How far out of your way would you go for Pizza? I’m paraphrasing here but the Michelin guide was essentially created to encourage travel, and it advised its patrons on how much of a journey they should take to get to a certain restaurant. That‘s how the star system started. One star is, take a detour, two stars is take a day trip, and three stars is plan a whole separate vacation to eat this meal. Last Saturday, I only had to go to Carroll Gardens, so it wasn’t that much of a journey.
The rules at Lucali are simple— get there around 3:45, wait until 4 when the host starts writing down names for that night, and then come back around 7 when your table is ready. All things considered, on a lazy Saturday, this was easy for me. When I got there, there were around 20 people in line ahead of me. Observational by nature, I eavesdropped on the couple in front of me in line. They were discussing the usual: how good can pizza really be? How long will we have to wait in this line? What are we doing tomorrow? When are your parents coming to town? Do you want a Lacroix from the bodega while we wait? Yeah I’ll have the limoncelllo but if they don’t have that flavor then water is fine.
A brief note on the pizza at Lucali because I want you to experience it for yourself: it was the best I’ve ever had. In all the ways a pizza can be great, it was. The end.
A longer note on pizza in general:
This is a fraught topic for me. As a previously undiagnosed anxious kid, I had stomach issues that I blamed on the dairy industrial complex. There were many years where I stopped eating pizza. I have since learned that cheese is not the enemy, it’s the solution. The enemy lives somewhere in my brain and we’re working on finding it. I think it lives between the olfactory bulb and the part where the Nicki Minaj “Monster” lyrics are stored. Back to pizza.
They say pizza is like sex, even when it’s bad its still pretty good. I disagree. Both pizza and sex can be bad. The only thing that’s never bad is the song “How will I know” by Whitney Houston. And Cool Ranch Doritos.
I think when you pull two slices of pizza apart and the cheese strings pull, clinging to each other, it’s like the slices are kissing. I find pizza very romantic. It’s almost always shared, it’s warm and comforting, and it’s versatile. A hot slice is great but a cold morning slice is also lovely. All about context.
I’ve had bad pizza. In my Hebrew school we had a mandatory monthly event called “cookies and conversation with the Rabbi.” As with all mandatory Jewish events, food was used as a bribe. In addition to cookies they often supplied pizza. But the pizza was cold. Not in a fridge way but in a left-on-the-counter-for-an-hour way. Very important distinction. It was always bad. The conversations were good though. My Rabbi once told us that if we mess up while reading our Torah portion we should pretend that we didn’t, because the bulk of the congregation wouldn’t know the difference. He told us to remain confident and project that. That was one of my earliest lessons in the art of bullshit. An art form I dabble in on weekends when I have down time.
I’ve had spectacular pizza. At the second sleepaway camp I went to, there was a tradition where each bunk would get a surprise midnight pizza party at some point throughout the session. One night, 2 hours after light’s out, the camp owners came in, turned on the lights, we woke up cheering and laughing, and all sat on the floor in our pajamas eating gooey, thick, upstate new york pizza. It was decadent, indulgent, prohibited. Something about being awake after light’s out was so thrilling to a bunch of 12 year olds whose idea of danger was inserting a tampon. One of my camp friends had insomnia and had already taken her sleeping pill so waking her up was a valiant team effort. The best pizza is shared.
If you live in New York, you should go eat at Lucali. Bring your favorite wine and and your favorite friends and have a beautiful night in Carroll Gardens. But you don’t have to eat at acclaimed Brooklyn restaurants to have good pizza. Good pizza is about timing. It’s about company and location and mood and ambiance and temperature. It’s about ingredients but it’s also about music and wobbly chairs and conversations and laughter. Good pizza is eaten together. Good pizza is eaten hungover in the morning alone. Good pizza implies the existence of bad pizza. Like sex. But bad pizza makes for better stories. Happy Saturday, pizzatown. May your day be cheesy, saucy, crunchy, and warm.