Thursday, November 13, 2014

Interview with Liz Barrett, Author of "Pizza: A Slice of American History"

Those who care deeply about pizza probably know about Liz Barrett. Liz is editor at large for PMQ Pizza Magazine, and blogger at The Pizza Insider. She's just released her first book, Pizza: A Slice of American History.  As soon as I could get a copy, I did - and I devoured it almost as fast as a DeLorenzo's tomato pie. Click HERE to find her book on Amazon.

I appreciate when a book is well-written and thoughtfully organized; I think of her pizza book as the necessary "Volume II" that follows Ed Levine's Pizza: A Slice of Heaven. Read them both for a valuable perspective on pizzas new and old.
Liz Barrett
I had some questions for Liz after reading her book; here are her answers.

PQ: Liz, in your book you quote Ed Levine, who says that the first pizza of your childhood becomes the metric against which you judge all pizzas. Tell us about your first pizza, and if it still holds a place in your heart even though you now know of so many world-class pizza styles and pizza makers.

LB: My first pizza was in Troy, Michigan - typical Detroit-style pizza with the thick crust, crisp bottom and caramelized cheese around the edges. No matter how many pizzas I eat, I still get excited when I hear that a place I'm visiting may have an authentic Detroit-style pie. 

PQ: I particularly enjoyed your chapter on the tomato pie, the Trenton NJ version of pizza, because that was my first pie and the inspiration for my blog.  Despite having eaten (or searched) for Trenton-style pie my entire life, I never heard the term "reverse pizza" applied to tomato pie, as noted in your book. Can you tell us where you heard that, and also your own tomato pie experiences?

LB: That's a good question. I've interviewed so many people over the years and talked with so many pizza experts that I don't know if I could pinpoint the person who called it that first. I'd hate to name the wrong person here. It makes sense though; the pizza is assembled in a reverse fashion, with cheese on the bottom and sauce on top. 

PQ: One aspect that elevated your book beyond the mere passion of a pizza fan was your thoroughly researched approach. I dug deep into the chapters on Detroit style and St. Louis style pizza, because they sound (and look) wonderful and I've yet to try either.  Have you sampled all the styles in your book?  What kinds of pizza remain on your "must try that" list?

LB: I'm happy to say that I have tried all of the main styles in the book. There are only a few styles in the More Pizza Styles chapter that I have yet to try, such as grilled pizza, Quad City-style pizza and Colorado style mountain pie.

PQ: I've noticed a lot of overlap in pizza styles. Your book covers the bar/tavern/party cut thin-crust pies, with the wonderful Rubino's (Columbus, OH) as an example. I often think that a New Haven apizza has much in common with a Trenton tomato pie. And a Philly tomato pie is, to me, a Sicilian pizza with no cheese.  Are there other hybrids or overlaps that stand out from your research or pizzeria visits?

LB: You're right; there's some crossover with pizza styles, mainly because of the close proximity to other towns and the fact that pizza makers move from one place to another and integrate their skills into the next place. Many people have compared Detroit-style pizza to square pan pizzas and Sicilian pizza, but without the caramelized cheese on the edges, you don't have Detroit style, in my opinion. I don't think we've seen all the pizza styles we're capable of yet.  

PQ: My blog's tagline is "La pizza male è meglio che non la pizza"  -- even bad pizza is better than no pizza. But let's be honest - some pizzas are better than others. Your books offers a passionate yet fair-minded analysis of all the pizza styles - but is there a type of pizza that you don't like? For instance, I have never had Old Forge style, even though it wouldn't be a long trip from my home to try it. From pictures, it looks like a soft, gloppy, badly undercooked attempt at Sicilian pizza. Is there any pizza style you judge to be unworthy of the calories?

LB: There are some pizzas I haven't finished; but I always give them a chance (it's a tough job, but you know).

PQ: While on the subject of bad pizza, let's talk about the chains. As your book notes, the chains are very much responsible for the popularity of pizza in America. Without the chains making pizza into a cheap, tasty, and convenient dining option, we probably don't arrive at the Neapolitan pizza renaissance taking place right now all across the country. Nonetheless, I feel that most big chain pizza can't compete with a good frozen pizza. However, I find a lot of the smaller chains are making some good to excellent pies. Grottto, Jules Thin Crust, Monical's, Bertucci's, and most of all Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza. Do you have a favorite chain pie, big or small?

LB: There are times when I just need some delivery. And much like your quote above, I'd rather call for some pizza than have no pizza at all. My delivery pizza of choice is usually Domino's. I like the seasoned crust they added a couple of years back.

PQ: Lastly, do you have a guilty pizza pleasure?  A particular pizza, or topping, or other decadent pizza habit?  I admit, I will wolf down a monstrous slice of $2 Costco pizza a little too often.  I know it's not "good" pizza but I enjoy it anyhow. Anything you'd like to confess?

LB: While it goes against everything traditionalists fight for, I can't resist a barbecue chicken pizza. Just love it.
Inside Liz Barrett Foster's Pizza Book

PQ: Liz, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with Pizza Quixote blog readers, and thanks for that thoroughly-researched tome on pizza. It's added to my growing list of "must try that" pizzas.

1 comment:

  1. Great talking with you. I'm here whenever you want to chat about pizza!

    --Liz Barrett
    Pizza: A Slice of American History