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Confessions of a Pizza Snob

Posted on Jan 27, 2009 by billsimmon in foodie, vermont | 22 Comments

My friends have all heard this from me on multiple occasions. I am not shy about my pizza opinions. In fact, I’m the biggest pizza snob I know excluding friends who have actually lived in NYC. Residing in NYC automatically makes you a bigger pizza snob than me — it’s the law.

I was inspired to throw down my BTV pizza wisdom because Gerry Canavan posted this link to a list of regional pizza styles in the US. It’s an interesting list to read, but if I may, I’d like to point out that really there are only two styles of pizza: NY style and other things that are not pizza but are referred to as “pizza” by people who do not know what they’re talking about.

Okay, that may be overstating things somewhat. I suppose if you have something vaguely resembling pizza crust and on top of that you put sauce and cheese, you get to technically call your monstrosity a “pizza.” Still, there is a maxim that I have found holds pretty much true: the farther one gets from NYC, the worse the pizza is. According to this rule, the best pie in Burlington cannot be as good as the best pie in NYC (duh) and the best pie in Chicago cannot be as good as the best pie in Burlington. That’s right, Chicago. Your deep dish “Chicago style” can bite my butt. It’s an abomination.

The regional pizza style list linked above includes this definition of a NY style pizza, which I think sounds pretty accurate…

A true New York–style pizza ideally has a crust that’s at once crisp and chewy. Can be topped with whatever you want but is best with only one or two toppings applied (so crust remains crisp). New Yorkers generally fold it while eating. Also referred to in New York as a “regular” pie or a “regular” slice. The default regular slice is a “plain” slice, i.e., no toppings, only cheese.

For the purposes of discussing pizza in Burlington, VT, I need to draw a distinction between NY style pizza offerings and gourmet, wood-fired pizzas. There are good pies available locally in both styles, but they are really different food experiences so I will judge them separately.

I’ve been sampling local pizza offerings since the early 80s and I can tell you that it wasn’t until the last decade or so that any kind of good pizza became available here. When I was in high school, local choices were limited pretty much to Zachary’s, Ken’s, Mr. Mike’s, Dino’s, Leonardo’s, Pizza Putt and chain pizza (chain pizza — Domino’s, Little Caesar’s, Papa John’s and the dreaded Pizza Hut — will not be discussed further in this post).  These pizzas were/are pretty much all varying degrees of crap. Mr. Mike’s, Dino’s and Ken’s each did a halfway decent pie going by mall standards, but that’s about the best thing I can say about them (each of those joints has had yummy non-pizza items over the years, however, but that’s a different post). The rest of that list was just awful.

More recently, the area has gone through something of a Pizza Renaissance. Here are some (admittedly incomplete) thoughts on local pizza cuisine. Note that to truly test a NY slice, it needs to be toppings-free (or “regular” as they say in the Big Apple). Toppings just confuse the issue. The crust should be thin, both crispy and chewy, and delicious. The sauce should be savory (not too sweet) and the cheese should be a bit salty.

NY Style Pies in greater BTV

  • Mama Mia’s – Shelburne Rd. South Burlington: This is the best NY slice in town, without question. The sauce is heavy with garlic and oregano, the crust is perfection.
  • Marco’s Pizza – Williston Rd. South Burlington: This is a very good NY slice. Their sauce is just a little too sweet for my taste and the big pies get soggy, but it’s a good slice for sure.
  • Junior’s Pizzeria – Colchester: I would rate this as being close to Marco’s, but the downtown BTV location seems to be sub-par compared to the Colchester one.
  • Rocky’s Pizza – Rt. 2 Williston: A good, solid NY slice. You won’t write mama letters about it back home, but you won’t be disappointed.
  • Mimmo’s Pizzeria – Essex Jct.: Like Rocky’s, this slice will satisfy your NY style cravings, just.

Any of the above pizza joints will serve you up a decent NY slice. They all have non-pizza offerings that are pretty good too. There are dozens of other pizza places in the area. If they’re not listed here it’s either because I’ve never eaten the pizza or I have and I think it’s not worthy of mention.

Gourmet wood-fired pizza in the BTV area

  • American Flatbread – downtown Burlington: This is astoundingly good gourmet pizza and the in-house brewed beer is great too. The only downside here is that you have to wait a minimum of 45 minutes to get a table pretty much no matter when you go. If it’s a weekend at dinner time, you’re in for a couple of hours wait-time. The Waitsfield restaurant is good too. Order a Medicine Wheel for the true Flatbread experience.
  • Three Tomatoes – downtown Burlington and Williston: This pie won’t dazzle you as much as Flatbread’s but it’s pretty good. The two locations have slightly divergent menus, but the pies are about even in quality.

I know not everyone will agree with these reviews or even the criteria I applied in making the judgements, but unless you lived in NYC at some point, I’m a bigger pizza snob than you so you should trust me. So there.

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  1. On January 27, 2009, Andy said:

    Bill – last time I had Mamma Mia’s it tasted like shite. I’m surpised to see you call it the best NY slice in town. I’ll check it out again, but if it sucks as bad as last time, I’m coming to look for you.

  2. On January 27, 2009, billsimmon said:

    I’m actually ordering Mama Mia’s for dinner tonight. I eat there pretty often because it’s near my home and it’s been VERY consistent — there was one day when the crust tasted off to me, but otherwise it’s great every time. We may just differ on what makes a good NY slice (read: you are probably just wrong). :)

  3. I think Juniors (Colchester) is the most tasty and most like what I used to eat in NYC when I lived there. I’ll have to give Mama Mia’s a try and get back to you.

  4. I have to disagree with Mamma Mia’s as well. Any slice that creates an orange oil slick on the plate when you pick it up is not good pizza.

  5. On January 27, 2009, billsimmon said:

    Nicole, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

    John, thanks for commenting, but I have to say, complaining that a NY slice is bad because it’s too greasy is like complaining that a bowl of mac-n-cheese is bad because it’s too cheesy. It’s part of the experience that makes it good.

    And I am literally eating a Mama Mia’s pie as I type this and it’s not too greasy at all.

  6. I have been wondering about Mama Mia’s, since I live so close to it. I will have to check it out.

    I usually make my own. It’s good, but I doubt a pizza snob like you would classify it as pizza.

  7. On January 27, 2009, Andy said:

    Sorry Bill. I guess growing up in South Burlington makes you a f&#($*&%ing pizza expert. BTW, no Bite Me?

  8. On January 27, 2009, billsimmon said:

    I grew up all over the freaking place — I moved 14 times in my first 15 years of life. And I don’t claim to be an expert, I claim to be a snob. There’s a difference.

    I’ve had Bite Me’s pizza.

    Were I one to subdivide types of pizza, Bite Me would fall into the “hippy pizza” category. And their ingredients were fresh, I’ll give them that. But the pizza totally failed when it came to crust and sauce, which is all that ultimately matters in a pie. The rest is just dressing.

  9. On January 27, 2009, billsimmon said:

    Re: Bite Me,

    Also, there’s only so much reggae I can listen to while ordering pizza (or doing anything else, for that matter).

  10. > Any slice that creates an orange oil slick on the plate when you pick it up is not good pizza.

    No no no, John. Perfection in a New York slice is how closely it approaches the ideal of a ladleful of hot grease slopped onto a paper plate.

  11. On January 27, 2009, billsimmon said:

    Alex: precisely!

  12. On January 28, 2009, evening said:

    Frankly, I’ve forgotten what a good pizza tastes like. There was a great place in South Florida (where I was at the time there were many a NYer transplant). It went away at some point but I remember it was the best pizza. It was so long ago I don’t even remember the name. But real good thin crust. mmmm

    I can’t remember Momma Mia’s pizza, so I’ll have to try it again. I won’t even step foot in Rockys in Essex. I remember trying them when we first moved here and their food was meh.

    Maybe I’m just a food snob now :)

    But the pizza I had in Chicago suburbs was the worst thing EVER. Anything cut into squares and has multiple cheese toppings (including an orange one) is NOT pizza. Not even food, frankly.

    Oh, and I do like sicilian pizza if done right. it is a totally different animal, which is why it has its own name ;)

  13. On January 28, 2009, Rob said:

    Bill, I don’t know if you remember a pizza joint in Bayberry plaza called Ceasar’s. It was run by a family from Brooklyn and their pie was exactly as you describe. Last summer I had a similar experience in Miami. I submit that the NYC style can be duplicated far from home if the right conditions are met. The restaurant in Liverpool as well as the place in Miami even smelled like Brooklyn.

  14. On January 28, 2009, Mom said:

    Bill: Maybe you never had the pure pleasure of Filomina’s Pizza (on Riverside Avenue) — or was it Philomina’s?? — in the 80s and early 90s, but it was hands-down, the best pizza around. I still miss it. More wood-fired than NY, though; crispy, yet pliable crust, no grease. It was owned by the Dell’Amores.

    I’ve never understood people’s affinity for greasy, floppy pizza you can fold, but I agree with Rob that New York pizza can be duplicated anywhere. My question is only, Why bother? Go to Italy for the best pizza.

  15. On January 28, 2009, billsimmon said:

    Mom, good call on Filomina’s! I totally forgot about that place. Yes, it was good, but definitely not a NY slice.

    However, I submit that if you admit to not understanding the appeal of the NY slice (it doesn’t have to be “floppy” but foldable is important), then your opinion that it can be duplicated anywhere is meaningless. Italy? C’mon. New York is the true home of pizza.

  16. On January 28, 2009, Neil C said:

    > unless you lived in NYC at some point, I’m a bigger pizza snob than you

    I appreciate the sentiment Bill, having lived in NYC for 5 years, but I’d safely say you’re a bigger, uh — more discriminating connoisseur than myself. That being said, I did learn a bit about pizza during my time there. The most memorable piece of pizza-making knowledge, which tickled then-roommate Hutch and I to no end, was imparted for the world to see on the menu of our local joint: “Our Secret Is the Quality We Use!” Which is so true. A lot of places simply forget to add the quality.

  17. On January 28, 2009, Rob said:

    Bill’s right. True NY pizza snobbery would claim “If you never lived in New York, you don’t know what real pizza is”. Not “If you never tried New York style pizza”.

  18. On January 28, 2009, Emily said:

    Does anyone remember Fibonacci’s in Shelburne? Damn it that was good pizza. I am still in mourning about that place closing. Mama Mia’s is a good substitute, though. . .

    …Pardon me while I run off to order a cheese pizza, no toppings!

  19. On January 28, 2009, evening said:

    good one, Rob

  20. On January 28, 2009, billsimmon said:

    @Emily: “I like it regular.”

  21. On January 28, 2009, billsimmon said:

    True NY pizza snobbery would claim “If you never lived in New York, you don’t know what real pizza is”. Not “If you never tried New York style pizza”.

    I think this is basically right. Of course, I myself have never lived in NYC, so there’s that.

  22. I think I’ve been outed as a lifelong (before Burlington) West Coaster, and thus clueless that grease is part of the criteria. In my defense, grease was not in the definition you provided, which I DID check before posting.

    Anyway, given that, Mamma Mia’s is fabulous!

    But I’d rather have my grease in the form of Mexican food…

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