A friend of mine, Emiko, grew up in Japan, with a father in the restaurant business. Given that, it's no wonder that she sometimes has a hard time with Japanese food in the United States.
There are a few restaurants she really enjoys, a few more she tolerates and many that she categorizes as "emergency sushi" — only to be consumed if she's just dying for sushi and can't get it any anywhere else.
This always makes me laugh, and it's also gotten me thinking: Are there any foods I'm as discerning about as Emiko is about sushi? I'm not sure, but there is one possibility: pizza.
I'd really rather eat nothing than indifferent pizza. My husband has told me stories about college "feeding frenzies" where he and his dormmates consumed mass amounts of cheap pizza that tasted about as good as the cardboard boxes it came in, and I sincerely don't see the point. If food isn't good, why eat it? I guess it's the critic in me.
This mental exercise also got me thinking about the pizza I do like — and why. I've realized that, without really meaning to, I've sub-categorized my mental list of Places to Get Good 'za into several groups. Here are some of my favorites; I'd like to hear about yours.
This is the kind of pizza you had when you were a kid, in restaurants with fat red candles and shakers of red pepper flakes and Parmesan centered on red-and-white-checked tablecloths.
Two of my favorites are South Jordan's Mountain Mike's (www.mtnmikesutah.com) and Rock Creek Pizza Co. at 10255 S. 1300 East in Sandy. Both make thick-crusted, chewy, perfectly crisp pizza piled with tons of toppings. Both seem to cater to families. Neither seems interested in going "gourmet" or getting fancy, though they offer impressive lists of toppings from which diners can choose.
I'm talking here about the thin-crusted, fold-it-over-to-eat-it pizza that has spread across the country from the Eastern Seaboard, mainly from New York. Este (www.estepizza.com) and Big Apple Pizza (www.thebigapplepizzeria.com) are great examples of the classic New York style, put out with a minimum of fuss.
Another tasty Eastern-style pizza joint is Nicolitalia (www.nicolitaliapizzeria.com), which has stores in Draper and Provo. This place serves "Boston Italian style" pizza, which as far as I could tell means great cheese pie, thinnish crusts, a Boston-accented menu and pithy signs all over the restaurant, like the one at the soda machine exhorting diners not to imperil their salvation by stealing drinks (it's signed by staff members and, apparently, Captain Moroni).
As I've written before, this is the holy priesthood of pizza, an austere culinary discipline that requires its acolytes to make a pilgrimage to Italy to learn how to cook these thin-crusted, unsauced delights at 800 degrees in real Napolitan ovens, then import back to the United States said ovens, plus sometimes flour, oil and other ingredients.
Downtown's excellent Settebello (www.settebello.net) is the most well-known purveyor of this kind of pizza and combines high quality with a fairly informal atmosphere. Also very good is the south valley's Toscano (www.pizzeriatoscano.com), which also has a nice gelato bar.
There's always more to talk about with pizza — I haven't even gotten into Chicago deep dish, though I doubt I'll ever have anything here as good as the cornmeal-crusted masterpiece, topped with a solid, pizza-size wheel of sausage and tons of sauce, that I had at Gino's East in Chicago.
But now it's probably time for a little less conversation and a lot more eating.
Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News. Email: email@example.com