wrong one.
3. The cheese. You know how when cheese cools, it congeals? Well, Pittsburgh pizza chesse is typically congealed fresh out of the oven. Either they’re using fat free cheese, they’re buying it wholesale from the world’s shittiest dairy farm, or they’re using papier mache and wood pulp as filler. The flavor isn’t awful (just boring), so it can’t be fat free, and I’m reasonably sure nobody uses papier mache anymore except to build parade floats, and fuck parades. I can’t figure it out. Defies physics. And reason. And morality.
All of which is to say, I have spent much of my time here searching for a pizza that is actually good, or at least different. I have heard natives extoll the virtues of this or that shop, only to come away disappointed most of the time. Mineo’s? A soggy mess. Spak Brothers? Weird sauce. Aiello’s? Lousy toppings. Blue Grotto? It was their last day of business ever when I finally got to try it, so maybe they just didn’t give a shit at that point, but what I got was a far cry from great. While I’ve found a few places I actually wouldn’t be embarrassed to take an out-of-towner, they’re few and far between.
So when I hear good things about a joint I haven’t yet tried, I tend to be skeptical. I still go, because without hope, life is meaningless. And even if it falls short of what I concede are high standards, in all but the most calamitous instances, it remains pizza, so I’ll eat it.
Yesterday, because I’d gotten multiple tips on the place and because they’re one of the eateries participating in City Dining Cards, I went with my buddy Ryan (who, after living in New York, feels my pain and is on a similar never-ending pizza quest) to Slice on Broadway in Beechview. I’m pushing a thousand words here already without one being about the actual food and nobody really gives a shit about the decor of a pizza shop, so I’ll cut to the quick:
Slice is good. Like, not just good for Pittsburgh. Legitimately good.
The crust is thin and crunchy, with the oft-overlooked but absolutely vital cornmeal dusting. It also has a nice, buttery taste to it. The sauce, while still less present than I would like, was naturally sweet rather than sugary, and the spice blend was, if not quite perfect, close enough for government work. The cheese actually had that stringy, melty look and feel that is one of non-shitty pizza’s signatures.
Ryan and I needed to spend thirty bucks to get the discount from the card, so we decided to get two large pizzas – one pepperoni, which is my default “show me what you got” topping, and a specialty pie called The Slaughterhouse Five (pepperoni, sausage, bacon, capicola, and prosciutto). Yes, I loved the name. They also have a sandwich called the Ultra Mega Chicken.
With our Boylan creme sodas (another point in favor of Slice) and tax, the total came to $32, which is entirely reasonable and consistent with the pricing of most Pittsburgh shops. We took it back to my house to eat, rather than stay at the shop, which just added upstairs seating to combat the cramp of the first floor. We knew we’d need a box anyway, and the 15-minute drive back was just enough time for the pizza to cool to perfect temperature. After years of impatience, the roof of my mouth is tough enough that I can basically eat it straight out of the oven, but overall, waiting is the way to go.
Other than the sauce being a bit light in volume, as I mentioned, I had few complaints. I did feel that bacon overpowered the rest of the flavors on the Slaughterhouse, and the pepperoni were the tiny discs common to the area rather than the larger and thicker slices I prefer, but I was mostly just stoked to be eating a pizza from a shop that actually seemed to understand how to make it.
Unfortunately, Slice doesn’t deliver to our neighborhood, but it’s definitely worth the occasional trip out. My next trip will hopefully be to Fiori’s, which has the endorsement of my buddy Mike’s brother, a native New Yorker. Until then, Ryan elected not to take any of the leftovers…so if you’ll excuse me, it’s dinner time.