Friday, May 6, 2011
Life really is too short for Birthday Party Pizza.
By Birthday Party Pizza, I mean the super cheap kind that comes from a national fast-food chain and is meant to inexpensively feed a horde of small children who'd rather get right to the main event -- birthday cake -- and is also meant to feed parents who attend the parties too and find themselves in need of a little more sustenance than the precut carrots, celery sticks and ranch dressing.
In this day and age of slow food, locally grown ingredients, organic this and free-range that, there is some awesome pizza to be had out there.
I'm thinking of pizza dough that's made from imported Italian flour, hand-stretched by a pizzaialo trained in Naples, whose pizzas could be certified as authentic by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. I'm envisioning pies adorned with Buffala mozzarella flown in twice-weekly from the Campagnia region, the cheese sitting on a bed of sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes, topped off with fresh basil, and made in a wood-burning pizza oven that can reach 800 degrees.
However, on the other extreme, there's always some national chain down the street with the processed cheese and the rubberized dough, a chain that spends far more on TV advertising than it ever does on ingredients. And it's that chain, or one like it, that seems to be getting the lion's share of the pizza party dough. That, my fellow parents, is a crying shame.
I don't know about your kids, but my kids don't even like that national chain stuff. I've seen them give up on that chain pizza after one or two bites, and leave their slices lying forlorn on their party-themed Hello Kitty or Spiderman plates. I've seen your kids do it too. That's why you have so much left over pizza after the party, people.
Maybe all that artisan pizza has turned me into a picky pizza eater. A pizza snob. I admit it. Guilty as charged. I've been willing to scour the web for a great slice or pie. If I go to NY and don't eat pizza, I'll weep. My devotion to great pizza has even affected my kids, who can't go any more down-market than CPK (which is acceptable as kid pizza goes, though not ever going to be memorable).
But all that said ... Birthday Party Pizza doesn't have to be bad. And it doesn't have to be artisan, either.
For just a few more bucks, -- and I'm willing to pitch in those few more bucks -- I'll bet you can get a pizza from a pizzeria that's local, not national; maybe it's a single, family run pizzeria, or maybe it's a mini-chain, with a few local stores scattered around town. These places are worthy of our support. And their products are generally actual food. So call me, parents. I'll find one near you. One that uses actual cheese, and still makes the dough by hand, or at least uses a trusty old mixer with a dough hook in the back room, before cousin Joey, up front manning the pizza peel, stretches the dough, slathers on some home-made sauce, and tops it with some real cheese. I assure you, two or three large pizzas from these places won't break the bank. And they're a far, far better thing.
I realize I've never ordered pizza for ten or twenty-plus kids and their parents; the two times I've thrown birthday parties for my kids, it's been brunch: bagels and cream cheese and fruit affairs, with juice and coffee and not much else thrown in beside the requisite cakes. Bagels and such is easy peasy, and won't cause the wallet to break out into a cold sweat.
So I took the easy way out. And I know, instead of criticizing, I ought to be a grateful, gracious guest and thank all those parents who've had my kids to their kids' birthdays, and even put out food for the adults. So let me take a moment right here and now to do that: thank you for entertaining my kids for two hours' plus; thank you for enduring the mess they made in your home; thank you for the goodie bags that they loved (and fought over on the way home, but that's not your fault). And thank you for the thank-you cards we got later for the gifts that we brought.
All that said ... next time, can we get some decent, non-chain pizza? I'm willing to fork over cold, hard cash to support the cause -- and your party budget -- really I am, even if it violates Emily Post party etiquette. Because I don't think I can face another Birthday Party Pizza.
P.S. I can't get through this without plugging my favorite place to munch a quick slice: the Santa Monica location of Joe's Pizza (the original's on Bleeker St. in NYC). It's not artisan, but oh, baby, it's good.