“Pizza is a lot like sex. When it’s good, it’s really good. When it’s bad? It’s still pretty good. And when it’s God awful, you find you can’t stop screaming, and it takes years for the nightmares to finally stop.”
Yesterday, we showed you the five best regional pizza styles in America, with a hidden agenda of angering New Yorkers. Today, we’re looking at the dark underbelly of pizza. Because, as great as America is at making pizza, not everyone can get it right. Hell, Brazil makes and eats 1.4 million pizzas every day, but even with all that practice they still do shit like put chocolate on it. So as great as pizza is, it’s not always a winner. The best pizzas? Are glorious.
These pizzas? Are terrifying.
The Five Worst Regional Pizzas In America
When talking about California, it’s hard to separate the numerous demographics in our nation’s largest state. San Francisco has about as much in common with Los Angeles as Amsterdam does with Singapore. But if there’s one thing that’s generally assumed about the state, it’s that if you’re not talking about hamburgers, it’s best not to leave the state to their own devices when trying to make junk food. As we mentioned yesterday, in 1980 the East Coast was discovering that you could put a pizza on a grill. That same year, on the opposite side of the nation, a chef working for an Austrian-run chain of restaurants and a few chefs working at a Berkeley restaurant decided that pizza doesn’t have to be pizza.
California style pizzas are prepared on a thin crust, but the crust itself doesn’t matter as much as the ingredients, which tend to be nontraditional and heavily focused on fresh produce. Here’s a bit of a pro-tip when it comes to pizza—crust matters. The consistency, flavor, and dexterity of a crust is all you need to differentiate a New York-style pizza pie with New Haven, Chicago thin crust, or a goddamn DiGorno’s. If you can’t describe your crust with any more detail than, “I don’t know, uh, Italian-style?” you’re doing pizza wrong. California-style pizza focuses on toppings, but instead of tomato sauce, cheese, sausage, and heartburn, you’re left with honey, soy sauce, peanuts, and the undying hatred towards whoever asked you for a slice of pizza.
When you were first introduced to California pizza…well, you were probably in high school, and your friends thought that CPK was a classy way to spend a lunch. It didn’t really occur to you that the only pizzas on the menu were either strange combinations of ingredients with the name “Spicy Chipotle Chicken” or just normal pizzas that look disgusting. Does a California Club with bacon, chicken, lettuce, and mayonnaise sound good to you? It does, right? Now, how about taking all that shit, placing it on a pizza crust, and tossing it in the oven. Not so great, right? We didn’t think so. Of course these pizzas (mostly) at least have cheese, unlike…
Tomato pie is a type of pizza that’s been around America almost as long as regular pizza, as it’s been available since at least 1914. The difference between pizza and tomato pie largely stems from the fact that pizza is warm, delicious, and makes you forget your troubles, while tomato pie is lukewarm, without cheese, and hands you a bottle of pills while whispering, “Go ahead, do it, no one will miss you.”
Tomato pie takes a thick, focaccia-like dough, covers it in tomato sauce, and then sprinkles enough grated romano cheese to make you say “huh, I guess there’s a little bit of cheese on this thing. Maybe.” Once it’s cooked, it’s not immediately served, as tomato pie is supposed to be served at room temperature, making tomato pies equal parts “salmonella risk” and “the worst thing to serve to your twelve-year old daughter as you talk to her about her changing body.” This style typically is seen in New Jersey, Utica, Pennsylvania, and other cities where people occasionally walk into pizza restaurants and leave disappointed.
Listen, pizza only has three main ingredients—bread, cheese, and tomato. At the end of the day, that holy mixture is the reason why pizza is as popular as it is today. Tomato pies apparently decided to remove the best one without doing anything special to the remaining two other than “let it cool down on the counter for a while so you can really taste the…room-temperature-ness of it all.” Here’s the thing about room temperature—it’s a great temperature for a room to be, and a terrible one for any kind of food. A room temperature pizza sounds about as appealing to us as a room temperature beer, and goddamn you for making us think about the sin that is room temperature beer. Ugh.
Quad City-Style Pizza
Eww gross, someone threw up on this pizza! Wait…wait, really? That’s how it’s supposed to look? Um…
Quad City-style pizza, perhaps not surprisingly, originated in the Quad Cities region at the border of Iowa and Illinois, which comprises of Moline, Rock Island, and East Moline in Illinois along with Bettendorf and Davenport in Iowa. We’re just going to list off what makes this pizza style unique without breaking off into commentary, but just assume that after every other word we’re saying “gross” in parentheses.
A Quad City-style pizza uses a dough that has a “spice jam” that is heavy on malt, leading to a toasted nutty flavor, which is then coated with a thin spicy tomato sauce, and covered in sausage and mozzarella before being put in a gas oven for 12 minutes. It is then cut with scissors into strips instead of being cut into slices because wait okay we can’t hold our tongue any longer, are they fucking serious here? “Spice jam”? Malt? Scissors? And, again, just look at that thing. It looks gross. And that’s when you have someone trying to make it look as tasty as humanly possible. Wikipedia is far less kind.
Ugh, at this point we’re starting to worry that we bit off more than we could chew. That might be a pizza pun, we don’t know, it’s all just running together as a string of awful looking pies.
Ohio Valley-Style Pizza
Ohio has suffered a lot. Cleveland is, well, Cleveland, their whole population spends all their time trying to get out of there by going into space, Pennsylvania is always making fun of them, they have a rough lot. Making matters worse is that their attempt at making pizza, the Ohio Valley-style, seems to have been invented by a chef who wanted to find an elaborate way to turn pizza into a joke on an entire region. Like the delicious Detroit-style pizza, this is cooked in a square. Unlike that testament to grease and cooking-shit-in-industrial-parts-trays, these pizzas are filled with cold, uncooked toppings. That’s right, after the sauce (don’t get too exciting, it’s literally just stewed tomatoes), crust, and a tiny amount of base cheese is cooked, the rest of the cheese and additional toppings are sprinkled on top like a fucking lunchables.
To quote a native Ohio Valley…an, “Are we ahead of our time when it comes to making pizza, or are we just fucked up? I’m voting for the latter.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
St. Louis-Style Pizza
Oh boy. Here we go. St. Louis isn’t that far from Chicago. It’s not. So, maybe much like the residents of the Quad City area, they feel like they have to compete with what we’ve determined is the best pizza in America. If that’s the case, they clearly got a case of the yips, because the pizza style that they developed looks less like a delicious meal and more like a suicide note left by a despondent chef. They went out of their way to find a unique way to ruin each of the key three ingredients of pizza in a way that, honestly, is impressive. When someone takes a test and tries to get a zero on it, it’s almost as impressive as getting a 100%, because you have to know enough about the right answers to purposely get it wrong. That’s why we at least will tip our hats to St. Louis, because they clearly know enough about pizza to fuck it up beyond recognition.
First, let us start with the crust. As opposed to other pizzas, or any type of bread other than matzo, St. Louis-style pizza doesn’t use yeast, resulting in a thin, cracker-like crust. Obviously, eating a burnt cracker is only so appealing, so to take things up a notch by putting sugar in their sauce, since if you’re going to make something awful, you might as well let it punish the diabetics stupid enough to try to eat it. Finally, they created their own type of cheese to put on this pizza. Having more in common with Velveeta than anything you’ve ever wanted to put on a pizza, Provel cheese is popular in St. Louis and nowhere else because just look at it. The fact that it’s the awful cheese put on an awful pizza would explain why it never caught on with the rest of the nation. Why St. Louis embraces it remains a mystery. We suspect that the entire city is being held hostage by Kraft Foods. “Dammit, buy Provel and eat St. Louis Pizza, or so help us, we’ll poison Matt Holliday’s coffee.” (Pro tip: St. Louis residents will do anything in order to stop a member of the Cardinals from being poisoned.)
Ugh. Just thinking about all these pizzas is making us sick. Here, go back to the one about the tasty pizzas again. That’s a much better way to go. Just go to your happy place. Your cheesy, saucy happy place.