4 min read

Friday Open Thread (with Pizza)

Friday Open Thread (with Pizza)

Dear Friends,

Every now and again, Twitter yields up a beautiful thing. Here is one of them:

As I mentioned in response to this, my knowledge of Roman history is a heady mixture of Shakespeare's plays + Asterix & Obelix, so I cannot speak to the accuracy of this thread, but I was very amused by it and the (literally) Byzantine discourse that branched off from it.

This led me to talk about how, recently, it's been dawning on me that Ottawa – maybe the Outaouais? Maybe Canada? – has its own style of pizza that I absolutely never realized was not the widespread North American norm.

Ottawa has a large Lebanese immigrant population. In other places with similar community composition – say, Dearborn, MI – Lebanese people opened Lebanese restaurants, and introduced their neighbourhoods to the joys of hummus, falafel, fattoush, tabbouli, babaghannouj, kafta, all manner of mezze.

In Ottawa, they opened pizzerias.

I cannot explain this. I would like to know more. But growing up in and around Ottawa in the 90s, I was not aware of a single pizzeria that was not run by people my parents knew. Obviously there is some confirmation bias at work here; my parents are very genial people and were likely supporting places run by their friends. But I think my anecdata tracks, simply given the preposterous number of pizzerias in question. How many pizzaiolos do your parents know? (And are they Lebanese?)

The pizza we most often ate at home went like this:

  • dough (big, thick crust with a LOT of good maillard reaction, absolutely crackling on the outside and beautifully fluffy within)
  • sauce (red, garlicky, glorious)
  • a combination of pepperoni, green olives, onions, green peppers, and sometimes (I hated this as a child) mushrooms
  • cheese (thick, gooey, the shredded mozzarella I associate with giant bags we kept in the freezer from which I would sneak handfuls, congeals into a thick slab when cold)

During These Times, Stu and I started ordering fancy weekly 'zas from different new places, fancy because they often claimed to accurately represent some specific region: Detroit, or a single borough of New York City, or the birthplace of the Petrarchan sonnet. I don't know, pedigree. They were all delicious, but invariably, I'd start off confused.

"This pizza's so weird," I would say. "Why are the toppings on top of the cheese?"

It took a while for Stu to overcome his bafflement and inform me that's – actually typical? Most pizzas of his acquaintance are dough -> sauce -> cheese -> toppings. It makes sense; "top" is literally in the word. But for my whole entire life pizza has been dough -> sauce -> toppings -> CHEESE, the ultimate topping, the one cheese to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.

I've eaten a lot of pizza in a lot of different places, but somehow there was always enough other difference to distract me from that one crucial one. In the UK, Pizza Express is impossible not to eat with a knife and fork; in Chicago, the spectacular difference of the deep dish is the main talking point; in Madison, WI, toppings included mac & cheese; in Queens, I ... was paying too much attention to my delicious friends to really remember the pizza we ate together even though it was highly recommended and very celebrated and I am a little embarrassed by this. (I have never yet had a typical Slice in NYC, but I hear folding's involved?)

Stu and I are having pizza tonight, partly to celebrate him getting his first vaccine jab (which puts our household tally at 1 of 4), and partly because pizza is fantastic and needs no excuse. We're trying a new place that claims to make "Detroit-style" pizza – square, light on sauce, heavy on toppings, VERY dark crust – and

(Here I paused writing in order to devour some pizza)

– and it's great, it is much chonkier than I expected, but I'm left pleased and full and happy. I am no purist about pizza – but I do find myself wondering about defaults, and regions, and styles, and how pizza's a really neat vehicle for exploring that.

So: what's your go-to pizza? What pizza gives you feelings? What did you grow up with, that you now maybe have different feelings about? Tell me your pizza stories, for I would love to know them.

A Detroit-style pizza: square, in a cardboard box, covered in chunks of chicken, bbq sauce, salsa verde and red onions.

Here are some postscripts of news:

  • I am staggered and delighted to report that the French edition of This Is How You Lose the Time War is already in its second printing!
  • My first ever comic is out! It came out on Wednesday! You can buy it anywhere comics are sold! I recently learned that it's artist Isa Hansen's first comic too, which is just incredible to me!
  • Max Gladstone has a newsletter too, where he shares lovely essays every couple of weeks, and today's was particularly beautiful.
  • Queueing up some special content for release to subscribers soon! Stay tuned! (If you've recently signed up and would like access to subscriber-only content, you can subscribe here!)