The Power of Pizza
by Tim Froberg
Pizza may have Greek and Italian origins, but few countries devour more of it than Americans.
A recent poll revealed the United States ranks second in the world – behind only Norway – in pizza consumption.
Whether we’re foodies, vegetarians, or meat-and-potatoes types, we all agree that pizza rocks.
I grew up in a household where every Saturday night, we’d place a call to Rosie’s Pizzeria. And Rosie never left us disappointed, serving up an exquisite rectangular-shaped pie on a thin crust with mountains of mozzarella and a tangy sauce. Today, it would be called New York-style pizza. Back then, we just called it pizza.
Fortunately, we have plenty of love-at-first-bite pizza establishments in the Fox Cities that rival Rosie’s Pizzeria. This special section looks at our love affair with the pizza, where to get it, and what local pizzerias are putting on their pies.
I have this recurring nightmare.
It’s Super Bowl Sunday, my stove and microwave are on the fritz and every pizzeria in town is closed.
Even worse, the Chicago Bears are representing the NFC in the big game.
Of course, none of the above will happen. But my gluttonous nightmare does illustrate America’s love of pizza. According to a recent survey, 94% of Americans eat pizza and 350 slices are devoured every second.
In the wise words of the great Bill Murray, “Unless you are a pizza, I can live without you.”
The acerbic comedian speaks for us all. We are living in unprecedented times, enduring a global pandemic that has shaken the food industry to its core. Yet, pizza businesses have been the culinary survivors of the pandemic. Takeout and delivery options are the backbone of most pizza establishments, which is why many have held during the pandemic while other restaurants have perished.
Some pizza businesses have thrived during COVID-19. In late September, Nation’s Restaurant News reported Dominos had experienced its strongest sales quarter in nine years and was adding 20,000 workers nationwide to keep up with demand.
“Without question, the pizza business as a whole has gone up since March,” said Jason Schroeder, general manager of Parker John’s in Menasha.
TAKEOUT AND DELIVERY FOCUS
Pizza restaurants aren’t totally pandemic-proof, since our country’s unemployment rate remains frighteningly high, but the industry is simply better built than other culinary options to survive this global crisis. Many pizza businesses like Glass Nickel Pizza Company in Appleton have kept their dining rooms closed during the pandemic and focused on takeout and delivery.
“It was kind of our bread-and-butter before (the pandemic),” said Glass Nickel owner Doug Wassmann. “We’re just not yet moving in the direction for us to open our dining room. Some have been a little more cavalier than us and opened dining rooms, but we’re going to wait.”
San Rocco’s in Appleton, which features New York-style pizza, has also kept its dining room closed and focused solely on takeout and delivery.
“In that first three-month period of the pandemic, I’d say that pizza businesses were at an advantage because we already have the infrastructure in place and were built to do delivery and takeout,” said San Rocco’s owner Joe Santonato.
“Since then, with local restaurants being able to open for in-dining with alcohol, a lot of people have gone there. The other thing is a lot of people have innovated and learned how to adjust their menus so they can do takeout and delivery. They have either started having their own drivers on site or partnered with the three-to-five delivery companies that work in the area. So, a lot of restaurants that used to be 99% dine-in have adjusted their business model.
“That’s helped them at least tread water.”
As a safeguard against community spread of COVID 19, many pizza businesses like Glass Nickel have a contact-less delivery system in which only credit cards can be used for purchase.
Pizza Places in the Fox Cities
Broken Tree Pizza
124 W. Wisconsin Ave., Neenah
510 W Kimberly Ave., Kimberly
Chef Fresh Pizza
204 Manitowoc St., Menasha
Christiano’s Brick Oven Pizza
2400 S. Kensington Dr., Appleton
Cranky Pat’s Pizzeria & Pub
905 S. Commercial St., Neenah
206 W. Calumet St., Appleton
333 W. Northland Ave., Appleton
4733 Michaels Dr., Grand Chute
436 S. Commercial St., Neenah
819 Shelfhout Ln., Kimberly
Glass Nickel Pizza
2120 W. College Ave., Appleton
Home Run Pizza
1216 W. Wisconsin Ave., Appleton
202 W. Main St., Little Chute
Little Caesars Pizza
00 & Richmond St., Appleton
317 E. Calumet St., Appleton
1053 W. Winneconne Ave., Neenah
Kimberly Shopping Plaza
207 N. Shawano St., New London
1400A W. College Ave., Appleton
1835 E. Edgewood Dr., Appleton
Luigi’s Pizza & Pasta
332 Ahnaip St., Menasha
600 W. College Ave., Appleton
In a classic Seinfeld episode, hipster doofus Kramer and restaurant mogul Poppie clash over crazy Cosmo’s desire to put cucumbers on his pie while pitching his make-your-own pizza business.
That was the 90s and the pizza industry has evolved. In today’s diverse pizza world, cucumbers on a pizza is no big deal. Go ahead and google cucumber pizza and you will find several interesting recipes. Specialty pizza with unusual, exotic toppings is part of today’s trendy pizza landscape.
Peperoni is known for its salty and slightly spicy qualities and meshes so well with mozzarella. That’s why it’s widely considered to be the most popular pizza topping, followed by sausage. But there are so many ways to top today’s modern-day pizza.
Macaroni and cheese pizza has emerged as a consumer favorite and leads the diverse pizza menu at Glass Nickel. Offerings include chicken alfredo, bacon cheeseburger, chicken cordon bleu, Santa Fe, Thai pie, Mediterranean, chicken parmesan, margherita, Daiya Delight (vegan) and The Ranch (loaded with ranch dressing, bacon, and chicken).
“We have just about anything you could think of putting on a pizza,” said Doug Wassmann, owner of Glass Nickel. “We run the whole gamut. That’s the big thing we emphasize in our marketing. We offer something that not everybody has – like a mac and cheese pizza, which we do a lot of – or a spring roll pizza.
“We have a pizza-of-the-month program, which is popular, and every couple months we do kind of a crazy, off-the-wall recipe like a sloppy joe pizza. A lot of customers call and ask, ‘What’s your next pizza of the month? I want to try it.’ We still do a lot of traditional pepperoni-and-sausage pizzas – a lot of people like our Cardiac Arrest– but people like to try different pizzas and we’re happy to accommodate them.”
Parker John’s in Menasha is best known for its outstanding barbecued ribs and chicken, but its specialty pizza is emerging as an increasingly popular customer choice. The Carolina pairs Parker John’s hickory-smoked pulled pork with its signature barbecue sauce and Carolina mustard sauce. It’s a best seller, along with BB chicken, Triple P (pulled pork with signature sauce and red diced onions) and Buffalo Bleus (boneless Buffalo chicken wings with mild Buffalo wing sauce, red onions, and jalapenos).
For traditionalists, Parker John’s Kitchen Sink (peperoni, sausage, green peppers, red onions, black olives, mushrooms, and banana peppers) hits the spot.
“I’d say our pizza orders are about 50/50,” said Jason Schroeder, Parker John’s general manager. “We still do a lot of traditional pizzas, but we have at least a dozen specialty pizzas. We found out during the pandemic that some people were maybe getting a little tired of just sausage and peperoni and wanted something different.
“There’s a lot more involved in cooking these specialty pizzas because you have different flavors you’re working with and trying to match up. You don’t want one flavor to overpower another.”
DOUGH VS. SAUCE
So, what makes for a great pizza? Sure, toppings are big, but most pizza chefs agree a terrific crust and tasty sauce are the keys to building a first-rate pizza.
“I’d say that dough is the most important thing involved in making a pizza,” said Joe Santonato, owner San Rocco’s in Appleton. “The flavor of the crust influences the pizza the most.”
Santonato and his wife, Jean, opened their neighborhood pizzeria four years ago, creating New York or Buffalo-style pizzas similar to what they enjoyed while growing up in Buffalo, New York. They follow a Buffalo-based dough recipe, baked in a 1953 stone-deck pizza oven. The result is a light, chewy crust.
“A lot of places use frozen dough, but we make our own dough daily,” said Santonato. “Our stone-deck oven really influences the flavor and texture of the crust.”
Creating the proper sauce is also essential to producing a prolific pizza pie.
San Rocco’s uses a sweet, lighter sauce, but is more than willing to tweak it if a customer wants a spicier experience.
Glass Nickel uses different sauces to complement specialty-type pizzas, such as chicken alfredo. But on its classic, traditional pizzas, it follows the same sauce recipe used since the franchise opened in 1998.
“That’s the founder’s recipe,” said Schroeder. “I’m not sure where he got it, but if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right?”
DEEP DISH VS THIN CRUST
People love to argue over what pie is superior. However, it’s all a matter of taste, literally.
I’m guessing if a poll were taken in Wisconsin, thin crust would be the clear winner. I base that on countless conversations over the years with fellow Cheeseheads who often remark that deep dish is too filling.
Many thin-crust aficionados that I know compare eating deep dish pizza to consuming a loaf of bread.
One of Wisconsin’s thin-crust lovers gave the matter national attention during a recent Green Bay Packers telecast when she held up a sign proclaiming, “Deep dish is overrated.” The truth is she was ripping on the Packers’ opponent, the Chicago Bears, more than the pizza, but still, it was a deep-dish diss that reflects the views of many Badger State residents.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of deep-dish pizza, which I never actually experienced in my childhood. To me, deep dish is a hearty, heavenly treat that serves as a meal. It is a well-muscled pie, sturdy enough to hold mounds of toppings supported by a thick, buttery, crispy crust and multiple inches of cheese.
Sure, deep dish is probably not a great idea if you’re closely watching your waistline or are a pizza purist who stays true to the simple roots of the pizza pie. But it does taste yummy and gluttons like me feel a deep-dish pizza pig-out is well worth that extra trip to the gym.
As for thin crust, I’m very much on board with that, too. The main argument for thin crust is that it doesn’t overpower the basic ingredients, allowing one to better appreciate the flavors.
It’s also much easier to eat – not requiring a knife and fork like deep dish – and is far less filling. You can walk away with a nice sense of culinary contentment, rather than waddle from the table feeling like you’ve just chowed down on a Thanksgiving meal or three.
The Egyptians are thought to be the originators of the pizza – my heroes, considering they also invented beer – and used flatbread and various spices to create a thin crust delight that has held up rather well over the centuries. Tomatoes were eventually added in Italy and the pizza made its way to America after World War II, arriving in the thin crust style that we continue to embrace today.
SQUARE VS TRIANGLE
This is another popular pizza debate and again, it all boils down to preference.
The bottom line is that whether pizza is cut into squares or triangles, it’s the exact same pizza. Same ingredients, same flavor.
But consumers like what they like. Pizza cut into squares lets people better control their intake because they’re dealing with smaller portions. Your conscience has a better chance of getting a rest because you don’t feel like you’re stuffing yourself. It’s like fine wine, allowing you to take it in a slower pace and truly appreciate the flavors.
Pizza cut in triangles is more of the traditional American style of pizza. Some insist it’s less soggy than the squares, but the main argument for the triangular cut is it puts greater emphasis on the crust – which many consider to be the backbone of all pizza. It’s also easier to hold and is just a more familiar slice of pizza for most Americans.
Pizza Places in the Fox Cities (continued)
1137 W. Winneconne Ave., Neenah
320 E. Ann St., Kaukauna
Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N Bake Pizza
2731 N. Meade St., Appleton
2700 E. Calumet St., Appleton
851 N. Casaloma Dr., Appleton
223 E. Ann St., Appleton
808 Winneconne Ave., Neenah
Parker John’s BBQ & Pizza
124 Main St., Menasha
815 W. College Ave., Appleton
2730 N. Meade St., Appleton
1924 S. Oneida St., Appleton
965 S. Green Bay Rd., Neenah
175 Main Ave., Kaukauna
1000 W. Northland Ave., Appleton
1717 E. Calumet St., Appleton
139 N. Eisenhower Dr., Appleton
Rocky Rococo Pizza & Pasta
W3178 Van Roy Rd., Darboy
Fox River Mall, Grand Chute
411 W. College Ave., Appleton
322 N. Commercial St., Neenah
1025 N. Badger Ave., Appleton
Wiseguys Pizzeria & Pub
1440 S. Oneida St., Appleton