Another Food-Related Market Failure May Finally Be Fixed


Since your comments proved pivotal in my finally getting to try the Take 5 candy bar (which I now see sold almost everywhere), I thought I'd share an even more epochal development in foodstuffs: the arrival of actual pizza in one of America's most pizza-deranged cities, and the possible dethronement of the Chicago-style deep-dish pie that has marred the last several decades of American history.

As every East Coast native learns upon arrival in the San Francisco Bay Area, Northern California is a virtual dead zone for real pizza of the thin-crust, few-to-no-toppings, crisp style we know from New York. Partly this is just the warped food dynamics of a city where sourdough bread is the leading culinary export. There's also been an element of NoCal kookiness at work, with pineapples, broccoli and other foreign objects making their dismal march onto the top of a thick doughy crust. Northern California pizza was most aptly described, surprisingly, in the otherwise ill-conceived Thomas Pynchon novel Vineland. The book describes the "Bodhi Dharma Pizza Temple," which offers

a classic example of the California pizza concept at its most misguided…Its sauce was all but crunchy with fistfuls of herbs only marginally Italian and more appropriate in a cough remedy, the rennetless cheese reminded customers variously of bottled hollandaise or joint compound, and the options were all vegetables rigorously organic, whose high water content saturated, long before it baked through, a stone-ground twelve-grain crust with the lightness and digestibility of a manhole cover.

However, I don't blame this entirely on the wackiness of local tastes. The Pizza Hut-driven anschluss of thick, hungry-man, and even "deep dish" pizza has been a national trend. (And even an international trend: I tremble for my country when I reflect that most foreigners know Pizza Hut as "American style" pizza.) How did it happen that Chicago, in all other things the second (and now probably third) city to New York, managed to inflict its inferior pizza philosophy on a free nation?

Soon after migrating to the city of St. Francis in 1996, I happened on Victor's Pizza on Polk Street, which, though it could stand to be a little more consistent, is at least a consistently thin, crisp, New York-style pizza. I quickly came to rely on Victor's for all my pizza needs, and have continued to do so for nearly a decade. Then, a few months ago, I took my kids to a party where the pizza was provided by Blue Moon Pizza at Scott and Chestnut streets. Again, these were thin, pastry-like slices: the best pizza I've had in San Francisco. And just a few weeks ago, I got wind of a free-pizza giveaway at North Beach Pizza at Grant and Union; cheapskate that I am, I swallowed my suspicions, waited in line for a pie, and found that, though it was a pesto, it was at least made to real-pizza specs.

So that's three real pizza places in the Bay Area (or more, since North Beach Pizza is a local chain). Two of the three—Victor's and North Beach—have been around for decades, and I owe my ignorance of the latter to lack of initiative: After a few tragedies with places like Cybelle's and Pizza Orgasmica (you just can't go right with a name that cute), I stuck resolutely with Victor's. Nor do I vouch for places I've only been to once. (I remain suspicious of North Beach Pizza, though I intend to go back.) But Blue Moon opened just a few years ago, and boldly advertises itself to the sourdough-and-heirloom-tomato-eating locals as "New York-style pizza."

So I'm encouraged. A few more successes like this and the truth that pizza is a thin, fused pastry that can only be ruined by toppings may begin to penetrate this bastion of thick-crust darkness. Could this be a leading or lagging indicator of a national trend? Could every American soon come to see real pizza as his or her birthright? If so, it wouldn't exactly be the fastest correction in the history of efficient markets, but it sure would be a positive step.