Pizza, Lou Malnati’s, Facebook and the NSA

People get emotional over many things that have no bearing or effect on anything important. I have fond memories of heated, teenage arguments over who was better: The Rolling Stones or The Beatles. Many people self actualize through the performance of a favored sports team, even though its success or failure has no impact on their own.

Food’s another thing people get parochial over. Friendships have been terminated over who makes the best clam chowder, barbeque, gumbo, chili, pasties or chow mien. Disagreements over pizza have a tendency to get heated, sometimes with one party going so far as rejecting the very legitimacy of what the other guy claims pizza to be.

A Facebook friend posted John Stewart’s rant about deep dish pizza, making a mockery of how your stereotypical, outer-borough New York  character views the matter:

Pepsi paper cup

Most cones were white

I get this. I grew up on Long Island and for me, haute cuisine was two slices and a Pepsi, served in a cone-shaped paper cup that was stuck into a stainless steel base. (If this drink delivery system means nothing to you, you’ve missed out because it’s as extinct as the dinosaurs. The bright side?: you’re young.)

The paper cup was put in this pedestal

The paper cup was put in this pedestal

In and around New York, most pizzerias turn out a pretty consistent product because there are only a handful of companies that supply these restaurants with everything from dough, cheese, sauce, boxes, toppings, napkins and paper plates. I’m talking Pizzerias, not restaurants that also make pizzas and with straight faces offer abominations like goat cheese, hossenfeffer and horse radish pies — which, incidentally, is clearly not legitimately classified as pizza.

In spite of the consistency, many New Yorkers develop strong opinions about which of their local pizza places is best. Their loyalty is so strong that even late at night they’ll drive past more convenient parlors to get to their guy,

After watching Stewart’s act, I Facebook commented that while it is true that Deep Dish Pizza isn’t really pizza, it can still be good. I mentioned a chain in the Chicago Area called Lou Malnati’s, and how I usually try to stop by when traveling there. My friend came back and said that he agreed that it could be good, but repeated the “not pizza” stipulation. I resisted observing that since my friend had long ago moved to the Boston area, he had no pizza credibility because a sound case could be made that New England pizza isn’t pizza either. I bit my tongue.

Lou’s pizza is different. The somewhat watery sauce has pureed tomatoes in it, over which a ton of Mozzarella is poured and melts into a single, pie-covering, eighth inch thick cheese disk. On top of that go the usual suspects: sausage, mushrooms, etc., and New Yorkers will complain about their quality, especially the sausage and pepperoni, but that’s because they just don’t do that stuff the same way in Chicago. And yes, more sauce is added on top of everything, which is pizza heresy and should come with a prison sentence, or at the very least a public admonishment delivered by the a famous and very, very rich, faux news caster.

After this exchange, I briefly considered going online to order a pie from Malnati’s, which I’d never done before. The urge passed, but I would not be forgetting about Lou’s pizza. A few days later, I logged onto Facebook and after clicking around a little bit, an advertisement came up for, of all places:  Lou Malnati’s!

So, I thought, that’s how Facebook is monetizing itself. It’s a profit deal (enjoy Steve Martin in The Jerk realizing that a carnival weight guesser doesn’t care if he guesses wrong because the prize is worth less than the dollar he charges).

On some level I knew this was going on, but it was the first time I’d experienced it. It’s pretty clear that Facebook is scanning everyone’s posts and then running them through an algorithm that looks for matches with the names of companies that pay them money to direct traffic to their websites. Badda bing, badda boom, when a user clicks the website: cha ching!

What did you think, somebody was going set up this gigantic contraption for you to waste time on for free? Hey, this is America.

I guess the NSA doesn’t have anything on Facebook. Now all I have to do is figure out if this bothers me. I’m leaning towards: It doesn’t, but that could change.

Everything Reminds Me of Something Else

I went to collage in Northern Wisconsin and back then, the pizza places started their dough by running it through a machine that had rollers like a motorized, old fashion clothes wringer. To make it pie-shaped, a pizza cutter was run around a circular form, and the excess was “recycled” into the next pie. From there they would proceed in the normal fashion, first sauce, then cheese, and finally toppings, that would rightfully get you a good beating if you tried serving them in the New York Metropolitan area.

The sausage were little balls of greasy, grizzled mystery meat that was seasoned with fennel seeds, garlic and salt in depressingly excessive quantities. Onions, peppers, and mushrooms came out of a jar. The only topping I considered barely acceptable was the pepperoni, but only after I used a pile of napkins to sop up the slick of greasy oil that had been liberated by the heat of the oven.

And as bad as that was, I don’t think it would have left such a lasting negative impression hadn’t it been for what followed. Upon taking it from the oven, it was cut it into squares. Squares! I swear to God! When I first saw it, I thought I was the butt of a practical joke, but no.

It seemed to me that everyone knew that a round pizza — even one formed by a clothes wringer and a plywood die that was probably never, ever cleaned — was cut into triangles. Only a square pizza, which is known as Sicilian, was cut into squares. But no, I was not having a joke played on me. I was told that this “cut” wasn’t at all unusual, not just in northern Wisconsin, but all over the Midwest, even Chicago (which as it turned out, was no big ringing endorsement).

Another Pizza anomaly that I noticed was that pizza was not sold by the slice, which to me was comparable to offering hamburgers only by the dozen.

One of my friends, Hank, an easterner like me once engaged one of the local pizza merchants in a drunken, drawn out interrogation concerning why pizza was not offered by the slice. The merchant kept saying that the traffic wasn’t sufficient. Hank kept looking out at the street and the cars going by, and asking: “What does the traffic have to do with selling pizza by the slice. Most of the people who come in here are students and don’t even have cars.”

God, I miss Hank.

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