June 30, 2014 |

Man on the Street: It’s tradition!

By Scott Wiener

Tacconelli’s / Philadelphia, PA

Tacconelli’s / Philadelphia, PA


Locals embrace pizzerias’ policies, offerings

Just weeks after taking office, the newly minted mayor of New York City offended every single one of his constituents when he used a knife and fork to eat a slice of pizza. This is the one guy who should know that New Yorkers typically fold their slices and avoid aid from utensils, especially when the press is watching. “RECALL! IMPEACH! REPENT!” came the calls from citizens and media portals with too much time on their hands. As silly as it was, the whole ordeal reminded me that the culture surrounding food is often as important as the food itself. One of my favorite nuances of pizza culture involves terminology. In the Northeast, we refer to a pizza as a “pie.” I hear stories all the time from Midwesterners who were baffled by their roommate’s suggestion of “sharing a pie” on the first night in their college dorm. In Old Forge, Pennsylvania, the self-proclaimed Pizza Capitol of the World, they call their pizzas “trays” because they’re baked in rectangular trays. And instead of calling each portion a slice, as most pizzerias tend to do, they call them “cuts.” Knowing the local lingo is a fun way for customers to feel like part of the local scene. In this age of mobile ordering and slick POS interfaces, there’s something really fun about quirky ordering customs. Tacconelli’s in Philadelphia requires customers to not only reserve their tables a day in advance but also the number of pizzas they’ll be ordering. As annoying as it sounds, I really enjoy the fanfare that comes with preparing for a trip to a pizzeria. Emilia’s Pizzeria in Berkeley has a similarly funky ordering system in which pizza orders must be phoned in at 4 p.m. on the day of your visit. Bert’s Place in Chicago has a similar call-ahead policy. Rather than have customers take up valuable table space while their pizza takes upwards of 45 minutes to bake, Bert asks customers to place pizza orders by phone in advance. If you’re told the pizza will be on the table at 5:15 p.m., you better be there at 5:15 p.m.! These systems are clearly archaic, but for me they maintain the personal touch we’re losing with the rise in hi-tech gadgetry and restaurant concepts. Enough about how we order pizza, what about the food itself? Every region has its specialty and pizza tourists such as myself would rather eat the local fare than throw on the same old toppings we get at home. When I go to New Mexico, I know a pizza with green chilies is a must. Pizzerias in Brazil use a tart cream cheese called Catupiry. Seafood-laden pizzas with black squid ink crusts are popular in Japan. If you have a topping or preparation that’s unique to your area, definitely let me know so I can check it out! Pizza is the rare type of food that is both universally recognizable and endlessly modifiable, a trait that’s certainly responsible for both its growth and the high degree of competition. Celebrating your pizzeria’s unique character will help you carve out a niche and make customers like me feel like we’re in on something special, even if it requires eating with a fork and knife. Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.