I know, I know: I’m late to the great New York-style vs. Chicago-style pizza debate that saw its latest chapter last Wednesday. To recap: Jon Stewart of The Daily Show went off on a long, curse-filled rant about how our deep-dish pizza isn’t pizza, “it’s a f—-in’ casserole.” Lovely.
I figured I’d stay out of it. After all, as far as I can tell, it’s a matter of taste. As the Latin saying goes: de gustibus non est disputandum, literally meaning, “in matters of taste, there can be no argument” (or more loosely translated as “Ain’t no accounting for people’s taste”).
I’m sure that there are people who prefer their pizza to have a soppy, soggy crust that flops down like a wet noodle. I recognize that some might want to blot the orangey, greasy oil from the top with paper napkins before they even attempt to eat it. I’m sure that these same folks enjoy folding their pizza like an origami project in order to contain that grease and ensure there’s enough density to actually feel like they are chewing something.
I’m sure they’re out there. I have no idea who they are, but hey: de gustibus...and all that.
It wasn’t even the insults about our pizza with its tomato sauce on top or that it’s made in an iron skillet that got me, because once again, who can account for a difference in taste? I like what I like, you like what you like. Agree to disagree.
But the reason I can’t let it go, the reason I decided to blog about it today all these many days after the fact, was the brief, almost throw-away rationale for his rant:
“Here’s how I know I’m right: you call it Chicago-style pizza, you call it deep-dish pizza, stuffed pizza. You know what we call it? [Stewart pulls out a slice of New York-style pizza]. Know what we call this? Pizza.”
It’s true that in Chicago, we sometimes call it deep-dish or stuffed pizza, (although my family knows what kind of pizza we’re ordering by the restaurant’s name, like Gino’s East or Giordano’s). But that’s only to differentiate it from thin crust or double-dough or wood-fired/brick-oven pizza. There might be even New York-style pizza joints somewhere in Chicago, although honestly I can’t think of where one might be. What makes this place a pizza-lovers’ haven is that the city has embraced it in all its different forms, knowing that variety is the spice of life. It’s a big tent, gastronomically speaking, and everyone’s welcome to find a seat at the picnic table.
But the fact that Stewart would assert that New York-style pizza is somehow the very definition of pizza? It’s just another example of this intense New-York-centric view that seems to emanate almost subconsciously from the city and its media. If it’s from New York, about New York, or affects New York, it must be the best, the most important, and/or the most relevant.
You’ve seen this, I’m sure. If it snows a couple of inches in the Big Apple, it becomes the top story of the day on the national news. Over a foot of snow piled high on Northern Indiana and Western Michigan last week, and guess what? It was mentioned as an aside right before they went to commercial.
Case in point: About 7 or 8 years ago, Federated Department Stores acquired Marshall Fields from the Dayton-Hudson company and decided to eliminate the traditional Fields name along with its famous green labels and rebrand the store as Macy’s. The thinking was that we would be all-too-thrilled to have the New York department store in our little city.
Not only were Chicagoans not exuberant about Macy’s replacing a long-standing Chicago landmark, they were incensed. And some still are. Many of my friends and neighbors won’t go into Macy’s even years later. Heck, there’s still a local group trying to restore the Marshall Fields’ name and flagship store on State Street.
A little perspective is a beautiful thing. New York is a fabulous city with much to offer and brag about. But other cities have their own culture and traditions, where people live and eat and shop in places and restaurants and stores that have nothing at all to do with New York. And that’s just fine.
So let’s all step away from any arguments or insults about matters of taste. Especially when it comes to pizza.
We’re ordering deep-dish tonight for dinner because it’s crazy delicious, “life-altering” stuff. I’d invite you over for a piece, but if you’re too far away, consider making your own to judge whether Chicago-style is for you.