Thin crust or thick, piled with toppings or plain as flavored flatbread, soulfully Italian or cheeseburgerly American, the country’s best pizzas run the gamut from traditional old-world to eccentric cutting-edge. These basic configurations are found almost everywhere:
- Neapolitan: thin crust with a slightly puffy collar, topped with tomatoes or tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese
- Sicilian: thick-crusted, baked in a pan, almost always rectangular rather than round
- Greek: thicker than Neapolitan but thinner than Sicilian, the crust leaning more towards crunch than chew
- Bakery pizza: usually served at room temperature, in squares, with minimal toppings
- Bar pizza: thin, sturdy crust, cut into small squares making it easy to hoist
- Grilled: thin and well-oiled, originally made in Rhode Island, now a mark of some artisan pizzerias
Styles that evoke specific places include Memphis BBQ, Detroit squares with a caramelized edge, Connecticut white clam, Old Forge thick, Ohio Valley delayed-topping, Chicago deep dish, St. Louis provel cuts, Buffalo cup & char pepperoni, and Quad Cities malt-crust pie cut into strips.
Today it is hard to remember or even believe that pizza once was considered foreign food. It started out as Italian – and the tradition of true Italian pizza-making is stronger today in the nation’s cities than it ever was – but it is we Americans who have made it into a sprawling field of cookery.
The reason for its supreme popularity is that pizza is so adaptable; and no cooks like to invent, adjust, tinker, customize, and engage in rules-be-damned cookery more than we do. In that sense, pizza just may have become the most American dish of all. It welcomes any cook with a notion, whether that’s a Brooklyn Italian pizzeria owner inspired by Korean neighbors to create a kim chee pizza or a California chef who runs out of tomato sauce and uses barbecue sauce in its place, inventing barbecued chicken pizza.
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