Monday, October 12, 2015

Oggy's Pizza Scale

I am old enough to start developing numerical scales for topics such as pizza. I also worked in a pizzeria recently and it was kind of dream being able to talk for several hours with two different pizza chefs about pizza. One chef wanted me to be a partner but I translated that into me losing a lot of money so I passed it up, but it got me thinking that I should start baking pizza. Cars and pizza could keep me intellectually entertained for a long, long time. I should say I've never had pizza in Europe (I don't count the British Islands) so the field is still open but this list covers my whole life in the Western Hemisphere.

So, instead of saying, "oh, the slice was good." I want to get specific and say, the slice placed at a 7.5 on the Oggy scale of pizza. But what is the scale and how do I define it? The other day, I had a slice of pizza and the crust was curled around a hot dog, which was baked together. It was about a 6 on the Oggy scale and I want to describe that scale so I can refer to it later and give my references depth and weight and legitimacy. This is not to judge pizza that was badly prepared or accidentally had white onions, which I hate. This is to judge pizza that was properly executed.

1. Pizza that gets a grade of 1 (one) is barely pizza. It's more like bread with some cheese. I remember long ago I had pizza at a cafeteria in Alaska and it was truly awful, watery because someone failed to thaw the cheese correctly, the crust disintegrated. If I squeezed it I could create a puddle. A bad recipe and approach all around. Ingredients frozen since the the last ice age. That gets a grade of 1.

2. The crust might be a little more firm, but this is a step above frozen pizza because the dough is not rolled right. No love. Ingredients are awful.

3) Cafeteria pizza of the high school variety. I grew up eating pizza every lunch for all 5 years of high school. Sometimes I would get two slices. I used ketchup and salt and drank a chocolate milk and if no one was looking then I slipped an ice cream cookie sandwich in my cargo pockets. 5 fucking years of pizza. The pizza was not watery because they brushed the sauce on and there were no ingredients. It was just simple cheese. It had no taste. We sat around and talked about sports. It was below average pizza. Most pizza in Central America and Mexico rank as a 3 or 4, thick bread, a sprinkle of cheese, no jamon, often cooked early in the day and a sheet of plastic is placed over it to keep the flies off and then they throw it in the microwave to heat it up. Pure survival pizza. Also, if a chef microwaves* a slice of pizza to rewarm it then it automatically gets a grade of 3.

4) When I walked home from school in 1986 our dinner would either be frozen pizza or Pizza Hut pizza, so you see where my love affair with pizza comes from. I had pizza sometimes for three meals a day. Cold pizza in the morning as I walked late to school, pizza for lunch, and pizza in the evening. Frozen Pizza is like Tony's or whatever generic brand you eat. It's totally edible but it's frozen and I usually over-baked it. Papa Johns, Dominoes and most factory pizza joints fall in this category. When I was growing up I thought Pizza Hut Pan pizza was a 10, but I think it is now a 4.

5) This is your average slice that I've had a million places. I just ate about 6 slices of average pizza in Paraiso, Costa Rica. They were totally average, cheesy, super cheesy, 'gigante', jamon/ham, salty, ok cheese. Edible. That's all I can say about it. I eat a slice of average pizza like breathing. It means nothing to me and there are thousands of chefs churning out average $2 slices.

6) Like I said, I had a slice the other day that had a lot of love given to it...Hot dog inside the crust, cleverly perforated, good cheese, lots of ingredients and salt. It was slightly above average, like Papa Ginos. There is a pizza joint called Imo's in St. Louis that has round pizzas but cuts the slices in squares. They use Provel cheese. Really good. I also make a pizza out of Matzo crackers and pasta sauce and cheddar cheese in a toaster oven that ranks as a 6.

7) Ah, this is usually the glass ceiling of pizza grades for Oggy. This is where you really have to put some effort into the slice. A grade at 7 or above separates quality from average. I will say that Arcata Pizza and Deli in California threw down a quality pesto sauce and riccota cheese pizza that was a 7. Considering they also had other cool items on their menu that is impressive. A good Greek Pizza joint I remember when I was growing up had quality grade 7 pizza with crust that was crispy and thin like a corn chip. A place on Route 1 in Mass also has grade 7 pizza. Chicago corn bread crust pizza is a grade 7.

8) Elite pizza. This is gourmet pizza and they usually have nothing but pizza on the menu. Kittery, Maine has a pizza shop with pizza in this grade. Home Slice in Austin has grade 8 pizza slice. The whole ensemble of a grade 8 pizza is outstanding, the ingredients, the presentation. I can only think of a few slices that rank as an 8. I go a long way to get a slice of 8.

9) I had a pizza in Quito, Ecuador that I've never had before or since that had crust made from pastry dough, lots of layers of pastry dough. Everything else was normal but it was basically Baklava with cheese and I thought I had died and gone to pizza heaven. Imagine a butter croissant as a pizza. It was in a Chinese restaurant so I don't think they knew what they were doing but they knew what tasted good and they had assembled something delicious and it looked like a pizza so I have to categorize it as pizza. For its rarity and taste I have always remembered that pizza and will probably never find another example. These pizzas are like pretty girls I've danced with and never spoken to again, war stories for my dusty days in convalescent home, the memory of grade 9 pizza actually is strong enough to sustain me through times when I have no food.

10) There can be only one: The best of the best, for me, is a place near Melbourne Beach, Florida on the inter-coastal waterway about ten feet from the beach. I had my first slice of pizza there in 1992, so it is probably gone. I forget the name but I once was driving through the bible belt, somewhere in Indiana, on my way to Louisiana, and I took a 1400 mile detour to Florida to get a slice of that pizza. I still dream about the slice of white sauce, ricotta cheese and roasted garlic on a paper plate. It was twice as good the next morning because the garlic had infused everything. This was very traditional N.Y. style pizza, huge, floppy, and served on a white paper plate. All they made was pizza and the menu was on the wall. They had no paper menus. You simply picked the size, sauce and topping. I remember they had 4 or 5 slice offering ready to reheat. Unbelievably good pizza. I have had pizza slices in the sidewalk windows in Brooklyn, and Boston and Philadelphia and Denver and Los Angeles and Seattle and Chicago, which all rank around an 8 or 9, and it was basically the same but in Melbourne for some reason it was better. Until something dethrones that pizza in my memory it remains as the best slice in the Western Hemisphere.

*This is a pizza sin. Microwaves have no place in the life of a pizza.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.