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Guest Column: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Joseph Calcagno

Note from Peter: Thank you to our friend and regular guest columnist, Joseph Calcagno, for this holiday reflection, as he looks back over a year filled with a number of indelible pizza memories. This man takes the quest seriously, as I’m sure many of you do as well. Please let me know if you, like Joseph, would like to share some of your pizza adventures here. The more the merrier! Write to me at peter@pizzaquest.com. Meanwhile, enjoy Joseph’s story as we enter into the holiday season.

 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

As the temperatures begin to dip and the holidays loom upon us, many of us wait with eager anticipation for the warm holiday traditions that have graced our families throughout the years. Along with the Thanksgiving turkey and the Feast of Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, focaccia bread is just another ancillary chord in a symphony of Italian food courses that I’ll be enjoying personally. In fact, this is the closest I’ll get to pizza, or any variation thereof during the holidays. Simply put, pizza has little room in the sacred holiday meal paradigm.

And that’s okay, because this past year was filled with plenty of great pizza memories. I spent lots of time scholarly researching different styles and regions. I charted my course and itineraries in precise detail. I documented my findings – critiquing ambiance, style, flavor and technique. I did quantitative research on the social media juggernauts in the pizza community and studied peer-reviewed dissertations on an array of pizza topics. I gave comedic symposiums to all of those who appreciate my light-hearted pizza banter. I embarked on quests daringly, with a courageous palate and a fierce hunger.

And now, my adventures have taken a seasonal slumber like the grizzly bear in a lethargic torpor, leaving me to reflect about all the pizza wisdom I found in 2018. I taste tested pizza favorites from a number of regions. At home I studied different methods of dough techniques, comparing hydration levels and fermentation times with an exasperated soliloquy in the solitary solace of my kitchen. Despite a valiant effort, it seemed as though “the secret ingredient” eluded me. What made all of my pizza quests of 2018 truly remarkable? It’s the same ingredient that encapsulates the soul of the holidays: family and friends.

Pizza is food worth sharing. Friends and family is what made my pizza quests great adventures this year. Whether on the road or at home, there was plenty of great pizza filled with delicious memories that will last me a lifetime. Such as….

There’s no pizza like NY pizza

Bleecker Street in Manhattan is a pizza paradise. It’ll go into the annals of pizza history as the home of legendary establishments such as John’s Pizzeria, serving coal-fired pies since 1929. I can honestly say I had the best slice of pizza in my life at John’s, sitting across from an old friend in a booth with endless carvings etched into the wood.Weaving through the formulaic conversations of old friends reunited, I eagerly injected pearls of pizza lore as my enthusiasm overflowed with each bite. This no-frills joint is a true New York Pizza shop and I loved every bit of it.

Johns legendary coal-fired pizza on Bleecker St.

The good thing about pizza questing in Manhattan is that you don’t have to go very far to enjoy the fan favorites. The next stop on our pizza journey was a short distance away. So short in fact, we could see it from the window of John’s Pizzeria. Walking across the street on Bleecker is almost like crossing the Atlantic Ocean and landing straight in Naples, Italy when you reach Keste Pizza & Vino.

Keste’s Bianca pizza — like Naples in New York

Chef Roberto Caporuscio is a Neapolitan pizza celebrity and helped usher in the wood-fired renaissance in New York over the last decade. The award-winning pies live up to the legend. My friend and I split a Bianca, topped with fresh peppery arugula and washed it down with a glass of red vino. It was a serene ambiance, as our conversational thoughts melded into a delicate dialogue, with equally delicate food.

The highlight of my summer was being a groomsman to a very dear friend. It was a beautiful, magical wedding in the majestic upstate town of Saratoga Springs, New York, amidst a backdrop of the Adirondack Mountains. The happy couple reside in Manhattan and it was only fitting that I lead them on a post-nuptial pizza quest in their hometown.

We chose two widely popular establishments with different styles and neither disappointed. First we chose Emily, a phenomenal neighborhood favorite started by a husband and wife team that are making authentic Detroit-style pies that will save you a trip to Michigan. Their emphasis on fresh ingredients and technique made this mouth-watering stop an instant favorite. It’s no wonder the conversations went quiet once the pies came out, our attention undivided to the culinary task at hand.

Emily’s ode to Detrit-style

Next we stood on a long, fast moving line at Prince St. Pizza. The pepperoni square is the headliner at this famed shop. A true grab-and-go New York pizza shop, I came for the “roni” cups, and they were curled and charred to perfection.

Prince St. Pizza –loving those pepperoni cups!

Not all of my good friends live in New York. My last noteworthy pizza quest took place across the country in Denver, Colorado. I spent a week in the mile high city to visit an old friend I had not seen in over two years and pizza was on the agenda. Not attuned to the pizza culture, I brought him to a Denver Neapolitan mainstay: Pizzeria Locale.

I’m always enamored by the beauty of a wood-burning oven but there was something more that caught my attention during this trip. Patrons delighted peering into the open kitchen space as if watching a Tony award-winning Broadway play. The players of course were hard at work, focused diligently on technique and execution. They crafted every pie and dish with a calm attention to detail. More importantly – they smiled, laughed, and had fun. They loved what they were doing and you could taste it in every bite.

More from Emily’s — what a crust!

So as the holidays draw near I’ve already begun drafting lists of pizza quests to fill my calendar for 2019. Whether I’m on the road or making pizza at home with my family, I’m going to make sure I share my pizza quests with people I love, because that’s the best journey of all.

Santa, come on by….

P

Now that I think about it, maybe Santa would enjoy a slice of pizza instead of cookies and milk for a change.

 

 

Postscript: My 2019 pizza quest is already shaping up to be a remarkable year. Like a Stan Lee comic book superhero, “Pizza Joe” is set to embark on some whirlwind pizza adventures.  Brooklyn, where my parents were born and raised, comes in at the top of the list with pizzeria’s such as Lucali, Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop, Best Pizza, L’industrie and L&B Spumoni Gardens making their way onto my 2019 wish list.

Manhattan Neopolitan pies are a favorite in my group of sidekicks and the growing popularity of places such as Simo Pizza and Sorbillo top the upcoming list.
No pizza quest would be a hero’s journey without traveling to foreign “far away” lands and, if the stars align, I hope to make it to Old Forge, Pennsylvania; Chicago, Illinois; and wherever the road may take me! See you all in 2019….

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Pizza Quest is a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms, wherever we find it, but especially through the literal and metaphorical image of pizza. As we share our own quest for the perfect pizza we invite all of you to join us and share your journeys too. We have discovered that you never know what engaging roads and side paths will reveal themselves on this quest, but we do know that there are many kindred spirits out there, passionate artisans, doing all sorts of amazing things. These are the stories we want to discover, and we invite you to jump on the proverbial bus and join us on this, our never ending pizza quest.

Peter’s Books

American Pie
Artisan Breads Every Day
The Bread Bakers Apprentice
Brother Junipers Bread Book
Crust and Crumb
Whole Grain Breads

...and other books by Peter Reinhart, available on Amazon.com