Of Pizza and Trump’s New York Street Cred

by Daniel Foster

Jonah, Trump has responded to Stewart, sorta:

“A lot of people are asking why am I using plastic forks and knives that the pizza parlor gave. Well, I don’t walk around with forks and knives, and frankly, it was very comfortable. Plus, this way you can take the top of the pizza off so you’re not just eating the crust. I like to not eat the crust so we can keep the weight down at least as good as possible.”

Is it just me or does this sound like it was transliterated from Ukrainian? And I’m not sure what the hell it means to just eat the “top” of the pizza. Does he mean just the mozz and the sauce? On the average orange-grease-tinged New York utility slice that’s hardly a recipe for weight loss — but I do know it just makes him sound even more clueless. Trump could have used a second take.

But while we’re on the topic of New York City street cred and pizza, I think this Famiglia’s atrocity illustrates a point I’ve been making for years and years to anyone who’ll listen. Namely: If you took two blindfolded tourists and dropped one in a random location in New York and the other in a random location in North Jersey and told them to go find a slice of pizza, the one in North Jersey would, on average, find a better slice. What I mean is, when you take away the outliers — the legendary joints like Totonno’s and DiFara and Grimaldi’s, and the biggest of the lowest common denominator national chains — the median slice in Bergen, Passaic, Essex, Hudson and Union counties is better than the median slice in the five boroughs. I bet the disparity would be even greater if you pitted North Jersey against just Manhattan. I say this not just because I’m a Jersey boy from a proud family of pizza-makers (five uncles who tossed dough for beer money at Vinnie’s Pizz-a-rama and Brother Bruno’s in Wayne, NJ!), but because anyone who’s ever seen me can tell you I’ve eaten a lot of pizza in my day. And in my ample experience, it’s obvious.

How’d this come to pass? Think about it. Both New York and Jersey are drawing from the same immigrant tradition and the same broad customer base, meaning that both the talent for excellent pizza making and the demand for excellent pizza are there. But the economic exigencies of the city mean that middle of the road joints there are far likelier to have changed ownership a number of times (Famiglia’s is Albanian!), bleeding some of that knowhow each time. New York joints also have to pay New York rent, raising their fixed costs and pressuring them to skimp on things like ingrediant quality. Moreover, the average New York joints is catering not to the epicurean, but to the tourist and the transient. Pizza shops are rarely food destinations, they’re the place you duck into for a slice on your way from A to B, and a lot of tourists just don’t know any better. All these things act to suppress pizza quality in the city, even in once great establishments (see the sad decline in quality at the various “Ray’s” shops). By contrast many pizza joints in Jersey are, in my experience, still owned and operated by the same family that opened them, and many of these owners are emigres from the five boroughs. So are many of their customers, and these ex-New Yorkers have the automobiles, disposable income, and a taste for authenticity to go to the joint the next town over if they do a better Sicilian pie or a fatter calzone.

I would argue pretty much along the same lines with respect to bagels and deli sandwiches, but I guess I should get back to actually doing what they pay me to do.

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