Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pizza Town

Mike Bloomfield with Al Kooper--"Man's Temptation" (mp3)

I am living, all too briefly, in Pizza Town.

There are many visions of Paradise. This is one of them.

Most of the best pizza that I've eaten in my life has been cooked for me here in Venice, Florida, the location of my mother-in-law's condominium for the past 25 years, and the place where I've often hibernated for Spring Breaks and summer getaways, for novel writing and grant reading, for spending a few days in a place where it's often possible to keep job thoughts at bay.

Venice, huh? I guess with that name the concentration of great pizza joints shouldn't be all that surprising, should it? Maybe. Maybe not. I don't really know the origins of this small, sleepy Florida city or of its swanky larger neighbor, Naples, about 80 miles down the road. Did Italian immigrants settle these locales and name them after their native cities? Did the names of these Florida cities make them more attractive to Italian immigrants from the North, looking for warmer climes to set up shop in their later years? I'm going with the latter theory. But anyway, a city with an Italian name serving great pizza should be a no-brainer, right? Then try going to Lafayette, Georgia in search of fantastic French cooking; you ain't gonna find much beyond french fries.

Venice, a town the size of Cleveland, Tennesse, has no fewer that 23 non-chain pizza places, to go with numerous chains.

Of course, I've just spent a month in Chicago, considered one of the great pizza cities, but I have to agree with Anthony Bourdain on that city's offerings. Deep dish pizza may be very, very good at some places, but it is more like a casserole, more like a "lasagna made with crust instead of noodles," I think he said. Besides, what kind of pizza is it really when you can't eat more than one piece before you're full? By the second piece, you're miserable.

The pizza palaces of Venice seem to have their origins more in New York City and that area. That means huge, thin crust pizzas. The medium is 14 inches; the large is 16 inches. And not thin crust as in the cracker crust now popular in the frozen food cases. No, this is thin as in tossed and stretched thin yeast crust with enough gluten in it that you can use the back of your fist to pull it farther and farther apart before giving it a twirl in the air. It's crust with character.

The pizzas of Venice come out of the oven with crust so thin you can't believe it's crisp in the center. A bite on the outside is crunchy at first, but then chewy in the center. And the sauce, spread thin, is bound to be some old family recipe. The toppings (the sausage homemade) and the cheese are not skimpy, but are not so plentiful as to overwhelm either the sauce or the crust. Great pizza is about a balance between all of the parts, at least until you get to the edges, and then it's just about the crust. My favorite place here in Venice, Luna Pizza, rubs their crust with olive oil and then sprinkles sesame seeds around the perimeter. It is superb.

If you keep up with food trends, pizza is hot right now. Seems like every restaurant, especially high-end ones, has installed a wood-burning oven to produce gourmet pizzas fired at 1000 degrees or higher. I like those pizzas. When I make them, I cook them on a stone in my oven with the temperature as hot as it will go. You can get a pretty kick ass pizza cooking on a pizza stone in your kitchen at 550 degrees.

But rather than a wood-fired duck pizza, I prefer the kind that come out of a large industrial pizza oven, a guy in a dirty white t-shirt and white apron opening the wide door and using his metal peel to give the pizza a shake every once in a while to make sure it isn't sticking. That's a Venice pizza. And then I'm not in Pizza Town, I'm in Pizza Heaven.


Randy said...

Suddenly I'm hungry. What Chattanooga spot comes the closest to the best of Venice?

Bob said...

I'm a Lupi's man all the way. You?

Goofytakemyhand said...

The Lafayette, Ga. Huddle House makes a fantastic French Toast.

Bob said...


Goofytakemyhand said...

Sweet song upload!

And tying in with the food theme, I recently won a bet at a dinner party regarding what Al Kooper's real last name was. Indeed it was Kuperschmidt and not Cooperstein.

Winner gets one CD that Kooper either played on or produced. I'm still weighing in my mind what I want.

neonguy528 said...

Very nice blog. Great looking food. I'm in Sarasota so I don't eat much in Venice. All the best.