Updated: Feb 27, 2020
If you’ve ever met me, you know that I have many strong opinions, especially about food, and that I do not shy away from arguing about these opinions. I will defend my position until my ideological opponent either concedes or simply storms off in frustration. This happened earlier this year, with one of my fellow Bite Club staff writers, who shall remain nameless. It all started when we were talking about our favorite pizza places in New York. This lead to her explaining that she loves pizza, but doesn’t really like the crust. I was appalled, flabbergasted and all-around horrified. I had a great deal of respect for this person… emphasis on had. After a very heated debate, we agreed to disagree. I was still in shock. How could someone like pizza, but dislike the crust?
After mulling this impossible question in my head for a few months, I decided to do something about it — to fight the good fight. This is my crust manifesto: a comprehensive treatise on what makes good crust good, and how that, in turn, makes good pizza good.
Before we begin, I must answer a few ideological questions. What even is pizza? Now I won’t go into the question of whether deep-dish pizza is pizza or not (it isn’t), but I have to define it in some way. Pizza consists of a leavened wheat-based dough (sorry cauliflower crust) topped with some sort of sauce and cheese, optionally along with other toppings. While the cheese and sauce are important, I would argue that the crust is the single-handed decider in a good pizza, as in, if the crust isn’t good, the pizza isn’t good.
A pizzeria can get away with mediocre sauce or subpar cheese if the crust it sits on is perfect, but the reverse isn’t true. This feeds into the idea that the crust is something separate from the pizza itself, that eating the crust of a slice of pizza is an additional choice that can be made, but I would argue that if you don’t want to eat the crust of a slice of pizza, then it wasn’t good pizza in the first place.
Flavor development of pizza happens long before the sauce is made, or the cheese is shredded. As Bite’s self-proclaimed fermentation expert, I think one of the best ways to understand why pizza crust is so important is to look at it through a fermentation lens. When it boils down to it, fermentation equals flavor, whether that’s in soy sauce, cheese, kimchi, or beer.
The process of fermentation creates complex, interesting, and all-around delicious food, and pizza dough is no exception. The best pizza dough is fermented twice, usually once in a “cold fermentation” step where the dough is placed in a fridge for anywhere from one night up to a week, and then proofed at room temperature. The longer the first ferment, the better the flavor. This fermentation not only improves the flavor of the dough but also creates air pockets of gas, improving texture and increasing browning. Without these two steps, pizza would be no more than crackers with sauce and cheese on them.
I could go on for hours, but it all comes down to the fact that the crust is what makes pizza such a special food. After reading this you may be inclined to indulge in some great pizza crust. Well, do I have good news for you. If you live in New York City, there are a lot of great pizza places serving up some superb pizza with crispy, flavorful crust. But of course, being as opinionated as I am, I have some clear favorites.
If you've read my LES Roundup, you know of my love for Scarr's Pizza. Jesus Crust, it's so good; they mill their own flour in-house for God's sake. For a less conventional, but nonetheless transcendental crust experience, head over to Superiority Burger on E 9th St. on Friday afternoon to snag a slice of their legendary Focaccia. They start at 5 pm, but the line starts forming about 15 minutes before that. They usually do another round at 7:30, but I wouldn't risk it. Get there early, get as much as they'll let you order, and then enjoy whatever the crazy geniuses at Superiority Burger found at the Greenmarket that week and have put on their incredible, five-day fermented dough.
Wherever you get your pizza, appreciate the time and effort that went into making one of the greatest foods on the planet. Eat the crust, or at least take me along with you, and give it to me.