Slices of American Life

Is there any food item less in need of an introduction? Let's get right to the stories. 5 features on pizza.
4 stories

Rob Gurwitt makes pizza once a week at a community oven to envy. "The oven is a hulking presence on the edge of a mostly unused field, a 10-foot crouching beaver, as the old Québecois farmers to our north used to say, made of thick clay, with an iron door at one end, and resting on stocky blocks of granite. A waist-high wooden workbench stretches out from one side, and a couple of picnic tables, weathered to capriciousness, sit nearby," he writes. "The oven has no chimney or flue, and heating takes time. You have to light a fire in the mouth, then gradually push the burning pile back as you keep feeding it, setting up a current that sucks air in along the floor of the oven and carries smoke out in a layer above. Inevitably, as I toss in wood or peer inside to consider the flames, there’s a breath of singed hair, and it’s not because I touched the fire."

Frank Bruni profiled an upscale pizza restaurant that tried to be more than a place to eat. "Why not construct the kind of spot he himself would want to visit for a nice dinner out? In line with the way he and all other Lubavitchers ate, it would be rigorously kosher: no mixing of meat and milk; an observant Jew in the kitchen at all times. But in his vision it would be contemporary enough, in its cuisine and its look, to satisfy the neighborhood’s diverse groups, including the young newcomers who might significantly change its complexion in the years to come," he writes. "That seemed to him a smart business model but also a worthy mission. Unlike a hardware store or a bank or most every other kind of business that was also an incidental meeting ground, a restaurant was a place where people relaxed. Talked. Lingered."

Mariah Blake writes about a man who made his money in pizza – guess which chain – and builds to this question: "What happened when a billionaire pizza mogul tried to build an elite Catholic law school?"

Daniel Roth chronicled the rise of Papa John's – and told the story of the pizza company that tried to stop it. "So far, nothing Pizza Hut has tried has slowed Papa John's. Not revamping its pizzas by bringing in better ingredients--the ones being measured by kitchen scientists. Not its estimated $150 million ad budget. Not even an arsenal of pizzas: not the TripleDeckeroni Pizza with its 90 pieces of pepperoni and six-cheese blend; not the Bigfoot with its two square feet of pizza; not the Chicken-Topped Pizza line," he writes. "Not even this summer's Fiesta Taco Pizza, with its bean-sauce and chopped-lettuce toppings. More and more, it seems people simply prefer Papa John's to Pizza Hut. And Papa John's has just two items in its arsenal: a thin-crust pizza and a regular-crust pizza."

And Adam L. Penenberg and Marc Barry tell a story about pizza, the cardboard discs upon which the frozen variety sometimes sit, and a master of corporate espionage.

From the Web

Keeping It Kosher

Hasidim, West Indians, hipsters and pizza. One Brooklyn restaurant thinks it’s the perfect recipe.

From the Web

Pie in the Sky

What happened when a billionaire pizza mogul tried to build an elite Catholic law school.

From the Web

Any Way You Slice It

Sundays at the community oven aren’t just about the pizza.
From the Web

This Ain’t No Pizza Party

Pizza Hut and Papa John’s are engaged in a Kentucky blood feud. At stake: the future of pizza pies.

Nov 1998