by Carrie Havranek
When I first moved here, ten years ago, I lamented the dearth of good pizza. Now, I know that pizza, as a rule, is highly subjective, so let me tell you my criteria for “good pizza” before I even get to the list.
1. It is not greasy.
2. It has a thin crust; more specifically, if you hold it horizontally, it stays stiff and straight as a board.
3. The sauce is not too sweet and tastes freshly prepared.
4. The cheese is distributed evenly and does not drip with grease (see number 1) or weigh down the crust (see number 2).
5. If all of those things align, it tastes delicious.
I grew up with parents who obsessively, compulsively sought out the best pizza and always asked for “thin crust!” My grandfather took it a step further when he retired and moved from North Jersey to Myrtle Beach. Because he was a funny, ingratiating man, he somehow got all the people who work at the very excellent Michael’s Pizza in Myrtle Beach to make what the cooks called “taco pizza” it was so thin. The folks at Michael’s were cool with it; they’re from New York, so their pizza is pretty damn good to begin with, for pizza south of the border. But I digress….
I am willing to concede that different pizzas taste good, and taste right, for different occasions. There’s something singular about the experience of sinking into a slice of Chicago’s deep dish pizza, for example. I am a minimalist at heart, but I will concede that I enjoy white pizza, any kind of veg on pizza, but think that some toppings on pizzas should be banned and are kind of gross: chicken parm pizza? Buffalo chicken on pizza? Why ruin pizza with chicken parm? Eat it separately. I love making pizza, and think I’ve finally, after lots of trial and error, got a procedure down pat that’s involved but effective in terms of browning the thin crust all the way around. You see, for me the gold standard is New York City pizza. You’ve gotta be able to accomplish 1-5 on my list of criteria because pizza is, above all, a portable piece of deliciousness.
With this week’s list, I’m doing something a little different: I’m going to leave the fifth one blank. There are others I could add, but we want to hear from you: I know you’re reading. Googlemetrics don’t lie. And so when enough of you chime in and we have something resembling a consensus, I’ll add it to the list.
1. Stefano’s, Bethlehem. Consistently excellent. Consistently thin. Wish it wasn’t so far for take-out, which is more often than not how we eat pizza around here. The rest of the restaurant’s menu is excellent, too, including the table-side preparation of fresh, fresh, Caesar salad. But back to pizza. The other part I like about Stefano’s pizza is the fact they use REAL mushrooms, not canned ones, which taste like rubber.
2. Colonial Pizza and Spaghetti House, Easton. Home of the upside down pie–I like to call it the inside-out pie–Colonial’s pizzas are one size, a little smaller than average, but incredibly fresh. You have to be in the mood for it, but the soft, pliable crust, the thin, expertly applied layer of cheese, followed by the fresh sauce on top is something to behold. It’s not pizza by New York standards, but as a regional specialty, it is delicious.
3. Matey’s Famous “Our Own Make” Pizza, Fountain Hill: Another signature Lehigh Valley experience. It’s very thin, the cheese tends to be browned, but it’s very much beloved. The decor of the place is wood-paneled (at least the last time I was there–a long time ago), and to say it’s casual would be an understatement. Matey’s also makes a mean cheesesteak. But that’s another list for another day.
4. Sette Luna, Easton. Ok, I know there are two Easton places on the list, but they are so very, very different. The trattoria prepares gourmet, thin, well seasoned pizzas in a wood-fired oven. The creations are authentic insofar as they resonate of something legitimately Italian. I love the standby–Margherita–with fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese.
5. Your choice here!