Wednesday, March 18, 2009

IEM Session #8- I Got Pepperoni-ized

In the 70’s and 80’s, you could go to a custom t-shirt shop in any mall in America and get a shirt made with a transfer that read, “Pizza is like sex. Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.” (It could usually be found underneath a transfer with a cartoon of a frog giving the middle finger.) I wasn’t sure what that t-shirt meant in my formative years, but I thought it was hilarious. I’m a grown-ass man now, and while I understand the sentiment behind this Confucian bit of pizza wisdom, I now say that it’s really a load of crap.

Pizza is sauce, cheese, crust, and optional meat. How can you mess that up? It seems like it should be easy to make a good pizza, but somehow pizzerias all over the country figure out a way to turn this simple repast into discs of mediocrity. And sex is always good? This adage was obviously written by a dude. And when you really think about this old saw, it doesn’t even hold true for guys. When you have a strong inkling that you’re liable to have lousy sex, it’s really not worth all of the rigmarole. Why go through the trouble of brushing your teeth and washing your taint to go through a sexual snoozefest? Most guys would rather rub one out while they watch Magilla Gorilla than feign interest in a dead fish. And nearly every woman alive (and some dead ones) feel the same way. Pizza is a similar phenomenon. If you know you’re going to get mediocre pizza, why spend the cash to pick up a slice or have a pie delivered when you’re just going to be disappointed? You’re better off eating Kraft mac and cheese or a chicken pot pie than eating weak pizza. With those foods, you don’t expect to be elevated; they’re just grub. But pizza is the magic food. It should be great every time. Every slice is supposed to take you to a blissful land of texture and flavor. But it hardly ever achieves this ideal, especially when you travel beyond the Eastern Time Zone. Once you’ve had a good slice in the Northeastern U.S., most every other slice you eat will be a letdown. But you’ll just keep on eating pizza- chasing the dragon for that perfect slice that comes rarely, if ever, unless you go back to the pizza motherland.

I’ve eaten whole pizzas in short order on several occasions with little discomfort, so I had envisioned that I would be able to put away a gazillion slices given a whole day to work with. But then I realized that when you buy a slice, you’re not getting the slice you get when you buy a whole pie cut into 12 pieces. You often get the equivalent of 3 slices taken from a whole pie. And when you consider that the pizza heretics around here are making pies that could be used to anchor a yacht, the prospect of doing some serious slice destruction was not as likely as I had originally predicted. To ensure you understood the level of difficulty involved, I brought a digital scale with me to weigh each slice and have indicated each slice's weight. This was the first session where I feared I might fail within the session’s first hour. And it was just pizza! If I can be brought low by a mere handful of pizza slices, you can be sure that the pizzerias of the East Bay are doing something very, very, wrong.

Eating Day: March 6, 2009

NOTE: All locations in Oakland unless specified otherwise.

1. PIZZA MAN- 1422 Broadway- 11:25am- $3.00 w/soda (10.5 ounces)

It took me 15 minutes of circling around downtown to park at least half a mile from where I would be eating because I would not pay the king’s ransom they charge at the parking garages. For that kind of scratch, I could get at least another slice of pizza. I stopped first at Mr. Pizza Man, which is now in Oakland City Center, after they had vacated their old space on Broadway near 14th St. I didn’t eat there, though. Now that they seem to cater to the business jerks in the Center, they no longer sell by the slice. Instead, they have 10” personal pizzas for lunch. I didn’t want to eat or pay any more than necessary on this session, so I moved on to Pizza Man, which is in Mr. Pizza Man’s former location. They didn’t even put up a new sign. They just removed “Mr.” From the old one.

They didn’t change much of anything. The new place seems to also be run by Brazilians and the menu looks identical. They still seem to draw few downtown office workers. Their clientele is mostly derelicts, lunatics, and gangstas who demand ranch dressing, pizza sauce for dipping, and extra cheese and then complain when the proprietors require a fee for these add-ons. The lunch special costs about the same as it did the last time I was down here about 2 years ago. I remembered it being so-so, but I didn’t remember it being such a dough-fest. The slice had just come out of the oven, so at least it was hot and the sauce and cheese were still in pristine condition. The pepperonis were large and extra spicy. (Pepperonis like these are often billed as salami at other establishments.) There was just the right amount of cheese on the slice and a nice grease pool on top. The sauce was probably okay, but it was overpowered by the pepperoni. I have no complaints about that, though. In what would become a pattern throughout the session, Pizza Man loused up a perfectly good slice with their crust. It had cornmeal on the crust; always a nice touch, as it reminds me of the Shakey’s Pizza I loved as a youth. But that was the only good thing about the crust. First of all, the “handle” was ridiculously thick and wide. Secondly, the dough was too sweet. Thirdly, it was completely undercooked and not in the least bit crisp. You could have scraped off all of the toppings, rolled the dough into a ball, and made an entire new pizza out of my slice. Jesus! If you’re going to serve a slice that’s 90% dough, at least elevate your crust to an art form. Despite the massive handle and the excessive thickness, density, and sweetness of the slice, if they would’ve cooked it a few more minutes, I suspect that the whole thing would’ve been made considerably more edible.

There’s a story about Frank Sinatra where bartenders would always pour him really strong drinks in an attempt to impress him. While he appreciated the gesture, he finally had to speak up and say something like, “ Hey buddy (pal/chief/buster/ace/amigo/etc.), I’m gonna be drinking here all night. You don’t need to try to knock me on my ass with my first cocktail.” I realize that the dough is the cheapest ingredient of the pizza, but when I eat it, I want to eat many, many, slices, so don’t try and knock me on my ass with the first slice by giving me a flour and yeast O.D. The crust is not supposed to overpower everything. It’s supposed to be a light platform for the toppings. It shouldn't weigh the toppings down like a huge dump in their pants. I really hoped I wasn’t going to spend this session eating slices like this. I looked out the window while I ate the slice and watched the toothless fellows outside yell at a girl with a huge ass as she walked back to the salon up the street.

I’m pretty sure the slices at the old Mr. Pizza Man were just like this. I used to eat there a lot when I worked downtown, mostly because it was so close to the office. The slices filled me up and they were cheap, so their mediocrity was forgiven back then. And I always got 2 slices for lunch. With all of that dough, it’s no wonder I used to go back to my cubicle and pass out. It’s also no wonder that I put on 40 lbs.

2. SAN FRANCISCO PIZZA- 1500 Broadway- 11:42am- $3.00 w/soda (17 ounces)

San Francisco Pizza occupies a space that formerly housed a Wendy’s that rivaled the Broadway Burger King for its sheer number of derelict “customers” and they seem to be carrying on the tradition of catering to vagrants. Calling a pizzeria “San Francisco Pizza” is about as dumb as calling a taqueria in Baltimore, “Wichita Tacos.” There is nothing about San Francisco that implies that a pizza from a thusly-named establishment will be a quality product. The less said about SF pizza, the better, so why try and create a connection between the city and pizza, especially at a pizza place in Oakland? “Oakland Pizza” would’ve made much more sense.

As I arrived, there was a very confused-looking drifter standing right in front of the door speaking gibberish to himself. He finally managed, “Yo, where McDonald’s at?” The McDonald’s in City Center closed down about eight years ago, so I pointed in the direction of the closest location, which is about ¾ mile away, I’d reckon. “Don’t tell me I gotta go that far, man. I gotta piss like a muhfugger. Ain’t there no food around here?” I informed him that he was standing directly in front of a pizza place. “This a pizza place? Bizzle bozzle mdmfmg….” He went inside and asked the counter lady if they had $1 pizza. After she explained that they had no such product, he asked her where the bathroom was. I was shocked that she actually told him where it was. I thought for sure he’d get the usual, “Sorry, no bathroom” response. Unfortunately, the washroom was already occupied, probably by another vagrant washing his socks. I guess this was unacceptable to the mumbling drifter, because he left the restaurant and went outside. (His stench stuck around for a few minutes, though.) 10 to 1 says he went around the corner and pissed on the sidewalk.

This slice made the slice at Pizza Man look like a light snack. A single slice weighed over a pound! How is that possible? This was not a deep dish Chicago-style affair. And those slices don’t weigh one pound per slice, either. This was just a slice of “regular” pizza. So how do they make a slice weigh so much? Was there lead in the dough? In contrast to Pizza Man, the pepperonis were smallish and quite tasteless. At first, I thought there was a lot of cheese on the slice, but on closer inspection, I determined that a plateau of dough underneath the flavorless sauce pumped up the cheese. The crust was so flaccid, that you could roll up the slice like discount carpet. Remember that old commercial with the jingle, “Open a jar of Pizza Quick sauce and open your own pizzeria”? It implied that you could take any piece of bread, spread some Pizza Quick on it, sprinkle some cheese on top, and have yourself a great slab of pizza. SF Pizza’s owners seem to have taken the Pizza Quick philosophy to heart and adopted it to the tastes and budgets of the disenfranchised. They serve a soggy mass of dough with little regard to flavor or common decency. They are clearly only concerned with shoveling as much bread as possible into the consumer’s pizza-hole. Their pie is the opposite of the “artisanal” pizza. It’s as if they came up with a pie that exhibits the least amount of care humanly possible. However, if a panhandler can scrounge up $6, he can purchase two slices of this abomination, which would most likely weigh more that an entire week’s worth of meals at a soup kitchen. As a newly out of work American who is receiving unemployment checks, I can appreciate the desire to receive large quantities of food for little cost. If I had $6, though, I think I’d rather buy 2 banh mi or just go home and make potatoes or spaghetti or something. Other than its sheer mass, this pizza has very little going for it. If you wish to try this slice in an attempt to get full for a pittance, I advise you to do like the other patrons and prime your stomach and taste buds beforehand by drinking shoe polish or whatever cleaning solvent goes with pizza.

The highlight of my visit was a sighting of the souped-up Rascal guy, a man who somehow supercharged his Rascal scooter to go upwards of 30 mph. I had seen him a few times when I worked downtown and was thrilled to get another glimpse at this differently-abled speed demon. As I ate the godawful slice, I about choked as I saw him go blasting past the cars creeping down Broadway. His face was expressionless, but his hair blew like that guy on that classic Maxell cassette ad. Only this exhibition of speed made that slice palatable.

3. A-TOWN PIZZA- 2327 Blanding Ave, Alameda, CA- 12:30pm- $3.00 (9.5 ounces )

I picked up fellow jobless recession victim, Mitch Cardwell, and we headed to the isle of Alameda. The plan was to eat slices at as many places as possible on the island before resting for a while. I wasn’t bursting, but I was far from hungry. I knew that another slice like either of the offerings I encountered on Broadway would probably put the kibosh on the session. A-Town Pizza used to be in the middle of Park St., a quaint thoroughfare that looks uncannily like a street you’d see on a square in a small town in the Midwest, except in Nebraska, there wouldn’t be so many guys hanging around who look like Lenny and Squiggy. A-Town recently re-opened in a strip mall just off Park near the bridge to Oakland. I can’t imagine they’re going to get much foot traffic at this spot, so it’ll be a miracle if they last a year. I hope they prove me wrong, because next to the first 2 stops, the slices here were like ambrosia. It’s run by a friendly Middle Eastern guy who even let Mitch take a back issue of Pizza magazine. In addition to pizza and the usual garlic bread and salad accompaniments, they also feature several different varieties of kebabs.

The slice seemed smaller than either of the Broadway offerings, but it weighed in at only an ounce under the Pizza Man slice. It was much thinner than either of the Broadway slices, though, and much crispier. The A-Town slice may have covered more square footage than the Broadway slices, so that might explain the lack of significant weight difference. The slice was amply cheesed, except it needed a little more browning and it was kind of gummy. The sauce was thick and garlicky and it was a godsend to not have a crust handle the size of a boomerang. The pizza at A-Town isn't great, but if it was around the corner from me, I would certainly eat there regularly, as their pizza does not kick me in the sac with its mass and the flavor is totally adequate for a night of watching a marathon of Law and Order SVU reruns. The Broadway slices would have had me passed out on the couch before Ice-T uttered a single smart-ass remark.

4. LINGUINI'S-1506 Park Alameda, CA- 1:13pm- $3.00- (7.2 ounces)

Before I had picked up Mitch, he had been contacted by Drew aka Personal from Personal and the Pizzas. This man’s rock n ’roll combo celebrates pizza with every clipped arpeggio. If you haven’t heard them, you must see them live and buy their debut 7” EP immediately. This band is beyond compare. They are clearly the apex of food-inspired gimmick bands. Mitch told me that Drew/Personal (a San Francisco resident) was in Alameda and he was eating pizza with his pre-school aged daughter, Lida Rose. He said we should come meet them. I was excited to meet the pizza maven, but I was confused. Why would Personal schlep all the way over to the island to eat pizza? Did he know something about Alameda pizza that I didn’t? Maybe Alameda was the pizza capitol of the world. Due to Personal’s major affection for pizza, it seemed quite possible. It was like getting a call from Johnny Thunders stating that he was doing heroin in San Lorenzo. Every junkie on the west coast would be outside Bayfair Mall within the hour. Alas, Personal was on the Alameda for other business and was only eating pizza as an afterthought. As I expected, the island is not a pizza Mecca.

I’ve driven past Linguini’s a million times but never thought of going inside. I didn’t even know they served pizza. I figured it was just a run of the mill Italian restaurant that might’ve been good at one time but had changed hands so many times it was now sub-Olive Garden. I still can’t comment on their non-pizza dishes, but the pizza here was pretty meh. Once again, we were back to overly thick and doughy crust, that at the very least, needed 5 more minutes in the oven. The pepperoni was a little saltier than it should’ve been, but it wasn’t too shabby. The sauce, however, was pretty flat. I’m guessing they’re using canned sauce or older cooked canned tomatoes. There was the right amount of cheese, but it also needed a few more minutes to get to the optimum consistency. Personal had ordered a pizza margherita and was surprised to find diced tomatoes on the slice that looked a lot like pico de gallo. His daughter seemed to like it well enough, especially after she dumped a big mound of freshly shredded parmesan on top of her slice, but the dean of pizza rock deemed their pizza mediocre, as did I. Linguini’s has a pretty well stocked bar and a few video games, including Dance Dance Revolution, so it might be a fun place to kill a couple of hours shooting the shit and watching sports on their TV’s. And for all I know, their pasta dishes could be delicious. But when it comes to Alameda pizza, I liked A-Town considerably more, if only for the decreased doughiness.

There are at least 3 more places to get pizza on Park, but I was getting really full and decided we should go to the other end of the island to try a couple of more places before I headed home in hopes of producing a crust-based life form out of my anus. We checked out Croll’s Pizza, which is in a historic building that also houses a New Zealand-ish restaurant. It was closed. There’s another place on Webster that we could’ve tried, but I decided we should cut our losses and try a place off the island where we had a good shot of getting a slice that was better than a frozen pie from Totino’s. We were on our way up to Rockridge.

5. ZACHARY'S- 5801 College Ave- 2:18pm- $3.50 (11.1 ounces)

I was shocked that we could find a seat at Zachary’s. I’d only been there on weekends, when they’re always packed with rich fools wearing down vests and looking like Mork and Mindy’s next door neighbors. Sometimes it’s great to be unemployed. You get to see a whole other side of society when you’re out and about on a weekday. I always wonder who the hell these people are milling around in the world. Why aren’t they at work? Are they laid-off like me? Are they all housewives/stay at home dads? Are they internet millionaires who sold off their stock options just before the bubble burst? Are they drug dealers? Are they trust fund a-holes? Mitch had sworn to me up and down that the best pizza in the East Bay is the thin crust at Zachary’s. I’ve eaten their Chicago style pie before and I really like it, but I don’t even consider that stuff pizza. Comparing it to a thin crust pie isn’t quite like comparing apples and oranges, but it’s at least as stupid as comparing pomegranates to figs or something. I’d never tried their thin crust pie before. They hype their Chicago pies so much, I figured the thin stuff must be kind of half-assed.

I was happy to see another slice with the Shakey’s-esque cornmeal dusting. You’ll never see that stuff on an East Coast pizza, but if you’re doing pizza in the hinterlands, this technique lends an air of class that you don’t see everywhere. The slice had clearly been sitting out of the oven a little while, though. The cheese and pepperonis had congealed into a solid sheet that could be removed like the foil lid from a pudding cup. The roni-cheese sheet was kind of crun-chewy, but not altogether unpleasant. And the pepperonis were nicely spicy. In this state, it was easy to lift the cheese to reveal the high quality sauce below, which tasted very fresh with a slight garlic undercurrent and lots of small chunks of tomatoes. The slice was pretty thin and considerably smaller in overall area than either of the Broadway slices, but this thing was incredibly dense. The SF Pizza slice’s heft was understandable due it’s large size, but I was shocked when I lifted the Zachary slice. It was like lifting a bag of malted milk balls only to find out the bag was actually filled with ball bearings. What is in the dough out here that makes the pizza so heavy? It’s often theorized that the tap water in NYC is responsible for making the crust on NY pizza so much better than pies elsewhere. Allegedly, the mineral content in the water helps to make a lighter crust. I always figured that this was an urban legend. How much different can the water be here that we’re creating pizza crust that could be used to line the walls of a bomb shelter? Whatever the reason for the this East Bay uber-crust, I’m not into it. UC Berkeley has produced several Nobel Prize winners in science. Surely, they can use some of their knowledge to determine a method to take our water and convert it into something that can be used to knead dough that isn’t heavier than uranium. The ball is in your court, genii.

6. GIOIA PIZZERIA- 1586 Hopkins St, Berkeley, CA- 7pm- $3.25 (5.7 ounces)

After Zachary’s, I felt seriously logy. Despite being a quality slice, that thing actually weighed as much as the abortion slice at Pizza Man. The dough inside me was expanding by the second and I felt a Hindeburg-esque explosion ready to occur in my innards. I went home and nodded off from a carb overload. Massive farts would wake me periodically. They sounded like a sink being unstopped after Drano finally makes its way to the clog. Even worse, they smelled like a fire at a bread bakery. I attempted to defecate on several occasions, but couldn’t manage anything more than a single brown pellet. That dough wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

After a few hours, some of the mass had moved itself from my stomach to regions further down the line, so I figured I better get back on the track and headed for North Berkeley. Gioia is about as indicative of that area as possible. Ugly white people and “assimilated” Asians wait quietly in line for a long time to get slices and pies. Women who should be collecting social security soon are there with their infants. A guy in a fleece jacket was speaking to the owner and kept saying “cheers” in lieu of “thanks” or “hi” or “bye.” He was NOT British! Anyone caught doing this should receive a public flogging. It just reeks of pretense. “Look at me, everybody! I’m somehow more cultured than you because I’m using British slang. Never mind that British people have fucked-up teeth and they eat nasty-ass food. They must somehow be our superiors. They have the monarchy, after all. I am talking like them to a guy who runs a pizza place. Worship me!” In addition to the clientele, Gioa is really big on being “special.” They list all of their pies' names in Italian and many of the customers order them as such, even though the English translations are included. And they charge $23 for a large pepperoni pizza. That takes some stones.

But despite all its North Berkeley-isms, I’ll be goddamned if they don’t have the best pizza in the whole area. And it’s not just a little bit better than most other places. This stuff is not even in the same time zone of quality as its next best competitor. And despite the high price tag for a whole pie, their slices are comparable with many of the crummier places. The slice appeared to be roughly the same dimensions as the Zachary slice, but the Gioia slice was so light that it could float down the Ganges like a delicious corpse. Although the slice was a reheat, the spicy sauce was still intact and the cheese wasn’t all dried up. The pepperonis were large and flavorful. Best of all, however, was the crust. This thing looked like one of the finer examples of a NYC slice. The crust was crisp, but not over the top crunchy like a square of matzo. It was very foldable and supported the toppings perfectly. The crust’s handle wasn’t oversized and its profile revealed a honeycomb of air bubbles. This is what allows it to attain the correct shape and size without all the density. Take note Zachary’s! It’s true that a slice of Gioia will not fill you up. If you are hoping to get full for $3.25, go elsewhere and either eat a crummy slice that doubles as a doorstop or eschew pizza altogether. But if you really want an awesome pizza experience and are just sort of snacking, you can’t beat a Gioia slice, at least not in the East Bay. I think a good plan of action would be to eat a torta from Ojo De Agua and then allow it to settle a bit on the drive from Fruitvale to N. Berkeley, where you will get a couple of slices at Gioia as a capper. After that, go get a sundae at Fenton’s. After that, pass out in front of the TV with your pants unbuttoned. Call me the next day to thank me for the night of your life.

7. PIE IN THE SKY- 2124 Center St- Berkeley, CA- 7:30pm- $3.25 (5.0 ounces)

I wasn’t feeling much more stuffed after the Gioia slice, but I really wanted to tread lightly for a while, so the strategy was to eat at a few of the downtown Berkeley spots that specialize in thinner crust pizza. Kelly was just getting off work, so I came and picked her up to accompany me on my Berkeley jaunt. Pie in the Sky seems to be trying to do a similar pie to Gioia, but with a less artisanal attitude. For instance, you can get a ham and pineapple pizza at Pie in the Sky, while Gioia would undoubtedly feel that is beneath them.

There was a puddle of red grease on the top of the cheese, which is almost always a telltale sign of a good slice. The crust was similar to Gioia’s, complete with the wondrous air pockets that made it lighter than 99% of pizza around here. It was a little less crisp than Gioia’s slice, but still nice and foldable and not in the least bit soggy or doughy. Strangely, though, it tasted a bit like a saltine. This was not necessarily a bad thing, but it was kind of weird. Like Gioia, this slice was also a reheat, but Pie in the Sky is not moving anywhere the amount of product as Gioia, so their slices are sitting around a lot longer. This had caused the sauce to disappear into the cheese and the crust. Other than the slight saltine notes of the crust, the main flavor of the slice was the pepperoni that was quite delicious, if slightly too salty. The cheese was a little coagulated, too, also a sign of a long-idle reheat slice. Overall, this slice was one of the better entries, despite its age, but I’d wager that a fresher slice here might approach the greatness of Gioia. The weekday lunch rush is probably a better time to come, when they’re surely cranking out slices for Cal students and faculty. Hopefully, the word about this place will get around, so Gioia will feel some sense of competition.

8. BOBBY G'S- 2072 University Avenue- Berkeley, CA- 7:50pm- $3.00 (4.3 ounces)

As we walked away from Pie in the Sky, Mark Murrmann and his brother, Neil, met up with us to watch me eat pizza and enjoy some slices of their own. Neil has recently returned home after several months at sea, so it’s only natural that he would want to eat pizza. If TV has taught me anything, it’s that pizza on a ship is awful and may give you Legionnaire’s Disease. Bobby G’s used to be a Mr. Pizza Man that sold Brazilian food in addition to their heavy doughy pizza, but apparently neither their Brazilian cuisine nor their pizza was good enough to keep the place from going out of business. I think Bobby G’s has been opened a little over a year. It’s got a full bar and big TV’s on the wall playing sporting events. There are pictures of blues musicians all over the wall. In theory, this should be a good thing, but for some reason, "blues aficionado" always seems to equal super-honky. I had Bobby G’s lunch slice special several months ago and remember being pleasantly surprised by their pizza. I don’t know what happened in that period, but they have clearly lost any slice-making powers they formerly possessed.

The slice was the smallest and lightest I would eat on this session, which is what I wanted late in the day. The small crust handle was in proportion with rest of the slice. And there was a beautiful red grease pool on top. But that’s where the goodness ends. They were very chintzy with the pepperoni and the cheese and sauce were practically non-existent. But the worst part was the crust. Just to show you I’m not one of those guys who believes a pizza crust can never be too thin, I felt that Bobby G’s crust actually needed to be thicker. It was thinner than the combined sauce, cheese, and pepperoni and had the taste and consistency of a flour-flavored Gummi, as if their oven had gone out of order and they decided to boil the crust, in lieu of baking it.

Although this slice was as small as they come, I was really starting to feel the crust orb in my gut again. I was in serious discomfort. Bobby G’s has a clean bathroom, so I felt I should attempt to excrete some dough if I was to have a chance to continue much longer. The session was now official, but I really wanted to get to double-digits, if humanly possible. I sat on Bobby’s throne emitting sounds that brought to mind an air impact wrench at an auto mechanic’s garage. Alas, I could only summon a handful of brown marbles that sprained my sphincter, yet provided no relief to my hyper-fullness.

9. ARINELL- 2109 Shattuck Avenue- Berkeley, CA- 8:20pm- $3.25 (6.1 ounces)

I waddled up University Avenue with the others in tow. I wanted nothing more than to lie down and let the mass of crust in my colon lull me into deepest slumber. The last few slices had been incredibly light, but the effects of the dough-verdose were finally taking hold. It wouldn’t be long before I was unable to stand. The last thing I wanted to deal with in my current state was the death metal they play ad nauseum at Arinell. How the hell do the employees listen to this shit all day? I’d be forced to throw myself in front of a bus on Shattuck after 2 hours in that place. I’ve eaten at Arinell several times. The pie itself is one of the best in the area and before Gioia, it was as close to a NY pizza as one could find around here. However, when you get slices here, you almost always get a reheated slice. If you come during a lull, the slice pies may have been sitting for an eternity.

When I ordered my slice, the metal dude took a petrified cheese slice and simply laid a handful of pepperoni on top before putting the whole thing in the oven for a couple of minutes. Sure, there was a greasy red pool on the top of the crust. It came from the fresh pepperonis. The dried up cheese was unable to soak up any of the grease from the pepperonis, so it just flowed like a salty river. The piquant pepperonis were a little chewier than I prefer, but if the slice had remained in the oven any longer, it would have likely burst into flames. The cheese was like leather and the crust was as dry and crunchy as a graham cracker. The sauce had gone to heaven. The pie from which this slice had sprung needed to be euthanized. The slice could have been used to shingle a house. It was clearly no longer fit for human consumption. Next time I eat here, I’m going to have to inquire on the age of the slice-pie before I determine whether eating a slice is prudent.

After ingesting that fossil of Precambrian dough and cheese, I was done. There was no more room at the inn. We bid adieu to Mark and Neil and returned home. There were a few places where I could have sampled slices later, but I fell asleep as soon as I hit the couch. There was to be no more dough ingested that day. I had polished off a seemingly meager nine slices, but with the Ali Baba effect I received from the SF Pizza, it was a miracle I didn’t pass out from yeast poisoning and end up with the other derelicts on Broadway at noon.

The Best:
Gioia (by a mile)

The Worst:
San Francisco Pizza

Coming Up in IEM#9: Classic Breakfast